Se­cond time lucky for Re­nault-En­stone?


de­scribed as a mar­riage of con­ve­nience forced by mu­tual des­per­a­tion rather than founded upon trust.

No chil­dren are born of our lady’s Lux­em­bourg li­ai­son, though both part­ners ex­pe­ri­ence oc­ca­sional mo­ments of eu­phoric, if ex­pen­sive, joy – un­til, alas, im­po­tence hits, split­ting the cou­ple amid se­ri­ous nan­cial is­sues. In the process var­i­ous as­sets are for­feit, while eet­ing indelity – with a Ger­man suitor – blights the re­la­tion­ship.

Through it all, mon­sieur makes clear his in­ten­tions of en­ter­ing into mat­ri­mony again, and sounds out po­ten­tial part­ners – Ital­ian, Swiss, and Bri­tish of In­dian ex­trac­tion – be­fore set­tling for his erst­while ex, who is by now in dire nan­cial straits. This on-off courtship is con­ducted in full pub­lic eye over many months, with their re­spec­tive fam­i­lies not overly en­am­oured of the prospects.

Only af­ter guar­an­tees and se­cu­ri­ties are is­sued, does the in­tended re-mar­riage re­ceive re­luc­tant bless­ing, and then on the court­room steps. Nu­mer­ous caveats shrouded in an­tenup­tial con­tracts sug­gest it to be far from a union of equals with mon­sieur mak­ing clear his re­luc­tance to re-en­gage un­til a sub­stan­tial, if de­ferred, dowry is pro­vided by a god­fa­ther…

Even the most char­i­ta­ble mar­riage coun­sel­lor could be for­given for ex­press­ing pes­simism about such a union. Yet, in the run up to Christ­mas, Re­nault/Lotus an­nounced their in­ten­tions un­der par­al­lel cir­cum­stances, with their (re)mar­riage due to be con­sum­mated ‘in the short­est time­frame pos­si­ble’, in the words of Re­nault CEO Car­los Ghosn.

In any mar­riage, suc­cess de­mands huge com­mit­ment from both par­ties. De­spite plat­i­tudes to the con­trary, F1 pays lit­tle more than lip ser­vice to cost con­trol, with man­u­fac­turer bud­gets hit­ting close to $400m per an­num, af­ter off-set­ting pre­mium shares of F1’s earn­ings and blue-chip spon­sor­ship.

And that sum would be on top of cap­i­tal in­vest­ment such as much-needed over­hauls of plant and fa­cil­i­ties. Both the Lotus fac­tory in En­stone and the Re­nault fa­cil­ity in ViryChâtil­lon are in need of sub­stan­tial up­grad­ing, with En­stone hav­ing had lit­tle in the way of in­vest­ment since 2010. There is also a ques­tion of man­power: Mercedes and Fer­rari cur­rently op­er­ate their F1 op­er­a­tions on up­ward of 1,000 heads each. Re­nault? Around 750.

The re­build­ing task is not, how­ever, sim­ply a mat­ter of re­cruit­ing the rst 300 tech­ni­cians from the lo­cal Job Cen­tre. As­sem­bling a win­ning (and co­he­sive) team takes time, money and ef­fort. Such has been the re­cent squeeze at Lotus that key po­si­tions were left va­cant for years on end, with many of the team’s brighter tal­ents hav­ing left mo­tor­sport for good, so dis­il­lu­sioned had they be­come.

The ques­tion is not whether Re­nault can in­vest the req­ui­site four Ms – Man­power, Money, Ma­chines and Man­age­ment – to halt the down­ward spiral, but whether the board will com­mit with­out guar­an­tees of suc­cess, whether in the short, medium or long term. For­get not that in 2009, when Ghosn pulled the plug on En­stone to con­cen­trate on F1 en­gine sup­ply, he vowed to con­vert the F1 en­gine divi­sion from a ‘cost-’ to a ‘prot-’ cen­tre. Clearly he failed, but such a mind­set is difcult to shift.

The acid test will be whether he is present in Aus­tralia, and how many races he sub­se­quently at­tends. In the past he was seen at just two – Monaco and Brazil – and such vis­its are an in­di­ca­tor of ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­ment. Mercedes boss Di­eter Zetsche and Fer­rari pres­i­dent Ser­gio Mar­chionne – F1 at­ten­dees both – have led the way, and it surely shows…

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