Renault’s road to recovery
From the shambles of two years ago, Renault has expanded its workforce and facilities and now reckons it can challenge F1’s big three
It said much about the growing momentum behind Renault this year that, on the Sunday night of the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff mentioned the team as a contender to join the ‘big three’ in the fight at the front of Formula 1 in 2018.
Indeed, the French car manufacturer’s second season back as a works entrant has been one where it has found new stature in F1 – albeit with a few growing pains here and there. On the downside, Renault suffered too many reliability failures to deliver on the full potential of what was probably the fourth best chassis by the end of the campaign.
But the increasing pace of the RS17, the ever-booming resources at Enstone, the recruitment of some key personnel – including the controversial coup of landing the FIA’S Marcin Budkowski – and that $6.5million bonus for capturing sixth in the constructors’ championship in the final race lifted spirits.
For Renault F1 managing director
Cyril Abiteboul, the high note on which the season finished – especially after the calamity of Mexico – is far more important than any extra finances the team earned from commercial rights. “F1 is all about people,” he says. “You need resources, but that is not what is going to make a huge difference for next year. But people, mindsets, spirit, motivation, that is huge. I believe so much in every single employee and team member, who are going to have an extra element of motivation that will make so much more difference than a couple of million.”
Change at Renault has been fast over the past two years. Since taking over a Lotus team, at the end of 2015, where competitiveness had fallen well behind and investment had stopped, there has been an aggressive push. There have been new buildings, new computers, new facilities, new machines – and a massive recruitment drive that will see staff levels jump from 400 when Renault took over to nearly 700 by the middle of next year.
Growth hasn’t stopped yet, as even Nico Hulkenberg has noticed in his first year on board. “It’s been a massive improvement,” says Hulkenberg. “If you look at the start of the season, in terms of performance and where we were in the pecking order and where we are now, we have made a lot of big steps forward. You have to understand where the team has come from. When Renault decided to buy the team back and make it a factory team again, it was in a very bad state. So it takes the time to build it back up and,