The future of Renault’s F1 team

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Renault, champions in 2005 and 2006, are fifth in this year's title race

A few developments in recent weeks have planted seeds of doubt in my mind about Renault’s future in Formula 1.

Fernando Alonso seems to want to leave the team and they’ve admitted their engine programme has fallen behind their rivals’.

The general economic outlook remains gloomy and it seems particularly poor for Renault’s car making business. Could this put Renault’s F1 future in jeopardy?

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso is not confident about the team’s prospects for 2009:

Honestly I think it’s difficult, because although there are going to be completely new rules… Next year there could be changes, but I’ve never seen a car that’s fighting at the back one year then sweep the field the next.

It’s always step by step. So it’s hard to close the gap, whether it’s the aerodynamics, the engine, or the tyres. Whatever our problems are, we’d have to work very hard to close that gap. But, to be honest, it’s going to be difficult to move ahead of [the top teams] and to make a car that will be superior to theirs.

There have been rumours for a long time that Alonso will move to Ferrari in 2010, potentially leaving Renault without a star driver. Recently there has even been the suggestion that he might go to Honda next year.

Engine development

Flavio Briatore admitted recently that part of the team’s problem is that they haven’t been developing their engines as rapidly as the opposition.

This partly seems to come down to costs which has been a major bugbear of Renault’s in the past. They were the team that proposed the engine development freeze and they may be dismayed at how limited its impact has been.

Briatore is also sceptical about the costs involved with implementing Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) next year. He gave an incdication of how much it will cost the team recently:

We have calculated that developing and running the system will cost ??700,000 per race. If Frank [Williams] tells me that his development costs only ??2m, then I can only laugh. Does he really think he can do the job with two million against manufacturers, who spend ten times as much?


Many car manufacturers are suffering from the downturn in the global economy. Renault is not the only car maker to have cut its sales forecasts this year but it seems to be feeling the pinch more than some of its rivals.

At the end of last month it cut its sales targets for 2009 by 300,000 saying the economic situation “far exceeded the worst-case scenarios envisaged” two years ago when it launched a new plan to improve profits.

It is now looking at cutting costs potentially by shedding jobs – but could its F1 programme end up being dropped?

Renault boss Carlos Ghosn dismissed talk of a Renault withdrawal in May saying:

Abandon as losers? Never. In any case we’ll stay in F1 for many years.

But he also said:

The fruits of our work on the way to recovery will be seen in the second part of the season. It’s clear that I’m not happy with the results.


During the title-winning years of 2005 and 2006 Renault based the marketing for its sportier cars around its F1 programme.

The fastest versions of its Clio and Megane models were named after its F1 cars and available with "Renault F1 Team" stickers.

But that has changed with its latest model. While the last most powerful Megane had the convoluted moniker of ‘Renault Megane Renaultsport R26 Formula 1 Team’ the latest version has trimmed that back to just ‘R26.R’ – still harking back to the car that won the championship two years ago.

Is this a sign that Renault are less keen to trade on their involvement in F1 now that the team is struggling?

Mission accomplished

As Ghosn admitted Renault have already accomplished what they set out to achieve when they returned to the sport in 2002: they’ve netted two drivers’ and two constructors’ championships plus a hatful of wins.

But from their current position it looks like being a while before they can expect to achieve that again – especially if they lose Alonso.

Goodbye again?

Renault has ‘left’ Formula 1 twice in the last 23 years. It pulled the plug on its first manufacturer team in 1985, two years after it stopped winning races.

It remained as an engine manufacturer, in which guise it enjoyed huge success with Williams and Benetton. By 1997, have won a string of titles and many races, it quit the sport, feeling it had little left to achieve.

Of course, it was back once again five years later. But facing a drop in form, little relief from the high expense of the sport, and serious pressure on its car sales, could Renault turn its back on F1 again?

Renault left F1 after winning the 1997 championship with Williams

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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26 comments on “The future of Renault’s F1 team”

  1. Another question that plays into your thoughts is how long Flavio continues with the team.

  2. Briatore has always been proud of his team not spending like McLaren or Ferrari. And I’ve always believed the same would come to haunt them. That seems to be proving right, now.

  3. One way to cut cost is quittting F1,and since they are not winning. They will do it, but if they do. Then they proposed 20 cars less rule will take effect and give Max another black eye. So who knows.

  4. It was rumored back when Alonso’s switch to McLaren was announced that Renault’s long-term commitment to F1- or lackthereof- was a contributing factor. The fact that Alonso is now not-so-discreetly looking to leave the team again somewhat confirms to me the suspicion that Renault are not committed to F1, or at least they are not committing the resources necessary to compete for championships.

  5. They should take heart to the fact that they are the only team to have won either or both the drivers and constructors championships in the Ferrari dominance years of this new millenium.

    They can’t expect success, or top level competitiveness, all the way through…however their dip in the constructors performance is rather steep, and wouldn’t sponsorship also come under this? I think it was reported that ING will only remain Renault sponsors under the condition that they are within the Top 4 teams?

  6. Could be, maybe that’s why Alonso told Piquet that he needed help with the points. Cause even if he’s leaving, that’s the team of his manager and the one he won a title with. Emotional attachment.

  7. For a guy who wanted to do “a Michael” with a non winning team surely he realises that Macca have always been closeish to the top whereas Ferrari pre Michael were well off the pace…

    Getting Renault back up there would be a challenge… but Alonso doesn’t really want that type of challenge…

    Why doesn’t he just keep his mouth shut… I wouldn’t want that sort of negativity on my team…

    Great driver… shame about the mouth….

  8. The FIA made teams switch to V8 engines, in a bid to keep Ford in F1. Then they forced the teams to adopt the engine freeze in a bid to keep Renault in F1.
    Ford left F1 anyway. Their losses in manufacturing warranted that action. Renault also, may be forced to reconsider their F1 adventure, owning to the declining economic environment, and also for one other fact, Renault does not have the manufacturing volume, or profit of some of the other manufacturers they are competing with.

    Renault hesitated at a point when they had the potential to maintain their momentum, and have paid the price.

  9. Hello:
    “downturn”…interesting euphemism for crisis…Keith, our president should contract you for to avoid the terrible C****s word :-)( he has done it around 6 months…a record)
    Jokes apart, Fernando is clearly thinking in to leave Renault, 2009? 2010?, who knows…And Briatore (i have read it somewhere)thinking seriously in retirement ( I think personally when Alonso leaves renault).
    So, my opiniom. this day renault will dissapear form F1.
    Cheers :-)

  10. opiniom—>Opinion*; form—>From* :-(

  11. If i had to spend $300 million a year to be the fifth? banana i would consider calling it quits too. Let the japanese fight it off for the back middle

  12. ..and the colors are just awfull

  13. ‘Next year there could be changes, but I’ve never seen a car that’s fighting at the back one year then sweep the field the next.’

    Off the topic of Renault, but is that an indication of how he might feel with Honda maybe? There’s been the rumours linking him…

    As for the economy, I was told by a car salesman that business hasn’t gone down for them too much, they tend to still have a lot of purchases because of people not buying as many houses etc. Just the type of car (smaller/cheaper/fuel efficent) being brought has changed, so that’d suit the Clio range.

    However if they think they’re down on targets, this is an easy way to balance the books…

  14. I agree with EGC,I think Briatore will leave with Alonso.Being behind on engine developement along with the loss of Briatore and Alonso,I would say that thier days are numbered.I have felt this way since Alonso left the first time.It has to be difficult to run a team where the star driver has left,come back and is not hiding his desire to fly the coop again.

  15. Alonso just went back to Renault for 2 main reasons:
    1. He knew the team.
    2. To buy him time while being in F1 to get a better ride.

  16. OLiver, as much I would like to agree with you about Ford, I still cannot do it. The v8s were introduced long after Ford had left F1 and neither Bernie nor the FIA did anything to stop Blue Oval from leaving, which is, of course, a shame, since back in the 60s and 70s the company did so much to help F1 develop and prosper. But people seldom remember that you helped them sometime ago, so that is why I seldom help others.

    But back to the topic, the v8s were introduced because the FIA wanted to cut straight line speeds down, which they did.

  17. @ Post #7, Ferrari was off the pace for sure, pre “Michael”, but the Ferrari 412T was already the signifying factor that they were on track back to the top: they just needed a driver to guide, lead, and take them to the top.

    What Michael has done for Ferrari will probably not be topped by any driver in our lifetime. We’ve seen Senna put Tolemans and Lotus in places they shouldn’t be, but he never stuck at those positions.

    Even though Ferrari weren’t top of their game during the 80s and early/mid 90s, it’s still a prestige to be a driver for them: Senna wanted a seat for himself at some point.

    Alonso is in the position to do the same with Renault: but as already mentioned he doesn’t want to do it – he wants a top-performance car to win WDC. It’s almost a shame, but in the cut-throat life of F1 it’s understandable. I don’t think patience is Alonso’s forte, it’s quite clear he becomes rattled in certain situations and (again), as already mentioned, his mouth gets the better of him.

    However, would Alonso talk down on his team if he were with Ferrari now, or in the future? Kimi, albeit not a man for words, talks more of a team effort now than he was with McLaren. I don’t doubt that Renault CAN be a championship winning team again, but the problem is that Alonso doesn’t believe that…for anytime soon at least.

    If I were Alonso, I’d go with the option for Honda. It seems they’re making most efforts to make sure they get back on top, and with Ross Brawn (the brains of Ferrari revival), it would make a more interesting option than Ferrari…who seem more bewildered now, pre Schumacher.

  18. Renault do appear to be in all kinds of problems, and I certainly believe that there is no quick fix to their woes. The men in power at Renault, namely Briatore and Simmons for starters, are still at the team, the team they helped make champions just two years ago.
    The only realistic answer to their problems is lack of funding, funding that must have been damaged when Alonso left as driver’s champion back in 2006. Also, perhaps more importantly concerning this years performance, others have assumed the mantal of the ‘third’ top team behind Ferrari and McLaren.
    BMW Sauber and Toyota, two teams with vast resources and two powerfull, global names in the motor industry.
    They are coming on song now, and they, for me, have hurt Renault most. Ferrari and McLaren are an impossible goal, if Renault are incapable of beating BMW Sauber and Toyota.
    Rehiring Fernando Alonso was an easy decision. After Renault’s terrible 2007 campaign, Alonso reminded them of happier times and of success. If anybody could revive the team, then Fernando could!
    This ideology has proven false, as Renault are obviously suffering far more than just lack of driver imput or quality, it is a far more deeper problem than that.
    A problem compounded by the persistent rumours concerning Alonso’s future, that speculate about his motives for rejoining the team in the first place. Motives that suggest, to me, that investing in Renault would be a longterm mistake for a sponsor, if the double world champion leaves at the end of the season.
    How poetic it would be if Alonso did leave, and Renault returned to form, and one of their new drivers beat Alonso to a third title. Now that would be something to ponder!

  19. Renault recently spent a lot of money for an underground lab (under a huge hill) in oxfordshire, for the F1 team, I assumed that was for the F1 long run.

    in terms of F1 they are considered the best operationally run by the FIA, if they pull the plug Nissan could take over?.

  20. KingCobra:

    Look at when a switch to V8 was proposed, not when they started racing with it. don’t forget, Ford was the only manufacturer that had sufficient expertise in producing V8 race engines.

  21. I agree with post #18, we are ignoring one key aspect in F1. “BUSSINESS”. If you look at Renault today and two or three years ago, you’ll notice a lot of sponsors on the car and the driver’s shirts. Sponsors everywhere.
    Telefonica, Santander, etc…
    They have ING and a lot of minor sponsors.
    Same thing has happened to Williams.

  22. Given that I just closed the sales deal and picked up my nearly-new Nissan from the local dealer this morning, it’s quite ironic that we are discussing the future of Renault in F1!

    To me, Flavio may not quit tomorrow, but his days as an F1 mainstay are on the downside for sure. We look at the on-track results first and formost, but don’t forget that he’s going to want plenty of time with his latest supermodel wife….. If Alonso dose jump ship, I don’t think he’ll stay on any longer than he has to.

    While the global economic downturn may not be helping matters, I can’t see Renault getitng out of the F1 business in the next few years. Even if they do spend less than other teams, it’s still a phenominal marketing tool that gives them exposure in key markets, and at the end of they day I think the’ll be in it for the long haul.

  23. I second Sush’s thought- are Nissan’s money making it into F1, and if so, why not put more money into the effort and rebrand as Nissan if they want the publicity?

    Otherwise, I’m sure Prodrive (or someone else in the wings) would love to buy Renault’s assets. Maybe they can get a Subaru engine homologated to 2009 or 2010’s rules? (What sort of engine were they going to run in their hand-me-down McLarens?)

  24. I like the idea of the team being rebranded as Nissan – it will appeal to much more of the world market. As for Flavio, he has many other interests and must get bored very quickly if he isn’t winning.
    If Renault pull out of F1 will they take GP2 and Formula Renault with them? And the Clio Cup too?
    And I have the feeling that Prodrive aren’t going to be interested in F1 anymore, since they have become very successful elsewhere….

  25. If I was Fernando I would be considering leaving renault for Ferrari as well. Ferrari are #1 in the championship and Renault are #5. Fernando wants to be #1 again but instead he is #8. I do not see renault leaving F1 anytime soon but nor do I see them winning in F1 again anytime soon.

  26. I really think that Briatore should step down from his post for the benefit of the team. It’s quite clear, at least to me, that he no longer cares much for racing and that his main focus is business. He’s said before that F1 didn’t really appeal to him at first, so I really question whether or not his heart has ever been in F1. I think he’s thinking “I’ve got four WDCs, three WCCs, there’s nothing more left for me to do in F1. I think take my hot wife who’s half my age and almost kill tens of vacationers when I rudely beach my yacht in Sardinia, while milking tens of millions off the broadcast rights to F1 in Spain and my various enterprises.”

    Furthermore, he’s made a number of comments in the past indicating that he doesn’t much care for the technical side of the sport (even disparaging engineers), which leads me to believe that he’s not very keen to spend the money necessary to get back to the level of Ferrari and McLaren. I half suspect him and his influence over BFF Bernie for the radical rules changes for 2009, particularly on the aero side. Because after all, if you’re not willing to spend the money to compete with the guys who are doing so, why not just lobby your buddies with the FIA and F1 to get rid of their aero advantages?

    In case anyone can’t tell, I have a very, very low opinion of Flavio Briatore.

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