The Renault team’s strategy of pushing into Russia in search of commercial opportunity has yielded fruit with the signing of Lada as a sponsor for the team. This leads to the highly unusual situation of an F1 team displaying two car brands.
The deal was done with the blessing of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and is more than anything else symbolic of Russian support for Vitaly Petrov and Renault F1’s programme. Renault has a 25% stake in Avtovaz, Lada’s parent company. Lada uses Renault platforms and transmissions.
Both cars will run with Lada branding and Petrov will carry the branding on his overalls. It is an important deal for the team as they rebuild after the commercial havoc wreaked by the Singapore crash scandal last year, which caused two sponsors, including title sponsor ING, to terminate their backing ahead of schedule. And let’s face it, there has been little significant new sponsorship coming into the sport over the winter.
Renault, now majority owned by Gerard Lopez, is looking to form strategic partnerships with automotive and tech companies in Russia and use F1 as the platform to grow partnerships together. Lopez going into Russia helps Bernie Ecclestone, with whom he has become close in recent months, as the F1 commercial guru has been looking for years to find a way into the Russian market and to establish the sport there.
“Through Mangrove Capital (Lopez’s investment arm) we have been actively investing in Russia over the last years, ” said Lopez. “We know the country well, we have a high degree of appreciation for it and, as such, it is an honour for our F1 team to spearhead Russia’s entry into the sport and to carry the Lada brand at the highest level of world motorsport. We look forward to an exciting and successful season together.”
Renault go into the new season unsure of where they stand in the pecking order, but satisfied that the car is a good base to work from, unlike last year’s model, which was tricky to set up and drive. Testing had gone okay up to Barcelona, but the team struggled there and it looked as though the Renault was around 7/10ths of a second off the pace.
However the team believes that it is closer than it appears to the front runners – the target for Bahrain is for Robert Kubica to get among the weaker drivers from the top four teams, but much will depend on the size of the upgrade packages each team brings. Williams and Force India looked faster in the final test and seem to be heading the group chasing the top four.
The team is being brought back up to speed on the aerodynamics side after staff cuts made by Flavio Briatore, which played a part in the difficulties of the last year’s car.