Renault is reportedly on the verge of completing a deal to secure a controlling stake in the Lotus F1 team. If finalised as expected, the agreement would see the French manufacturer field a factory Formula One for the first time since 2010.
Reports suggest that Renault is ready to take a 65% stake in the Enstone-based team with current co-owners Genii Capital, to whom Renault sold a majority stake in 2010, likely to remain as a minority shareholder.
Interestingly, the potential deal could involve Renault ambassador and four-time F1 world champion Alain Prost obtaining the remaining 10% of the team. This arrangement could pave the way for the French legend to take on a similar role to that of another ex-champion at Mercedes, Niki Lauda.
The deal could be closed as early as next week with all parties set to thrash out the finer points of the agreement on Monday.
The sponsorship package allegedly being discussed by Renault Motorsport chiefs is said to be substantial. Although no official figures have yet surfaced, the scale of the mooted investment could potentially see a Renault F1 exercising the same financial muscle as the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull. If all goes smoothly at the negotiating table, sources report that Renault would be willing to commit to a 10 season F1 programme in a move that would dramatically alter the current landscape of the Formula One grid from 2016.
In the midst of all this speculation, two men who will be keeping a close eye on boardroom developments are current Lotus F1 drivers Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean. Maldonado’s seat is likely to be secure as long as he retains the considerable financial backing of his long-term sponsor, the state-owned Venezuelan petroleum giant PDVSA.
Meanwhile, Grosjean lacks the same commercial attraction of his South American team-mate but arguably possess more raw talent on the racetrack. Whether skill alone is enough to make up for the absence of a big-money backer in today’s financially-driven world of Formula One is debateable but the alleged scale of Renault’s own sponsorship offensive should provide incoming team bosses with the financial wherewithal to retain both men if desired. Grosjean’s relationship with Prost through the pair’s shared links with Renault Motorsport should also work in the likeable Frenchman’s favour.
The primary complicating factor surrounding the purported buyout is Renault’s existing presence in Formula One as a leading engine supplier. Despite having been eclipsed by Mercedes since new powertrain regulations came into force in 2014, Renault still powers the likes of Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso and is contracted to do so until the end of the 2016 season.
Under the current agreement, Christian Horner’s Red Bull team would still get priority in terms of engine development were it to continue its tie-in with the French manufacturer, meaning a factory Renault outfit would effectively spend 2016 playing second-fiddle to its customer team.
However, Red Bull chiefs are known to be unhappy with the relative weakness of the current Renault powertrain compared to its Mercedes counterpart. A premature tearing-up of the 2016 contract could therefore represent an expedient move for both parties, with Renault given free-reign to develop and maximise its own powertrain’s potential whilst also smoothing the way for Reb Bull to jump ship to Mercedes through its road-car links with the German marque.
Of course, the factory team could always maintain the status quo for its first year back on the grid, continuing to supply its rivals whilst seeing out Lotus F1’s existing engine contract– with Mercedes.
Whatever the eventual outcome, this news signals the start of exciting and potentially game changing times in the frantically spinning world of Formula One.