Why Renault believe they “can now be taken seriously” after podium breakthrough


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Renault’s F1 teams have a chequered history, and not always related to reaching the flag before their rivals.

The current operation can trace its roots back through previous identities of the team, though not quite all the way back to the first one. Renault as we know it today came into existence as home to Toleman before being acquired by Benetton in 1985, which sold to Renault 16 years later. The French company then sold out to Genii Capital in 2009 – in the wake of the race-fixing ‘Crashgate’ scandal – before the venture fund sold 90% back to Renault at the end of 2015.

Complicated? Somewhat, but that is far from the end of it, for the silver-black diamond operated its first F1 team from Viry-Châtillon outside Paris in the seventies. This was preceded by an exploratory project at Alpine’s factory in Dieppe, where the original A500 prototype F1 car was designed and built.

Once the A500 was up to speed, if not reliability (no easy task given its revolutionary 1.5-litre turbo engine was based on a F2/sports car engine when all others ran bespoke naturally aspirated three-litre V8s or V12s), Renault gave its official ‘works’ blessing for the 1977 season and ordered the black car, to be known as the RS01, to be painted yellow.

Even then there was confusion as to the team name. Some suggested Renault F1, others wanted to name it after either of Renault’s performance sub-brands, Alpine or Gordini. Another suggestion was to name it Alpine Renault-Gordini-Elf in deference to the chassis origins, the funding brand, origins of the engine and in honour of the fuel company which developed special turbo brews.

Jean-Pierre Jaboullie, Renault, 1977
Renault’s F1 heritage dates back to 1977
Fortunately that mouthful was swept aside. However in time the RS chassis nomenclature changed to RE, in honour of Elf’s contribution.

A case could be made that Renault has yo-yoed in and out as team owner and engine supplier more often than Honda but with markedly greater successes. Its chassis scored a pair of drivers and constructors titles in the noughties, and Renault engines powered four constructors champions – Williams (five), Benetton (one), Renault (two) and Red Bull (four) – to a total of 11 drives titles. Indeed, Renault lies second only to Ferrari in the all-time engine stakes.

Yet despite these historic successes, Sunday saw the team in a celebratory mood for the first time in almost a decade after (outgoing) driver Daniel Ricciardo claimed a fought-for podium at the Nürburgring in a race that was far from ‘normal’. Apart from the disruptions caused by Covid-19, Friday running was cancelled entirely due to low cloud, race day temperatures were in single-digits and even Mercedes lost a car due to technical problems.

Of course, in F1 one takes a podium any way they come, but clearly there was a deeper significance in this result. Not only because team boss Cyril Abiteboul and Ricciardo bet a tattoo on a podium finish this year – the former, who detests body art, will submit to needles for a design of the latter’s choosing – but because the entire team sees the result as proof that the team is on its way back after a five-year rebuilding period.

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(One hopes for the Frenchman’s sake that he has a choice of not only location and size of the artwork but also of the studio, and that he finds one close to a laser removal specialist. That way Cyril may honour the bet without providing a visible trophy for his driver to continuously gloat over…)

Kevin Magnussen, Renault, Melbourne, 2016
It’s been a long trek to the podium since their 2016 return
Whatever, one glance at the results since Renault reacquired (for a notional pound) ‘Team Enstone’ at the end of 2015 shows that the trajectory is generally upwards: ninth in 2016, then sixth, fourth, fifth and currently fifth but just six points behind hated rival Racing Point (and its copied Mercedes tech) in third place and two points behind Renault-engined McLaren. Ferrari is over 30 points in arrears in sixth place.

Mention of Racing Point brings to mind the brake duct protest, and the dogged determination and meticulously prepared documentation Renault presented to the stewards provides ample proof of its ambitions. Clearly the team needs to be taken seriously, and will let nothing get into its way.

Since the acquisition the team has invested massively, with headcount moving from around 450 to 750, supplemented by a succession of facility upgrades and recruitment of F1 heavyweights Marcin Budkowski as executive director and Pat Fry (ex-Ferrari and -McLaren) as technical director. Indeed, such has been the commitment that it was no surprise that Renault signed up to the 2021-25 Concorde Agreement.

For the past two years the parent company hung in limbo after the 2018 arrest in Japan of Carlos Ghosn, the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi chairman and CEO. This left instability at boardroom level, where Ghosn’s sympathisers were shown the door and number crunchers took up the slack.

However in July Luca de Meo, a business ethics graduate whose CV lists progressively senior appointments at Renault, Toyota, Fiat/Alfa Romeo and Lancia, Volkswagen and Seat, slid his feet under Renault CEO desk. Among his first moves was to direct that Renault F1 Team rebrand to Alpine from 2021 – thus closing a circle that began in 1975. The engines won’t carry ‘Gordini’ badges, but the car’s livery will feature the tricolore.

Jean-Dominique Senard, Daniel Ricciardo, Cyril Abiteboul, Jerome Stoll, Luca de Meo, Renault, Nurburgring, 2020
De Meo (right) joined the team’ podium celebrations
De Meo has attended more races this (truncated) season than Ghosn did in a decade. The Italian’s presence no doubt galvanised the team, as such support tends to do. As Dieter Zetsche at Mercedes and Ferrari’s Luca de Montezemolo proved during their CEO tenures, there is seldom a greater motivator than interest from the top.

That said, in order to post top results even the best driver needs the right equipment. After Sunday’s race Ricciardo described the car as now being “complete”. Indeed, McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl, whose team currently runs Renault engines – swapping for Mercedes from next year – opined that Renault had recently found “two-tenths” over their orange car.

During a post-race media briefing in Germany Abiteboul called the car “a good rounder” but conceded it had some “corner entry stability” issues. He estimated they are still missing “one second or one percent to be on the podium on a regular basis”.

The RS20 was designed last year by a technical team directed by Nick Chester, who parted company with Renault in December. Fry, who joined in February this year shortly before pre-season testing, inherited the basic car. Abiteboul made it clear when I asked him about the restructuring on Sunday that he believes the team are only just beginning to feel its benefits.

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“Yes I think so,” he said. “This year’s car is very much a product of the previous [technical] management.” Maybe so, but progress has certainly been made this year, for which Fry should at least partly be recognised…

Cyril Abiteboul, Renault, Nurburgring, 2020
Renault’s recent hires “will take the team to the next level”
“Yes, we have new people who will carry the team to the next level, but I believe we have yet to see the effect of the restructuring that we had last year.

“Next year’s car will be the first time that you can see that hopefully in action, and [the result] of some of the decisions we have taken this year; some of the ways we will be using the [development] tokens and so forth.

“But that is for next year. I hope it is only the beginning now that the restructure is in place.”

The crucial question is, of course: Is Renault – or Alpine as the team will soon be known – on course to win again? Abiteboul says the result give Renault “confidence that we are on the right trajectory to progress.”

“I feel that we can be now taken seriously, we are committed to the sport under Luca de Meo, we have a clear cut strategy and the team is progressing,” he adds, noting that the team has almost reached engine parity with Mercedes and that the chassis has taken a clear step.

However, Abiteboul concedes that, “Much more needs to come if we are win races on regular basis.”

Podium-winner Ricciardo has six races left with Renault
One of those “much more to comes” is, of course, the return of Fernando Alonso to the team he won his 2005 and 2006 world titles with. The vacancy was created by Ricciardo’s pending defection to McLaren, whose signing by Renault in July 2018 had caused raised eyebrows across the grid when RaceFans revealed his departure from Red Bull.

As reported here, Abiteboul acknowledges Renault had “been questioned” over the timing of its decision to sign Ricciardo and the team’s subsequent failure to retain the Australian just as the project turns the corner after a five-year rebuilding period.

“The team wouldn’t be what it is today without Daniel, and maybe thanks also to the [disappointing] year that we had together last year,” he said at the Nürburgring. “[2019] was indeed a very painful year which has pushed all of us, probably starting with myself, to take the measures that we’ve taken.”

That said Alonso is, like all great champions, notorious for his impatience, plus his temperament has destroyed numerous relationships within teams. A statistic the Spaniard acknowledged with a broad grin when I relayed it to him two years ago is that every F1 team boss for whom he has driven was fired during his tenure, bar one – Paul Stoddard, who then owned Minardi, and was thus un-sackable…

It is too early to gauge whether the oft-prickly Alonso will fit seamlessly into the team he left twice before – in 2006 for McLaren, returning after a season, and in 2009 for Ferrari. Much has changed since then, not least the culture which had been instilled by Flavio Briatore – who remains Alonso’s manager, and who was held partly responsible by the FIA for ‘Crashgate’. Certainly, Alonso will tax the team’s patience, as he consistently did elsewhere.

Alonso had a comeback test with the team yesterday
That said, the prospect of the relentless Alonso going up against the impatient youth of Esteban Ocon in an identical car is compelling. If the two push each constructively the overall team can only benefit. That said, the key word is ‘if’, and one hopes that Abiteboul and his management are able to channel their complementary skills and obvious speed for the greater good of the team. Both are hard chargers.

All the building blocks seem to be in place for the team’s future success: An upward trajectory, a highly competent technical director who knows what it takes, perfect blend of experience and youth in the driver line-up, a committed CEO and, dare I say it, a team boss who seems a lot more comfortable in the role than when he accepted what could easily have been a poisoned chalice at end-2015.

‘One swallow doesn’t make a summer’ and a single podium does not a championship make. But both point to brighter times ahead, and these must now surely be on the horizon for ‘Team Enstone’, particularly in view of the levelling effects of the financial regulations and a more equitable revenue structure.

Whether the team again becomes a regular championship contender again is down to myriad factors which may or not come Enstone’s way. But just having the name Alpine genuinely in the podium mix would vindicate the struggles of the past five years. That kicked off in Germany on Sunday.


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48 comments on “Why Renault believe they “can now be taken seriously” after podium breakthrough”

  1. Steady on, it’s just one podium.

    1. Its a pretty serious achievement for Renault alongside the so called rise of racing point but more importantly the way Mclaren is falling. Its a pretty drastic fall to be honest–one that has slipped under the eyes of most fans and pundits.
      RP are 3rd 120 points
      mclaren 4th 116
      Renault 5th 114
      The last four races have been horrible for mclaren. Yes they have been plaqued by retirements and may be a little bit of bad luck, but you take away the points scored in those two lottery races (first race in austria and monza // due credit to them though) their tally is 60 points from 9 races !!
      Mclaren have 8 non points finishes (1 dns) but so do Renault.
      Renault beating a customer might not be a something to be extremely proud of, but Mclaren’s fall is significant. There may be many genuine reasons attributable to the fall but while beating Ferrari in the WCC, they’ve lost out to Renault and RP–>thats a very big failure for them in my world. Daniel’s move to Mclaren seems so risky now..at least for 2021.

    2. @rocketpanda If you take into account their performance over the season it’s a big step up from last yr so I think the optimism is warranted.

  2. “That said Alonso is, like all great champions, notorious for his impatience, plus his temperament has destroyed numerous relationships within teams.”

    He is also the only current driver to be resigned by two teams: Renault (re-signed twice), Mclaren (once).

    1. Fireworks waiting for us.. I give it two seasons and then they break up

      1. Eduardo Stark
        14th October 2020, 14:06

        maybe just because Fernando would be too old at that time

  3. Haha, this Abiteboul. Come back with this when you get a podium on merit please. Oh and despite that: keep up the good work. We need more better teams. Don’t let me discourage you

    1. abananasplitz
      14th October 2020, 13:24

      +100 000

    2. Come back with this when you get a podium on merit please.

      Which part was ‘not on merit”?
      Keeping the PU alive is the team’s ‘merit’ in my book, and keeping other drivers behind in similar fast (or slightly faster) cars is certainly the driver’s ‘merit’ to me.

      1. @coldfly good point. If you think about it, for a team every result is ‘on merit’. They build the cars, choose the drivers, run the strategies, etc. The constructors championship is truly pure sport (if you ignore all the political machinations that unlevelled the playing field over the last few years).

    3. That would mean being faster than Red Bull. A tall order given where they started in 2015. As it is they’re doing fine, and they were long due this podium.

    4. Wait, explain that one to us please @Mayrton?

      1. Bottas out, Albon out, Norris out

        1. Norris and Albon were way behind DR…

  4. What is this, all these teams competitive now? Red Bull, Renault, all grasping at the heals of Mercedes.

    Time to change the rules!

  5. Until Abiteboul goes, they’ll remain a midfield team imo. Hopefully they can prove me wrong though over the next 2 years.

    1. So you think if Cyril left they will jump to the front of the pack?! Big statement, nothing to back it up but its easy to say I guess. The only thing that will take any team to the top is Mercedes losing Lewis or Toto or both. The present rules do not allow any closing of the pack. Its like a slo mo 100m race with Ussain Bolt, the more you push, the more he pushes and he’s the best so you needed to have got ahead at the start. Bring on 2022. God help the sport if its the same.

      1. If they hire a competent leader who is willing to admit their own mistakes then I think they’d move forward quicker. Clearly one man doesn’t magically fix a team but when that man is in charge of ensuring the right personnel are in place and the strategy is correct then you could argue they have more weight than most. 5 years in charge and the progress has been pretty dire. McLaren went from worst to 4th in 2 years with no big rule changes.

        Your analogy is not correct, under the current regulations every other team has more performance gains possible while Mercedes will suffer diminishing returns. Due to the dubious Ferrari engine over the last few years it forced Mercedes to push the limits on their PU to the point they actually extended their advantage when the Ferrari PU was shackled.

        Mysteriously few constructors copied the Mercedes low rake concept, possibly believing they knew better. Its pretty clear now that it’s a mistake copying Red Bull and Mercedes have the best package balance in all areas for most circumstances.

        My biggest hope is the new 18″ wheels are the best chance to reset car performance. They will dramatically alter the aero of cars and hopefully reset how they work too that Mercedes know so well. Once Hamilton goes, the Mercedes team will likely start to decline as other parts of the team will be picked off by their opponents. Knowledge loss produces slow declines ala McLaren (2013-17)/Williams(2005 onwards), rule changes can produce quick changes to the pecking order.

        1. @slowmo

          What gains are they then? 0.5 – 0.8 seconds in qually almost every time. Yes they have bitten off around 0.2 -0.5 in 7 years. But only with Max, everyone else is still 1 second plus behind. Marginal returns definitely. You are quite wrong in practice

  6. Considering how much development and experience teams like Mercedes have on their backs, 4 years doesn’t seem like a long time to make the progress that they have. F1 doesn’t seem like an instant gratification type of sport to me but as a
    new fan I don’t know the history that well. Have there been teams in the past that entrered and were competitive in their first 1-2 years?

    1. History is probably not a good indicator given the manufacturer advantages now. Closest recent example is Mercedes joining in 2010. Like Renault they took over another team. Mercedes then put the personnel in place over 3 years which reaped the rewards from 2014 to date.

      Most new teams or management take 3-4 years to reach their peak, I think Abiteboul has probably been unrealistic in the short term goals in the past which makes his current bullishness seem a bit silly.

  7. Four podiums in 10 years. So watch out, third place rival during one race in 2022!!

    All very serious.

  8. team boss Cyril Abiteboul and Ricciardo bet a tattoo on a podium finish this year

    Betting and tattoos are not my cup of tea, but not believing in the capabilities of your own team is something I really cannot understand from a leader.

    1. Srikanth Iyer
      14th October 2020, 16:37

      Willing to do something you hate so that it may spur his team to do better- i can understand that from a leader.

    2. You call it not believing, others would call it giving extra motivation.

  9. One swallow may not a summer make but 3 or 4 could result in one hell of a headache.

  10. I am getting the same sense around Renault today as I was around Mercedes in 2012, when they were starting to look like a more serious contender but still hadn’t quite found their legs yet.

    They seem to be the third fastest team at the moment and as long as Alonso is a smooth replacement for Ricciardo I think they will become increasingly competitive over the next few years.

  11. Just wondering if they can hang onto al of the 750 personnel come the implementation of the budget cap.?
    Can some be hidden under the rug of the Power Unit guise.?
    With Alonso on board and Flavio in the wings, should be an entertaining 2021.

  12. Look we all love dreamers.
    But this team today is more like a pretty girl at a high school dance. Sure would like to get a dance with her but the idea of going home with her just isn’t going to happen. Unless luck comes into play.
    If it’s going to happen then I’d want Alonso to put on his dancing shoes and dance like in control wild man.

  13. The only reason why a Renault car is on podium is because a Mercedes car retired.

    1. A win is a win, and a podium is a podium. F1 is a team sport, and part of that team is the battery in the car, and if it fails to perform then it drags the whole team down. Should all the drivers stop and let someone who looses control of the car on a corner back into their place or should all the other drivers that were behind them take advantage of that one driver’s mistake? Like it or not the current rule is the other drivers take advantage of that one driver’s error.

    2. That goes for every podium finish not by Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull since 2014. Once a team gets a podium on merit, they’ll be fighting for wins as well.

      1. Indeed @krommenaas, and the fact that Renault has been in a position to profit when things happen to those teams several times now this year certainly shows the mechanism behind that. It is also how Verstappen won most of his wins, certainly the first one.

  14. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    14th October 2020, 16:37

    I’ve said this before when i got COTD, which many people were against me for, but I still think the team’s engineers lean out too far to the point where it becomes dangerous. They are literally leaning over the racetrack. It is admittedly the very edge, but this is an edge with no grass / run off or anything but the pit lane wall, so they are closer to the edge of the track than the marshals are. While they are high up, it still would take just one wrong step and they could well fall on track and I shouldn’t have to explain what an awful situation that would be.

    I don’t know of anything happening related to this yet, which is probably why nothing has been done, but it wouldn’t take much at all for what they are doing to be a disaster and then people would be furious that nothing got done before hand. I personally think there sound be something blocking those openings when they are not needed – restricting them doing this. Leaning slightly over the very top is nothing like as bad which most of them are doing.

    1. Ok dear, you said it now. TWICE. Of all the things in F1 this is a new one on me but well done for finding something new and utterly dulll to fuss over

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        14th October 2020, 18:12

        Anyone who leaves a negative comment in this sense just doesn’t take safety sensibly and doesn’t understand how bad it is when things end in a disaster. We can’t prove what may happen – but bad things indeed could, and prevention is possible. Should it happen, there would be no end of people saying things should have been done that quite possibly initially had a similar opinion to you.

    2. F1oSaurus (@)
      14th October 2020, 17:22

      @thegianthogweed I remember Verstappen sr crashed into the pit wall in France and damaged a booth. That was during a practice session or quali though. Fittipaldi flipped his car at Monza taking the finish.

      They could probably jump back fast enough though. They would see it coming wouldn’t they?

      You should look back at clips from the times when there were people all over the race track. Or when they upped the safety by sprinkling a hay bale here and there :)

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        14th October 2020, 18:17

        The problem with this is that something unexpected happening from the positions some of them being in would not be easy to suddenly change without possibly falling.

        I was prepared for lots of negative comments, not that yours is, but several people also commented last time i mentioned this understanding my concerns.

    3. This is definitely something that has crossed my mind as well. It is not inconceivable that someone would lose their grip, footing, or be pushed by another from behind.

      But in saying that, it may not be as dangerous as it comes across on camera. After all, the pit boards are also hung out there as well, and an argument can be made that they could be accidentally dropped too.

      I have a feeling the viewer perspective is skewed and it isn’t as m dangerous as it looks.

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        14th October 2020, 23:58

        Good points, although a pit board falling on a car and driver with all their protective gear isn’t as bad as someone possibly getting pushed or losing grip. It isn’t objects being on the track that is my concern, it is the safety of the team members.

  15. Danny Ric has made a good difference hasn’t he, and I’m expecting Fernando to make another good difference in the same direction.

    It’s the same reason Lawrence has gone for Sebi and the Pink Mercedes has underperformed so far, why Red Bull are so devoted to Max and Ferrari to Charles and Mercedes to Lewis – a really top tier driver makes a LOT of difference, all through the team. And top engineers follow them.

    1. I’d argue it only makes a big difference in the midfield because it’s so tight. Mercedes could have two Botasses and they’d still win all the world championships. So you could argue Hamilton makes no difference at all. Though of course they’d prefer to have the extra margin.

      1. The point isn’t so much the individual races @krommenaas, as the effect on the performance of the team, because of the morale boost and the culture these very top drivers foster, with their endless pursuit of even the tiniest gains, and knowing that the car will be maximised. Without Hamilton, Bottas wouldn’t have such a great car to drive. This is what Shov was saying, about Lewis and Schumi. And hopefully it’ll be true of Alonso still. There’s a reason teams keep taking him back, after all.

  16. Renault lies second only to Ferrari in the all-time engine stakes.

    It’s quite something, but still baffles me to think Renault didn’t capitalize more on their F1 branding to make top of the line sports cars etc all those years (with the odd exceptions). With Alpine it all makes sense. Abiteboul said in an interview the brand is already doing really well (I guess partly thanks to James May raving and buying one), and the new F1 venture could make it well established so don’t see why they would quit in a hurry.

  17. Depends on the design and location of the tattoo imho.

  18. I still think it will take a while for them to be taken seriously as contenders.

    Yes they have “invested”, but the investment levels have really been set to hope that they would fall around where the cost cap would fall, so for the past few years, they’ve been under invested.

    Current thinking is still that the current bigger spending teams will hit 2022 in better shape than those spending less and that it will take a couple of years for the impact of the budget caps and new technical regulations to be fully felt.

    Even with Alonso, I think that at best they can only hope to be regularly 4th – 6th in races and the constructors for the next 2 – 3 years with the odd aberration like that which happened last week. I guess the big question is whether or not their management will lose patience before that time expires.

  19. Lets not forget Merc and RBR had practically lapped the field before the final safety care so there is still a LOT of daylight between Renault and the Top 2 teams.

    That said getting to the front of the midfield inc. the horrid Ferrari is no small feat so well done to the team. As a Danny Ric fan bittersweet to see him leaving for McLaren – 3 months ago looked a genius move now uncertain. Gonna be a very interesting next 12 months !

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