Archive for the ‘Renault’ Category

Fernando Alonso set the fastest time on the second day at Jerez today.

His lap of 1 min 18.343 was 5/100th faster than Rubens Barrichello’s best in the Brawn. This compares with the time of 1min 19.945, he set on the final day of the last Jerez test a fortnight ago. This does not mean that Renault has suddenly vaulted ahead of Brawn, as they were some way behind in Barcelona – a second and a bit. Jerez arguably suits their car better than Barcelona at the moment, Alonso was quick there earlier this month.

Renault had a slow start to their testing programme, but they seem to be motoring now, the new front wing they added in Barcelona, among other things, helping them find more performance.

“I’m happy with the day, ” said Alonso, “As we did more than a 100 laps which was our target for my final day of winter testing. This has been the first time we have run on a really hot track and the information we have from today will be very useful for the first few races, which are usually very hot.

There was also some encouragement for McLaren. Lewis Hamilton did a lap of 1m 19.513, using aero updates and measuring devices to check the pressure of air going through the diffuser. This indicates an improvement, although again Barcelona is the track where good aero shines more.

Tomorrow is the final day of pre-season group testing, so we will see what the final reckoning is, but this has been an astonishing pre-season ‘testing world championship” already.

On another note, it’s been a eerily quiet build up to tomorrow’s FIA world council. Given that the FIA put out a statement a few weeks ago about how a drastic cut in costs was needed and veiled suggestions of budget caps rearing their heads, the €50 million budget and so on, it’s amazing that there hasn’t been much said ahead of tomorrow’s meeting. But there has been a lot going on behind the scenes as the FIA seeks to get the balance right.

The teams’ association put its ‘road map’ to the FIA last week and we will find out tomorrow how much of it is to be adopted. Remember FOTA suggested overhauling the points system this season and making the fuel strategies transparent, among other things.

The FIA wants to go further than FOTA in cutting budgets. Tomorrow promises to be a very interesting day, which is why it’s odd that the build up has been so quiet.

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Why Renault is right to be scared

There have been some worried noises coming out of Renault staff in recent weeks and delving around it’s not hard to see why. The staff have had to take a pay cut, they have acknowledged that there will be a round of redundancies and the title sponsor, Dutch banking and insurance group ING is laying off 7,000 people.

Although the sponsorship has been brilliantly effective for ING and has been exploited very well by its marketing team, it is hard to see how that deal can be renewed when it expires at the end of this season. That could leave Renault looking for a new title sponsor in a super tough environment.

And find a sponsor it must because the Renault parent company is living a nightmare at the moment. At the peak of the business cycle in July 2007 the Renault share price was 120 euros per share, valuing the company at €34 billion. In September 2008 it had fallen to €57 per share and today the share price stands at just €14, valuing the company at just €4 billion. In other words it has lost virtually 90% of its value in 18 months or so.

Last week the French government weighed in with a €6 billion bailout for the French car industry, after a meeting with Renault chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn, who had warned them that the European car industry was about to fall off a cliff.

Ghosn said yesterday that “It may take more than seven years for car sales to return to 2007 levels.”

Against that backdrop, the company has to be thinking of its F1 programme with the same affection as Honda had for theirs. The cost saving package agreed before Christmas was vital, but given that Renault’s estimated spend on F1 was around €300 million last year, you can see that FOTA and the FIA are going to have to cut the costs of competing a bit more seriously still if Renault are to have any chance of carrying on as a competitor in 2010. Hence the rumours about the customer engine deals not carrying on next year. And hence the reason Alonso has done his Ferrari deal, with a potential 2010 start date.

I’m one of life’s optimists, not at all partial to the doom-mongers, who are having such a field day at the moment. But it’s not hard to see where this story is headed.

And then what? I don’t think that the team would be lost to the sport. Seasoned F1 watchers expect veteran Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore to pick up the team if Renault pull out. The model the FIA has in mind will make the future viable for independents operating on a budget of around £50 million per year so there is plenty to play for there. And knowing Flavio, he’d be able to sell it on again once the business cycle starts picking up. Let’s not forget that the last time Renault pulled out, in 1997, Flavio took on the customer engine supply business through his Supertec concern, which supplied engines to Williams.

Let’s hope we are wrong, but the numbers are definitely right and very worrying.

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Superfit Alonso aims high

It’s been a busy couple of days in the F1 world, with three car launches and some more rhetoric in the escalating war of words between Bernie Ecclestone and the F1 teams association, FOTA.

Let’s start with Renault. Fernando Alonso says he can win the championship with this car, he’s ecstatic about the wind tunnel figures, which say that the car should be very fast once they get it running against the opposition on a dry track.

Alonso is once again in the strange position of starting a season at Renault, with a contract in his pocket to drive for another team in the future, as he was when he won the 2006 world title. Of course many people are still denying that a Ferrari deal is done, while Alonso himself is saying, craftily, that he has been asked this question now for five years (true) so nothing changes and he is focussed on the season ahead.

It would be churlish to dwell on what happens next year or 2011, when Renault have put in a great effort to build him a winning car. He seems pretty bullish about his chances this season and why not? Renault made up a lot of ground last season as they finally got to grips with the Bridgestone tyres and with the aerodynamic problems they had built in to the car by mistake. And with the FIA and the other teams allowing them to bring their engine up to everyone else’s level (a special dispensation) they have every chance to compete this season with Ferrari, McLaren and BMW. In Alonso they have a proven champion and just to show he’s really serious he’s lost 3 kilos over the winter. Every little counts, as they say, and with extra driver weight a handicap in a car already bloated with the weight of a KERS system, those three kilos could save him a tenth of a second.

He’s also worked hard on building up his shoulder muscles because he expects a more physical challenge from the grip level of the slick tyres.

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