Renault has reportedly loaned the new owners of its Enstone-based F1 outfit some €20 million (£18 million) in a bid to help the team to get back on-track following a torrid year in 2009 when it found itself battered from pillar-to-post – and the understanding is that if the loan is not ultimately repaid, the car maker will regain full control.
Following back-to-back title successes with Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006, Renault entered a fallow period in the top flight – one from which it has yet to emerge. Whilst there were rays of hope towards the latter end of 2008 with a brace of late-season victories for the Spaniard, 2009 would transpire to be arguably the nadir of Renault's involvement in F1, stretching back – on-and-off – all the way to 1977.
Firstly, Dutch title sponsor ING announced that it would be pulling the plug on its estimated £43 million support at the end of the campaign, then the infamous 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal cast a heavy shadow over the whole team – and led to the resignation in disgrace of managing director Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds – and finally Alonso too walked away to fulfil a dream switch to Ferrari.
The strong feeling within the paddock was that allied to the economic hardship brought about by the global credit crunch – costing Renault some €3.1 billion in 2009 – the negative publicity and damage to its international image would prove to be the final straw, and that the French manufacturer would elect to join rivals Honda, BMW and Toyota in heading for the F1 exit door come season's end.
In the event, the company chose to sell a majority 75 per cent stake in its Oxfordshire operation to Luxembourg investment firm Genii Capital, headed up by businessman Gérard Lopez. According to the sport's industry monitor, Formula Money
, the sale has saved Renault somewhere in the region of $100 million, with The Independent
claiming that the €20 million loan is secured against the assets at Enstone, valued at £35.2 million at the end of 2008. Should the loan not be repaid, full ownership of the team will return to Renault.