Focus on the Renault Team
The goal of the Renault Formula 1 team heading into the 2010 season wasn’t to compete with McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari and the other top teams in the sport. For Renault, the 2010 season is simply about survival. After being involved in one of the worst scandals in Formula 1 history in 2009, there were significant doubts when the season ended that the team would able to find enough sponsorship money to survive. The fact that the team is on the track and is relevant is a success story itself.
The team was able to survive but not without some major changes. A lack of sponsorship money forced Renault to make considerations other than driving skill when putting their team together for 2010. Instead of giving new number one team driver Robert Kubica a veteran driver to give him support for the upcoming season, Renault chose rookie Russian driver Vitaly Petrov. A main reason for choosing Petrov for the second seat was money – Petrov came with his own sponsorship package from Russian businesses that were keen in having a Russian presence in the sport.
The Renault team was one of the top teams of the previous decade, winning back-to-back Constructors’ Championships in 2005 and 2006 along with Drivers’ Championship being won by Fernando Alonso. However, the team struggled after Alonso left following the 2006 season. They were involved in a scandal where they were alleged to have received classified information about McLaren’s cars. They were found to have been in breach of the sport’s rules by the FIA but were not punished.
However, that was nothing compared to the incident that would eventually be known as Crashgate. It all started in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, which was won by Alonso (who had returned to the team) after receiving a major break when his teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. crashed midrace, bringing out the safety car and allowing Alonso (who had started on a light fuel load) to refuel under caution. This raised eyebrows, but it wasn’t until Piquet Jr. was fired midway through the 2009 season that he dropped a bombshell: he had been told to wreck intentionally by managing director Flavio Briatore and chief engineer Pat Symonds in order to benefit Alonso.
Renault initially denied all of Piquet Jr.’s claims and threatened him with a lawsuit. However, a host of evidence pointed to Piquet Jr.’s claims being accurate. Briatore and Symonds left the team and received significant bans from Formula 1. While Renault was not punished directly, the team’s future was in question after the 2009 season after a majority share was sold to Luxembourg-based investment company Genii Capital. Kubica almost bailed on his deal to leave BMW Sauber to join Renault because of the change in ownership and loss of several major sponsors.
Kubica’s future with the team was in the air earlier this season. Several reports claimed that Kubica would be exercising an option to break his contract after the 2010 season and looking for a new ride. Several media sources said that he would be replacing Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing. Reports out of Italy even suggested that he would immediately be replacing Felipe Massa at Ferrari.
Both Webber and Massa recently extended their contracts at Red Bull and Ferrari, and Kubica also reaffirmed his commitment to the Renault team. Ahead of the British Grand Prix, he said that his standing of sixth in the Drivers’ Championship had surpassed expectations – such as qualifying in the top 10 in every race and finishing in the points in all but one race.
With rumours that Renault is looking to bring on a major sponsor and lure former world champion Kimi Raikkonen out of retirement to fill the second spot, it appears that Renault has a chance to regain its position as one of the elite teams in Formula 1.