Posts Tagged ‘Renault’

A ping on the inbox on this most extraordinary of afternoons and a statement from FOTA appears.

This one is interesting because it suggests that they plan ‘regrettably’ to publish a dossier of reasons why the current FIA plans for Formula 1 are bad for the sport, in their opinion and why the whole thing is proving a turn-off for fans.

“In response to the erroneous statement made today by FIA, the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) wishes to underline that the entries of all its members – excluding the temporarily suspended Force India and Williams – have been submitted to the FIA as conditional entries.

“The entries to the 2010 FIA F1 Championship submitted by BMW-Sauber, BrawnGP, Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull Racing, Renault, Toro Rosso and Toyota were based upon conditions that have still yet to be met.

“FOTA will continue to act constructively on resolving differences with the FIA. Regrettably FOTA is being forced to outline in detail our objections to the new arbitrary FIA proposals and we will release details of our concerns in the near future which will constructively explain why the FIA’s proposals are bad for the future of Formula One, the jobs of those employed within the motor-racing industry and especially the millions of loyal fans who are dismayed and confused at the internal bickering within our sport.

“FOTA reaffirms the unity and strength of its members, welcomes the three new F1 entrants announced today and remains committed to work with all the bodies of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile to resolve our differences.”

Stories continue to circulate that this process is pushing two of the manufacturers, Toyota and Renault, to review their participation in F1. But when you speak to the teams themselves they say that this is all spin. Nevertheless, Renault and Toyota are engine suppliers to Red Bull and Williams respectively, so other teams are involved. Frank Williams said on Saturday that he has a contract with Toyota for next year and his entry is listed as being Williams Toyota. But Red Bull Racing is listed as TBA on the engine side, as is Toro Rosso, currently a Ferrari customer and Brawn, currently with Mercedes.

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Today is the final day of the group pre-season test programme for Renault and Brawn. McLaren and Williams continue until Thursday. It’s the last chance the teams in Jerez will have to try out new parts and fine tune their cars on the track before Melbourne. We have Brawn, McLaren, Williams and Renault all operating with a single car.

So far this month the two main stories have been the stunning performance of the Brawn Mercedes cars, which came so close to never seeing the light of day after Honda pulled out of F1 and the trouble McLaren has been going through with a slow car.

Those two teams are to the fore in Jerez this week, with the Brawn car clearly a good second faster than the rest, while McLaren seems to have improved its car thanks to new aerodynamic parts, including a new diffuser.

Yesterday’s lap time sheet was misleading. It showed Alonso fastest, but that did not tell the story.

Rubens Barrichello drove the car yesterday morning and his lap times looked effortlessly fast and consistent. It’s not just the speed of the Brawn which impresses. It is the consistency, which makes it a formidable weapon in races as well as qualifying.

Rubens was easily circulating in the 1m 19s all morning. His fastest time, a 1m 18.398s lap, came on lap 4 of a 7 lap run, in which three of the laps were 1m 18s and three were low 1m19s. The car would go signficantly faster on a low fuel qualifying simulation. He handed over the car to Jenson Button, but the Brit managed only a couple of short runs before the car stopped with a gearbox problem, missing the last two hours of running. The car has done well to run fairly trouble free so far, but this incident shows that reliability is the main concern for Melbourne.


Renault’s Fernando Alonso ended the day a fraction faster than Barrichello, catching all the headlines, but his time came out of the blue, on a single lap qualifying simulation, so he would have been carrying quite a bit less fuel than the Brawn car. Looking at his other runs, they were manly quite short, but a 14 lap run saw laps mostly in the high 1m19s and low 1m20s, the thick end of a second per lap slower than the Brawn.

McLaren had Lewis Hamilton on track and the world champion did mainly short runs, mostly in the 1m 20s and 21s. He did a 21 lap long run with laps mainly in the low 1m20s, so a good second off the Brawn car.

Williams had Nico Rosberg doing long runs once again. The team seems to have focussed on long runs with heavy fuel at the recent tests, clearly working on reliability. The car showed that it’s pretty fast though, in Barcelona, when Rosberg took the fuel out and went for it. Yesterday the car was lapping in the low 1m 21s improving to 1m 20s on the third long stint.

It looks as though there isn’t much to choose between the McLaren, Williams and Renault in performance terms, but the Brawn is in another league altogether.

Extrapolating that out with the results from last week’s test, it seems that the pecking order at the moment is Brawn, then a gap to Ferrari, Toyota and BMW, then a small gap to Renault, McLaren, Williams, Red Bull with Force India and Toro Rosso somewhere just behind that group.

But as we saw last week with Renault and have seen this week with McLaren, the cars are so new, it’s possible for a team to make a big step with one development part. So the pecking order may not stay that way for long.

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Today’s Financial Times has some shocking information about the state of the motor industry. And as F1 is seen as an extension of that industry because of it’s reliance on, and domination by, the car companies, you need to know about this.

One story says that for most manufacturers, sales of new cars in the United States are down between 40-50%. That includes Toyota who have taken a 40% hit.

A little lower down on the page there’s a story from Tokyo about how Toyota is seeking a $2 billion bail out from the Japanese government. The company is facing its first net loss in 60 years.

Meanwhile the number of cars exported from Germany has halved. The bosses of BMW and Mercedes are arguing against government intervention in the car industry because they believe that it will lead to irrational consequences and the wrong businesses being propped up. They are talking about the mass market producers like Renault, which recently received a share of a £6 billion hand out from the French government. The BMW boss said, ‘If we go much further then there is a danger that we will have only one or two independent manufacturers and the rest will be state or semi-state owned. If governments did not get involved we would have a much stronger selection process. Because then only companies with high liquidity and no cash-burn would survive. Both BMW and Mercedes are in this position..

From Geneva comes word that one of Renault’s most senior managers has said that the company wants F1 to cost less and demands a fairer share of the commercial revenues and that if this is not forthcoming ‘there really are no taboos’ – ie Renault would be quite prepared to quit. This comes a day ahead of the Formula One Teams Association press conference where these subjects will be addressed. FOTA is engaged in discussions with Bernie Ecclestone about the commercial revenues from 2013 onwards, not the short term.

But there is a glimmer of hope for car makers in another FT story. Apparently the German government has stepped up the scrapping of old cars with an incentive scheme whereby owners of cars nine years old or more get a £2,500 subsidy against a new model. And as a result new car registrations of small cars in Germany have risen steeply. As you can imagine this too has upset the bosses of BMW and Mercedes, who have not seen any gain from the policy.

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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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