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Caterham deepens ties with Renault via new sportscar venture
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Tony Fernandes - XPB
Posted By: James Allen  |  05 Nov 2012   |  3:11 pm GMT  |  24 comments

The Caterham Group has taken major step in its development under Tony Fernandes by deepening its ties with Renault, its Formula 1 engine supplier, in a new partnership to design and build sports cars.

Caterham has bought a 50% stake in the Renault-owned Automobiles Alpine Renault, which was originally the historic French Alpine manufacturer which was a giant of the rallying world in the 1970s and whose Dieppe Plant in Normandy has been more recently used as the base for the production of Renault Sport models.

The new company will be known as The Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham when it is launched in January.

The tie-up will see the two companies work together to build cars in both large and small series with the aim being for both Renault and Caterham Cars to each launch its own vehicle, the former’s under the revived Alpine name, within the next three to four years.

After his bid to align his then nascent Formula 1 team with a car manufacturer in Group Lotus ended in acrimony and court proceedings, Fernandes in April 2011 took the opportunity to buy the Caterham, and ultimately rebadge his F1 team under the name for this season, with the now Leafield-based F1 operation part of a wider ‘Group’ which includes Caterham Cars, Caterham Composites and Caterham Technology.

On purchasing Caterham last year Fernandes, whose business interests also include AirAsia and Queens Park Rangers football club, admitted he had seen the opportunity to create a low-cost sports car market with F1 links in Asia and speaking today about the Renualt partnership the Malaysian said: “I have not felt as excited about a new venture since I launched AirAsia in 2001 and I want to thank Carlos Ghosn and Carlos Tavares and everyone in our new Renault family for having the belief in Caterham Group to create this partnership.

“Many people doubted us 11 years ago when we launched our airline and I am sure that there will be doubters again this time, but we will not fail your trust. We know the markets we are going into and, particularly in my playground in Asia, there is a huge opportunity to replicate the AirAsia model and give consumers access to exciting, affordable products that marry our interests in F1 and technology and help make their dreams come true.”

Caterham’s F1 engine relationship with Renault, which started when Fernandes outfit were still known as Team Lotus in 2011, has clearly provided the platform from which to enter into the joint venture and Kamarudin Meranun, Caterham deputy chairman, says the partnership will allow them to develop the brand on a worldwide scale.

“Formula 1 was always our entry point into the car business. Our original plans to develop a partnership with Lotus were put aside in spectacular and well documented style, but now we have a far better chance to develop Caterham Cars in partnership with Renault, working with Caterham Technology who are also integrally involved in this new venture,” he said.

“Our F1 team has already been working successfully with Renault Sport F1 since the start of the 2011 F1 season and I am thrilled that now we are adding to our track partnership by joining forces with Renault on the road. Together with Renault we have now created an opportunity for Caterham Cars to grow into the next stage of its development from a very well respected niche brand into a serious player on the global motoring map.”

Renault chairman Carlos Ghosn added: “This innovative partnership with Caterham embodies a longstanding ambition: the creation of a sports car with the Alpine DNA. It carries both opportunities for the Dieppe plant and the development of its historic know-how.”

The two parties will create a joint Engineering Department to oversee the creation of the new sports cars and will be able to draw on support from Renault, Renault Sport Technologies and Caterham Technology and Innovation.

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24 Comments
  1. DonSimón says:

    Great insight James. Have always dreamed of having a Caterham for track days.

    On a slightly different topic, do you have news on Vijay Malya? I understand Kingfisher Airlines are going to loose their license. Can he afford to fund the team any longer?

    1. James Allen says:

      He always says that his F1 team is ring fenced from his other companies.

      Airline is finished, but he’s selling a part of his United drinks business to Diageo, I understand, which is more of a worry. It is one of the sponsors on the F1 car.

      1. DonSimón says:

        Thanks James, certainly a worry for next season but if he can find the money we all want to see them on the grid. Would be rubbish for DIR to be without a seat because of this.

  2. KGBVD says:

    This is great.

    What a difference in trajectory the two protagonists from the Lotus-Lotus fiasco have had since.

    Fernandes has turned Caterham into something more than just a kit car maker – the future looks very bright. While Bahar has destroyed Lotus (I find it a massive disservice to the Enstone team that they still race under the black and gold of those clowns).

    If only Gazzer can get his act together and produce a points scoring car…

    1. James Allen says:

      Gazzer has gone, Mark Smith’s in charge of the technical side now

      1. KGBVD says:

        Interesting, as I understood it, MG had just moved up a peg or two in the organization.

        Does he no longer have influence over the technical direction of the cars? Is that a good thing?

      2. Adam says:

        So how about the back story James, Mike got bored with F1 and never quite getting success? Is Mark Smith going to deliver next year what they promised this season? This is a cool step for Caterham, but what next for Caterham F1, hanging around the back of the field is not going to sell cars! So will they bail on F1 and stick to cars if that was always the goal?

      3. James Allen says:

        No, he’s moved on from F1 and now heads the other branches of Caterham, e.g. composites and has tweeted that he’s heading the engineers in this new venture.

      4. I would have thought that this makes Caterham more likely to hang around in F1

        To survive, I think these junior F1 teams need a strong business plan beyond just racing, sponsorship and pay drivers and I think this is what TF is trying to achieve here

        Plus, if the sports car division works – Caterham will be able to focus on getting top drivers and engineers, rather than relying on pay drivers and a shoestring budget

  3. Red Rider says:

    A bit of a tangent maybe. The core question I have is, how committed are Renault to developing a new motor for F1, be it for Caterham, Lotus, Red Bull, or Williams? Also, when will the new motors start their first season? Then there’s Ferrari, Mercedes, and Cosworth. Is Cosworth finished? The only sure thing seems to be Ferrari.

    1. JEZ Playense says:

      Renault are the preeminent engine supplier in F1.

      Ferrari -without Alonso- would be a mid field player.

      A smaller engine that car drivers associate with their own vehicle is where Renault want to be. Its also part of the reason Ferrari don’t – they don’t have smaller engined street cars to sell…

      I hope the only sure thing (bit of an oxymoron in F1) is Kimi on the podium!

  4. AMSG says:

    But when are they going to get a point. How hard it is to close the gap, with all the tools they have. I read some comments from HK about how the car was just to heavy and lacking in downforce by miles. How accurate can that be, after 3 years now.

    1. Leen says:

      Dont forget that other teams have 25 years of data and Caterham 3 year..
      In addition to this, Caterham just moved into a new facility during the break and before that they had a facility which was way to small for F1. Now with the better Facility (and closer to windtunnel – which is from Williams as they dont have there own) we will have to see whether they can close the gap in the next year. But gaining on teams with a higher budget and better tools during the season is almost impossible. As you can see that the updates from Caterham are just not as effective as the other teams. This is due to the limit in the number of testing of the parts, whereby other teams can do this at a much larger scale.
      From 2013 onwards Caterham just needs a car that is midfield worthy from day 1 onwards (See williams that it is possible), otherwise it will be very difficult. (See Torro Rosso this year)

  5. Blade Runner says:

    When did that happen James?

    I have not seen that reported anywhere, I thought he was “The Man”

    On the wider subject subject of the partnership between Alpine, who have proper street cred and Caterham, it must be something to do with that huge new HQ they have recently bought.

    It has huge potential for far, far, more than just F1 car development.

    I only say that because although they are a great car, Caterham’s do suffer from a “Kit Car” and therefore, low budget perception in a lot of peoples minds.

    Renault would not be going down this route if it was just about brands, TF must have some really good plans for his new HQ and the cars that are developed there should be awesome.

    1. James Allen says:

      During the Summer

      TF is certainly a man with a plan. You’ve got to admire his ambition and his willingness to get stuck in and try things

      1. ben S says:

        He’s a man that would be interesting to work for in some capacity. A modern entrepreneur with a good public persona – one could learn a lot from that man.

      2. db4tim says:

        IMO he seems like one of the good guys in F1

      3. ttwan says:

        Yes, he is a very determine person. Google how he starts his budget airlines business in Malaysia and you will admire him.

      4. Blade Runner says:

        I like that “A man with a plan”

        He does, as others have said seem like a very driven and decent type of bloke.

        I admire anyone who starts their own business, yourself included James with this website.

        I look forward to reading his autobiography when he finds time to do one, you can learn a lot from people like that.

        It would be far better reading than the “Celebrity” tripe that is usually pushed in bookshops before Christmas.

        Autobiography’s like, still spotty footballers life story’s! Glamor Models ghost written pap that are full of nothing worth reading but sadly top the Best Sellers lists.

        Sir Jackie Stewart’s book is a fine example of a autobiography that has been written at the right time in his life and it is full of wonderful insight, not tittle tattle like most these days.

  6. IanC says:

    James: Any insight into HRT’s financial situation? I hear they don’t have the money for next years entry fee and that the recent DNF’s are the result of using parts which have gone past their life-cycle. Will they be around next year?

    1. Mark J says:

      That’s interesting news Ian. Because if they are using outdated parts this could of lead to the accident in the last race. Thankfully no one was injured but it was a huge crash. If something serious did happen this makes the team liable for causing it. No one needs that scenario in F1.

  7. monza01 says:

    If this new partnership can finally produce a worthy successor to the legendary Alpine A110 then it will be a great success.

    Interestingly, Renault have never replaced the huge Alpine sign facing the main road outside the factory in Dieppe.

    PS Gazzer : can you make the car just a little bit bigger so I can drive it comfortably ?

  8. chris says:

    Fernandes certainly seems to know what he’s doing on the business front even if it does seem to be a case of an awfull lot of plates spinning at the same time. but if that’s what these guys do well that’s what they do well. However in f1 the only good business is winning or at least moving in that direction which is certainly not what they’ve done this year. I can’t make my mind up about this project of his. On one hand he seems to have fresh ideas and has shaken the paddock up a bit but on the other I see something suspicious. He’s not a racer, he’s a business man. But then you could say the majority of the chairmen of the grid are, he just doesn’t hide it

  9. Elie says:

    First he head hunts Cyril Abiteboul from Renault sports F1 & now Renault Alpine Sports cars which I loved years back. Very ambitious man this Tony Fernandes. One thing for sure is that Carlos Ghosn knows how to make projects on this scale work. Just wondering if its its a Caterham Renault Alpine or two different badges stemming from the one factory. ?

    On a separate note do you know if Lotus will continue to test their DDRS at the young driver test. I know it won’t be deployed this year. Cheers James

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