In one of the more bizarre stories of an already extremely bizarre F1 silly season, it has been reported that a company called Gravity may be in negotiations to buy Renault's Enstone-based operation – and with it pave the way for 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve to return to the grand prix grid after more than a three-year absence.
On his regular internet blog, respected F1 journalist Will Buxton has revealed that Luxembourg-based, pan-European management organisation Gravity is interested in taking over Renault's F1 outfit, thereby providing the French manufacturer with an exit route from the top flight after president Carlos Ghosn expressed his opinion that the sport won't 'be very important for anybody if it doesn't answer some of the concerns that surround [it]' [see separate story – click here
]. The Brazilian revealed that a final decision about the marque's future will be taken by the end of this year – and in terms of the uncertainty his pronouncement has spawned, the silence is practically deafening.
Clearly confident that the company has the necessary financial wherewithal and expertise to do the job in F1, commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone was believed to be pushing BMW in Gravity's direction prior to the ill-fated deal with Qadbak Investments and subsequently the sale to Peter Sauber. Now, it appears, the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive could be ushering Gravity towards Renault instead.
The rumours arose after former GP2 Series contender and current Superleague Formula racer Ho-Pin Tung received a last-minute call-up to try out for Renault during this week's special F1 young driver test at Jerez in southern Spain. Along with fellow GP2 ace Jérôme D'Ambrosio, Tung is managed by Gravity – and so, of late, is Villeneuve, who partnered the Chinese star in a Gravity Racing International-run Mosler MT900R in this year's Spa 24 Hours.
The French-Canadian knows the Renault F1 set-up from his time spent with the team in late 2004, and has been an increasingly present feature in the grand prix paddock of late, as he eyes a return to the field. Swiss publication Motorsport Aktuell
claims that Tung's Jerez appearance is in an effort to attract some Chinese backing for Gravity – which should it press ahead with a takeover, would ostensibly do so under the name of Mangrove, a venture capital firm that it owns.
Another factor suggesting there could be something concrete behind the Gravity rumours is that the organisation has recently enlisted the services of the highly-regarded Eric Boullier, long-time DAMS team manager in GP2, International F3000 and A1GP – with many titles having been achieved under his expert guidance. 'Why would Boullier have quit a well-paid and high-profile job unless there was a step up for him,' muses Buxton, 'and where does one step up to from GP2 other than F1..?'
Boullier was initially linked with Renault following erstwhile managing director Flavio Briatore's dramatic fall from grace and resignation over the 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal, and he admitted that there had been 'indirect' contact made – possibly, the grapevine suggests, via Gravity. What price, therefore, Buxton wonders, on a Boullier-led, Gravity-backed ex-Renault operation in F1 2010, with Villeneuve and Robert Kubica on the driving strength and Tung and D'Ambrosio in the test and reserve roles?
Prodrive chairman David Richards is similarly said to be interested in a Renault buy-out – only not until 2011, and should it decide to cut and run sooner than that, the car maker will require a buyer immediately. Another potential suitor is the team's Russian telecommunications sponsor Megafon, which would likely be even more interested should 2009 GP2 Series runner-up Vitaly Petrov find himself promoted to the highest echelon next season – especially as the 25-year-old has two government-backed companies behind him and can reportedly lay his hands on as much as €7-€10 million in terms of backing.
Watch this space, as they say...