“We were starved of resouces”
Renault boss Carlos Ghosn insists that the firms’ first season back in Formula 1 will be a rebuilding exercise, but expects the Renault Sport F1 Team to be fighting for the world championship within three years.
Renault formerly announced its F1 plans during a launch event in Paris last week, at which it unveiled a new concept livery and its drivers – Briton Jolyon Palmer and Dane Kevin Magnussen, who was a late replacement for Pastor Maldonado after a sponsorship disagreement for the Venezuelan.
Renault has not been present on the grid as a factory operation since 2010, when it sold the team and its Enstone technical facility to Lotus and became an engine supplier with Red Bull Racing acting as its pseudo ‘works’ operation.
That relationship soured following disappointing performances over Renault’s Energy F1 V6 power unit. In an effort to restore its reputation in the sport, Renault bought Enstone back from Lotus late last year after months of negotiations and re-formed its works team.
Ghosn said during the team’s launch that success wouldn’t come overnight: “We know it is going to be tough, we’re competing against top teams. It’s going to take two or three years to be back in a solid way for the podium.
“We are working a lot on the engine and we recognise we are starting with a handicap, but we have the talent, willingness and experience to close the gap.
“We are not here to participate, we are here to compete at the highest level and eventually win. We want to get to the point where every time a race start, Renault is a contender. It won’t happen in 2016, that would be a miracle, but I’m counting on the team to make improvements to the engine, car, technology to come forward as soon as possible.”
A relearning year
Renault’s expectations for its first season back are modest, but pave the way for bigger plans within the next few years.
Ghosn was keen to stress that the re-formation of the team marks the start of a long-term commitment to F1 from Renault, not a last-chance saloon.
Renault’s acquisition of the controlling stake of Lotus F1 Team was delayed by the complex nature of the deal – particularly involving Renault’s ‘historical payments’ from Formula One Management in light of its previous years in the sport. Talks began last summer, with Renault signing a letter of intent in September, but the deal was only concluded prior to Christmas.
The short handover time resulted in Renault unveiling a 2015-design show car with a new black and yellow interim livery. The new RS16 challenger will be seen for the first time during pre-season
testing in Barcelona later this month.
The team’s chief technical officer Bob Bell said the delays in switching from the financially struggling Lotus team to Renault put the pressure on for the start of this season. “This year is a question of playing catch up,” he said. “Enstone has been starved of resources for at least the last year, and for good reason – the head count dropped, physical resource, capability has dropped.
“For Enstone, particularly in the short term, it will be about building that resource back up again. Fundamentally the structure is sound, and there is a very good nucleus of people to build on. The guts of it should be done in a twoyear programme. So it will be this year and 2017 before we are pretty much at a level we think you can realistically compete and be in the top three. We are not going to be rushed in to this.
“It is very definitely the case that Renault is in for the long haul. This year will be stabilising the situation, and laying some very basic foundations for the future.
“Next year is about showing a step forward in capability and performance. Then 2018 is about having a credible target for the team, and a performance step that will demonstrate Renault is back and is a very serious competitor again.”
While talks about the acquisition of the team were ongoing, Renault’s technical department at Viry-chatillon has been pressing forward with a raft of updates to the Energy F1 power unit in an effort to close the horsepower gap to Mercedes and Ferrari.
As well as heavy revisions to the internal combustion engine itself, Renault plans to tap-in to the resources of the wider Renault-nissan Alliance, which includes using Infiniti to aid research and development of the hybrid technology around the engine.
Team head Cyril Abiteboul said: “In terms of engine development we are behind, but it’s not because of this [the relaunch of the works team], it’s because of what we have done ourselves. But there is really very good stuff in the pipeline, and for the first time we know what we have to do.
“It’s about implementing that into the engine in a reliable, well-executed manner. It’s not going to be all of it this year, it’s going to take a bit of time, but we will do what we have to do.
“If you look back it took Red Bull five years [to win regularly], Mercedes five years, so ours is a very safe ambition. We cannot come in and say we will score podiums this year. We only completed the acquisition of the team on December 18 so with the timeline it’s not possible to score podiums [regularly] this year. Everything we do has to be toward the construction of performance for 2017 and ’18, and in my opinion 2018 is absolutely possible.”
Renault’s ‘new’ 2016 car livery Bell: 2016 will be for rebuilding
Renault head Carlos Ghosn says livery may change for first race but will remain “elegant”
Lots of work is going into Energy F1 PU