Over the weekend I had a chance to chat at length with the new owner of the Renault F1 team, Gerard Lopez, who is a fascinating character. One of the world’s leading investors in technology companies, he was a founder investor in Skype and is bringing some fresh thinking to this sport.
I will post separately on the wider topics of our conversation, which include his plans for Renault, how he is helping F1 engage with the internet and mobile phones and a whole new business model for an F1 team.
But the eye catching headline from the chat was what he said about Robert Kubica, who is a possible Ferrari target for 2011.
Recently there have been a lot of rumours suggesting Ferrari is lining up a move for Kubica as a possible replacement for Felipe Massa. He is known to be a favourite of Sergio Marchionne, boss of Ferrari’s parent company FIAT.
I spoke to Kubica’s manager Daniel Morelli at the weekend and he said that they have not yet been approached by Ferrari, but I got the impression that they were expecting some contact and should Ferrari make an offer, this would give Kubica quite a tough decision,
When I spoke to Lopez, I asked him how he was going to hold on to Kubica and he made it quite clear that he would build the Renault team around Kubica, in much the same way as Ferrari was once built around Michael Schumacher,
“He’s a racer, he lives for racing not politics, ” he said. “Robert has a unique opportunity to build a team around him. Few drivers have the talent that he has to do it and few teams would do it with someone.
“If he feels that the team is going in the right direction to become world champions, which is our intention, then he has no reason to go somewhere else. We both know what we are talking about (partnering Alonso at Ferrari). He would start a 100 metre dash, 200 metres behind the line. I don’t know if he’s interested (in going to Ferrari) but he’s a young driver, so he has plenty of time. If we can provide him with a car and a platform to win then I think there is a high probability that he stays.
“Our objective is to ensure that he contributes as much as possible. In his previous team (BMW) one of the big issues with Robert was that he couldn’t communicate as he wanted because he feared the backlash. Here he is being motivated and pushed to speak as much as he can. It’s a good fit. I’ve never seen him smile as much as he does now.”
Renault proved as recently as 2006 that it has the ability to win races and championships and most of the people are the same, with the obvious exception of Pat Symonds and Flavio Briatore, who left the team after the Singapore crash scandal.
Lopez has noticeably restored the self confidence of the team after the scandal,
“The thing I’m proudest of is that this team has regained confidence to act as a constructor,” he said. “This team is proud to be Renault. It thinks for itself and acts for itself, it’s proud of itself and all that with the Renault name. I knew we could do it, but I didn’t know how quickly it would happen or how much.”
Lopez said that he encountered negativity in the early stages after the Singapore scandal when going in to see companies, “But it’s our job to make sure that we got rid of that,” he said. “The talent was always there. We arrived from the outside and people know us from other sectors and know what we do. We said that we want to do the same thing at Renault and they got it straight away.”