Renault’s decision over whether to buy the Lotus F1 team does not depend on the amount of money it receives from the sport’s commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, Motorsport.com can reveal.
The French car company is currently in an evaluation process over its future in F1, as its plans for 2017 and beyond potentially involve it buying out the Lotus team and entering under its own name as it has done previously.
Discussions have been ongoing for some time, and it is understood that Renault chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn will make the final call after reviewing the options in the coming weeks.
Ecclestone recently confirmed that a Renault takeover would not automatically trigger extra payments based on its past performance and historical record, but added that as a manufacturer there is potential to earn more based on future results than if the team remains in private hands.
Renault is seeking double-championship bonus payments, for its 2005-06 titles, the kind that Red Bull already has and Mercedes could earn this year.
“Be a part of F1 – at what cost?”
The rethink of its motorsport programme is being led by managing director Cyril Abiteboul, and he says the French manufacturer is totally aware of the financial situation with regards to Ecclestone – and will “not challenge that”.
“Money does not buy everything in motorsport but without money there is no way that you can compete in motorsport,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com. “So we are very sensible. We don't dream. We know the type of resources that are required and the time it takes for there to be a sensible plan.
“So any time will be a long-term plan; and if part of that plan we can make sure to get sympathy and support, including financial, from the commercial rights holder it is great news. We are not going to challenge that.
“But I don't want anyone to think that we are transferring the burden of our decision only on the commercial rights holder, because first and foremost we have to decide if we want to be part of it; if so at what cost?
“And that is based on the marketing value of F1. Which is good, which is still very strong and still one of the most valuable sporting properties in the world and one in which we have been for 37 years.
“So, in many respects, that is the reason why we want to continue to be in there, but we know that the funding has to come from our company, sensible costs, but also from sponsors and investors. “
Existing debts to cover
Renault’s situation is complicated by the fact that much of the Lotus team's debt represents loans from its main shareholder, the Genii Group.
Sources suggest that one scenario is that Renault could enter as a new team, using the Enstone facility and staff, but not taking over the actual company that began life as Toleman in 1981, and subsequently became Benetton, Renault and Lotus.
“In many respects, our motorsport programme has to be more connected to third parties, we have to work in partnership, not against people, not in isolation,” said Abiteboul. “Maybe that will be the main differences between what we have been doing so far and what we want to do in the future.
“We want to be much more open and inclusive of third parties that we have been so far.”
Waiting on crucial decision from upstairs
Abiteboul expects no quick decision on Renault’s F1 future, but did admit that it would have to decide one way or the other in the next few months.
“I think there will be some news before the end of this season,” he said. “It has to start from our decision, and it will have to continue with a proper execution to make sure that what we said we would do we will be able to deliver it.
“I think we will be able to give some indication of what we do beyond 2016 before the end of this season.”