If Renault buy Lotus: What it could mean for F1
Detailing the potential repercussions for F1 if Renault buy Lotus
Last Updated: 28/09/15 9:10am
On the verge of divorcing from Red Bull, Renault are are adamant that they will not stay on in F1 as engine providers. Instead, the group have signed a 'letter of intent' to buy Lotus, saving 'Team Enstone' from the imminent threat of administration.
If the deal does go ahead, it's a takeover which will have important and wide-ranging repercussions for the sport well beyond the salvation of Lotus...
Red Bull and Renault can divorce with dignity
It's easily arguable that Renault's takeover of Lotus would save not one F1 team but two. For while the injection of funds from Renault would save Team Enstone from the imminent - and very real - threat of administration, the takeover would pave the way for Red Bull and Renault to agree an amicable and dignified divorce following on from the team's dire warning earlier this year that they would consider quitting F1 if they didn't land a competitive supply of engines.
It's understood that Red Bull served Renault with a quit notice to terminate their 2016 contract last month and while the French manufacturer have insisted that the deal is binding, their prospective upgrade to owners of their own fully-fledged 'works' team allows Renault to present a quick divorce from Red Bull as an undertaking of 'mutual consent'. The importance of saving face to Renault should not be underestimated. "I really hope that, on the basis of what we've built over the years, we will be smarter than what we've been and handle the separation in a clever manner," Renault chief Cyril Abiteboul told Sky Sports in July.
After Mercedes rejected Red Bull's request for an engine supply, the former world champions are now waiting on an answer from Ferrari.
If the Scuderia are willing, a series of additional knock-on effects are easily foreseeable. While Toro Rosso would almost certainly join their parent team in switching to Ferrari power, Lotus' expected reversion to Renault power - it would be bizarre if the works team were to stay with Mercedes - would leave a vacancy on Mercedes' roster that Manor are already eyeing. F1 being a tangled web, it would also be no surprise if a Manor-Mercedes partnership also included a stipulation that would see Silver Arrows reserve Pascal Wehrlein drive for the team in 2016.
Financial stability could come at a competitive cost for Lotus
Manufacturers, enter F1 at your peril. History suggests as much and Renault aren't immune. Despite spearheading the first turbo revolution in 1977, their team departed with a whimper eight years later after BMW and then Porsche had stolen their thunder by producing title-winning engines.
Yet Renault's second coming (with essentially the same set-up and infrastructure as its third) suggests how things could be. After taking over the Enstone operation from Benetton when they were struggling in 2000, Renault were world champions five years later.
Renault were a close-knit, dynamic team who could think on their feet in the face of the sorts of problems that F1 throws up – a set-up quite unlike rivals with their labyrinth management structures. And given the close history between the two, there's bound to be a strong familiarity while Lotus also have top-notch design facilities that have melded to race-winning effect in the intervening years, even when money was tight. That led to a 'brain drain' but investment can reverse it – particularly if the financial commitment is as strong as has been hinted.
Yet all this pertains to the chassis. As we know, Renault's power unit has been much-maligned and if Red Bull are indeed looking to bail early, then that's hardly a vote of confidence in its potential. Then again, Renault's reputed 10-year commitment to F1 suggests a real measure of optimism on their part, that they're in it to win it.
Yellow cars will be back on the grid
With half the teams on the grid running dark colours ranging from navy to black, the grid is likely to receive a welcome injection of colour with a return of a bona-fide Renault team. Fans and commentators alike are likely to greet the sight of instantly-recognisble cars with relief too.
That said, the team won their last world titles in the sky-blue colours that were a carry over from their Benetton days, but there was the large yellow stripe added to the cars. The design also worked from a marketing perspective given the local colours - yellow and blue - of Fernando Alonso's Asturias homeland and upon the Spaniard's departure to McLaren, it didn't take long for the classic yellow colour to return to the car. Expect more of the same in 2016 or 2017.
Renault could become France's national team
With Ferrari the national team of Italy – racing in Italian racing red rather than Ferrari racing yellow – and Mercedes being widely perceived, despite their English base, as Germany's national team, could F1 be set for a battle of nations?
With France's only world champion Alain Prost likely to be part of the management structure at Renault, filling a similar role to the one which Niki Lauda performs at Mercedes, the French influence in Enstone looks set to start at the top.
Romain Grosjean, another Frenchman of course, is a near certainty to remain as the lead driver, so the team could conceivably play the national card to try and expand their fan base. All that is missing is a French GP…