Renault plans to resurrect a young driver programme as part of a shake-up of its involvement in Formula 1 and junior categories.
The French car company is on the verge of finalising its future in F1, as discussions continue about its plans for 2017 and beyond that could involve it buying out the Lotus team.
But as well as overhauling its F1 programme, Renault is to change its approach to junior categories in a move that opens the door for a major involvement in a future F2 championship.
Renault's rethink of its motorsport programme is being led by managing director Cyril Abiteboul, who believes that a more structured young driver system will bring benefits in terms of marketing and its F1 salary bill.
"You only need to see the driver wages for a team like Mercedes versus the driver costs for a team like Red Bull or Toro Rosso," he told Motorsport.com.
"I think that Red Bull/Toro Rosso wages are just a fraction of those of Mercedes and that is fantastic.
"So that tells us a lesson about what we should do and how we can improve what we are doing.
"What we know is that we want to be in this category, which is single seaters, if possible, with F1 at the top.
"But we need to do that in a much more cost efficient manner which serves the business and the marketing story much better than what we are doing now.
Abiteboul thinks Renault needs to get more return from the efforts it makes in helping young drivers on their way to F1.
"What is for sure, if we have to be in F1, is I am a big fan of driver programmes. We had that in the past, but maybe it was a bit too ambitious because we had a lot of drivers.
"We got more return being identified as the one who identified [Fernando] Alonso, than the first one who allowed Lewis Hamilton to get behind the wheel of a single seater [in Formula Renault].
"If you were to question everyone in the paddock, even those who know very well Lewis' career, Fernando is definitely connected to Renault. Lewis has never been connected to Renault.
"So we need to build on that, and that is why I am a big believer in a young driver programme."
Streamlined junior ladder
Renault's plans to ramp up its young driver programme comes amid a restructuring of its involvement in junior single seater categories.
It will be withdrawing its financial support of the Formula Renault 3.5, amid speculation that it is considering a tie-up with the new FIA-backed F2 championship – which may be formed from GP2.
"Part of our decision to, at some point in time, maybe next year or maybe further down the line, to stop promoting 3.5 is due to the evolution of the landscape, and of a possible agreement between the FIA and GP2," Abiteboul said:
"If that happens maybe it will mean also that we get the 3.5 to evolve as soon as next year, which I think would be the best scenario as it is not good to have a transition year, as transition years are satisfying for no-one.
"It is better to have a quick transition to the new world – but the key thing is the starting point of what is happening between the FIA and GP2."
World Series benefits
Abiteboul said that Renault's change of approach to Formula Renault 3.5 was because it felt it no longer got good value for its investment, especially with F2 plans coming together.
"We were a prisoner of a format which was very expensive," he said. "It is a fantastic event, and can draw a big audience, but the problem is that every person who comes is a cost.
"It is fantastic to have maybe 100,000 people attending certain events, but there is a cost associated to it and we are not quite sure of our capacity to transform these visitors in to customers of the car business. That is what we need to do better."
Abiteboul said Renault remained fully committed to Formula Renault 2.0 and the Renault Sport Trophy.
"That we will continue to support those two championships is unquestionable, but maybe the way that they are developed, the way the calendar is done will have to evolve," he said.
"It depends on what we decide to do with the World Series by Renault – and in particular if it does not carry any more Formula Renault 3.5."
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