Renault has come to a decision regarding its future in F1, it has been reported, with the French manufacturer perhaps predictably electing to sell its Enstone-based outfit on – although it will continue to be involved in the team with a minority 25 per cent stake.
A crucial board meeting took place in Paris yesterday (Thursday), at the end of which the conclusion was reached to end its official participation in the top flight with immediate effect – though it is believed the Renault F1 name will remain on the grand prix grid in 2010, albeit under new ownership. The staff are expected to be informed today (Friday), with a public announcement next week.
Earlier this week, the sport's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone hinted that there were as many as four potential parties interested in purchasing the team [see separate story – click here
], but the two most serious bidders are widely understood to be Prodrive chairman David Richards and Luxembourg-based businessman Gérard Lopez, who is behind a consortium composed of the Genii Capital investment company, Gravity Sports Management and technology investment firm Mangrove Capital Partners.
Whilst the key players at Enstone favour the Richards offer – with the highly-respected, ex-World Rally Championship-winning co-driver boasting previous experience of successfully running an F1 team, and experience of running Renault at that, in its former guise of Benetton in 1998 – the company's president Carlos Ghosn has been championing Lopez, who perhaps significantly also has the endorsement of Ecclestone.
It was Ghosn, indeed, who first cast real seeds of doubt about Renault's ongoing commitment to F1, after claiming that he wondered if the sport would continue to 'be very important for anybody if it doesn't answer some of the concerns that surround [it]' [see separate story – click here
An emergency board meeting last month was followed by a series of further such reunions this week, but in truth the withdrawal is of little real surprise, and makes Renault the fourth car maker to depart the fray over the last twelve months, following in the wheel tracks of Honda, BMW and Toyota. Moreover, it is the fifth manufacturer to leave F1 in total including Bridgestone, as the pinnacle of international motor racing looks increasingly to be returning to the independents, with Lotus F1, Campos Meta 1, Manor/Virgin, USF1 and Sauber all set to swell the field in 2010.
Not only did the Oxfordshire concern endure its worst campaign since its return to the grand prix grid as a constructor in its own right seven years ago – winding up a lowly eighth in the final rankings, with just a sole podium finish along the way, courtesy of Fernando Alonso in Singapore – but it also lost the services of its talisman driver and saw its reputation badly tarnished by the 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal, an episode that cost the heads of disgraced erstwhile managing director Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds, both of whom have since appealed their respective exclusions from the sport.
Renault itself escaped comparatively lightly with a two-year suspended ban, but the stain upon the company's global image was far more damaging – and major sponsors ING and Mutua Madrileña subsequently wasted no time at all in pulling the plug.
What the news means for Robert Kubica is unclear. The Pole has a contract with Renault for F1 2010, but it is understood that therein lies a clause allowing him to jump ship should the team be sold – and Mercedes Grand Prix is ostensibly waiting in the wings to see what transpires, keen to pair the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix winner alongside Nico Rosberg at Brackley next year.