Renault announced today, as expected, that it is to stay in F1 for the moment, but having sold an interest in its Enstone chassis operation to Genii Capital, run by tech investor Gerard Lopez.
Lopez was not present at the announcement in Paris and Renault’s long term strategy in F1 is not clear from today’s announcement.
Of primary importance as far as Bernie Ecclestone is concerned is that the name Renault remains in the sport and that they continue as a supplier of engines, to maintain the balance with Mercedes and Cosworth and it was also confirmed today that Red Bull will continue to use the Renault engines.
David Richards is left disappointed once again. He planned to move his whole operation into Enstone, including the Le Mans programme and his other Prodrive activities. He was going to brand the cars as Aston Martins in time.
Meanwhile it has been suggested that Robert Kubica could be free to leave the Reanult team, should he wish to, under the change of ownership clause in his contract. This will depend on whether Lopez has indeed taken a controlling stake, the 75%, which was being openly discussed, which would mean that the ownership had indeed changed. Renault suggested it was a “large stake” and it makes no sense for Lopez to take anything less than a controlling interest, as Mercedes took in Brawn.
Mercedes will be monitoring the Kubica situation as he is a strong option should the Michael Schumacher one year deal not go through for any reason. Even those close to Kubica appear not to be in full possession of the facts about Renault’s plans yet,
“The cards have changed in respect of when we signed and it’s important Renault give us full information,” Kubica’s manager, Daniele Morelli told BBC. “We are not against the new position in principle, but it is important to know who will run the team and what kind of strategies they will use. It could be positive or negative.
“We need some time – at least a few days – to evaluate the new situation so I am not in a position to say we will leave or stay.”
Morelli did point out that sometimes investors boost a team and take it to the next level, such as Mansour Ojjeh with McLaren.
But Morelli’s question marks are ones that many people have about what Renault plans to do. It looks as though there was a large shortfall in Renault’s operating budget for 2010, due to sponsor withdrawals and the manufacturer was not willing to close its operation down, with the enormous costs involved. Moreover, as they had signed the Concorde Agreement there was an obligation to stay until 2012 as well as significant pressure from Ecclestone to keep the engine operation going. So they seem to have found themselves in an awkward position with little time to sort it out. They might have taken the best investor deal they could without having a clear strategy of what happens next. The positive spin on it is that they have kept their options open.
Morelli’s point about who will run the team is a good one; Bob Bell remains team principal for the moment, but Renault Sport’s Bernard Rey told French colleagues that Lopez may look to appoint a new team principal and that Bell would return to his old role as technical director. Apparently there is a shortlist of three possible team principals.
It is interesting that in the midst of all this activity, Ferrari should choose to get Felipe Massa back behind the wheel of an F1 car. He tested a 2007 customer car, although the weather cut short his running. The test is a re-familiariser for the Brazilian, which was suggested some time ago, but some sceptics are seeing it as a test to see if he really is up to returning next season after his injury and whether the team should look at Schumacher or Kubica given that potentially available. Ferrari strenuously deny this interpretation.
Massa told the Ferrari website, “Although I was behind the wheel of a completely different car compared to the one for next year, I had a perfect feeling, which gives me hope for the upcoming season.
“I was very quick immediately and nothing seems to have changed in my driving style compared to before the accident. I want to thank Ferrari for this present, which, together with my son, makes this Christmas even more special.”