With the Toro Rosso and Force India previews now done, F1 Badger turns its quite considerable attention to the Renault team. Allons-y!
Much has changed in the Renault team over the last season. A quick rundown includes the departure of Nelson Piquet and his replacement by the possibly even more disappointing Roman Grosjean, the subsequent ‘crashgate’ scandal, the departure of Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds (and Flavio’s court action), Fernando Alonso’s exit to Ferrari, the sale of the team to a Luxembourg-based venture capital firm, the appointment of a new team principal with no previous F1 experience and the employment of a Russian driver who just happens to come with an enormous sum of money. All of these things would be fairly noteworthy individually, but for one team to have been involved in all of them is, quite frankly, bonkers. Where on earth to start!?
Last season’s eighth place finish constitutes a fairly remarkable fall for a team who, only three seasons earlier, were on the way to winning back-to-back driver and constructor championships. It’s also their worst result since the Renault name returned to F1 in 2002. All 26 points the team accumulated were due to Alonso, with both Piquet Jr and Grosjean failing to score or finish higher than tenth. “Oh dear” doesn’t even begin to cover it, does it? That said, the team actually managed a lower total in 2002, accumulating only 23 points but somehow managing to finish fourth in the constructors’ championship (the teams below them accumulated the grand total of 41 points between them, a remarkable 19% of Ferrari’s total for that season!) Even from the 2008 season, when Renault finished in fourth place with 80 points, the drop during last season is noticeable. Anyway, enough of Renault’s on-track failings, as their really big event of the season wasn’t even from 2009…
For those who were a) hiding under a rock during August and September last year or b) not F1 fans at that point in time, here’s a brief reminder. During the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, the only thing that enlivened the race was this accident by Nelson Piquet, followed by Fernando Alonso taking advantage of the situation to win the race after starting fifteenth. Fair enough, you might think, Piquet’s just utterly pants and Fernando got lucky – indeed, that’s what most, if not all, of the F1 world thought. Then, when Piquet’s results (or lack thereof) became intolerable and Renault finally performed a mercy-sacking, he accused the team of asking him to crash in order to fix the race for Alonso. After an FIA investigation and some legal shilly-shallying, Renault announced they would not be contesting the charges and that Briatore and Symonds had left the team. The team was given a suspended disqualification for two years, Briatore was banned indefinitely and Symonds banned for five years. Incidentally, both these bans have now been overturned by a French court,, even awarding compensation to Briatore and Symonds. Money for cheating – good, eh?
After that rather large mess, there was talk at the end of last season that Renault would pull out of F1 entirely, or just continue to supply engines, but thankfully in a world where Honda, Toyota and BMW have all pulled out in recent history, Renault remain (at least in part). New for this season is the fact that Genii Capital, a Luxembourg-based investment company, have bought a 75% stake in the team, with Renault retaining 25%. It remains to be seen how this will impact the team, but signing Russian driver Vitaly Petrov with massive financial backing alongside the established (and quite good) Robert Kubica is probably an indicator of what’s to come. By partnering Kubica with the untried Russian, the team will hope to secure themselves some points finishes, even if the Russian turns out to be, well, slower than Piquet. This season’s car was unveiled at the end of January sporting a retro colour scheme, which, it has to be said, your colour-blind correspondent really likes. Apart from that, predicting how good the car will be is always a lottery, but what with all the palaver at Renault over the last year, it’d be truly remarkable if it were either championship or race winning material.
Minimum target: Consistent lower points finishes.
Ambitious target: Challenging for podiums regularly.
Benson Jamichello’s prediction: Consistent lower points finishes.