Top Stories of 2015, #14: Renault takes over Lotus F1 team

It took a while, but Renault finally committed to Formula 1 by taking over the Lotus team to race under its own name.

Top Stories of 2015, #14: Renault takes over Lotus F1 team
Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1 Team
Jolyon Palmer, Lotus F1 E23 Test and Reserve Driver
Carlos Ghosn, Chairman of Renault
Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1 E23
Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1 Team
Pastor Maldonado, Lotus F1 E23
Pastor Maldonado, Lotus F1 E23
Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1 E23
Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1 E23
(L to R): Carlos Ghosn, Chairman of Renault on the grid with Jean-Michel Jalinier, Renault F1 Sport President and Managing Director
Carlos Ghosn, Chairman of Renault on the grid

Even before a wheel had turned in anger in 2015, Renault was already thinking about a change of path in its Formula 1 ambitions.

Having recovered from a disastrous start to the new turbo regulations – and faced some soul searching on the back of a bashing from Red Bull – the French car manufacturer had come to realise that simply being an engine supplier no longer worked for it.

With Mercedes the dominant force, Renault's efforts in delivering four consecutive championship doubles for Red Bull had left it with nothing to show; as it had neither got the marketing benefits it deserved nor any financial uplift from its success.

With the ever-ambitious Cyril Abiteboul back at the helm of its F1 operation, he began an investigation into whether or not Renault had the right approach to the sport.

Was it getting enough return for being an engine supplier? Did it need to become a title partner? Did it need its own team? Did it even need to be in F1 at all?

In the end, Renault felt that having its own team was the right thing to do – its reasons justified even more by the very public breakdown in its relationship with Red Bull – but getting its plan in to action was not the work of the moment.

Finding the right team to buy took some time. And while some thought was given to both Toro Rosso and Force India, in the end Lotus – with its infrastructure, capability and history with Renault – become the favourite.

But getting the deal across the line was an uphill struggle. The team's precarious financial situation – and complicated ownership situation – meant that the matter went beyond simply agreeing a figure and writing a cheque.

Adding further issues was the fact that once negotiations had become serious about a potential takeover, Lotus's owners Genii Capital did not want to put any more money into the outfit, because it would in effect become wasted.

So while talks to thrash out a deal were taking place in private, at the tracks Lotus found itself battling to keep its head above the water, as it scrabbled around to pay bills.

It was far from easy, and there were some dramas along the way. In Hungary, Pirelli played hardball over debts and Lotus only got its tyres on Friday morning. In Spa, the bailiffs turned up and impounded the cars. In Japan it was locked out of a hospitality unit, while its freight only arrived on Thursday in Abu Dhabi.

The deal only got finished in the days after the season finished.

But if the takeover of Lotus proved complicated, much harder was getting what it wanted out of Bernie Ecclestone.

If Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn was to green light a works team return, it had to be one that had the right finances behind it.

And for all of Renault's investment over the years – both as championship-winning works team and engine supplier – it felt there should be the same kind of historic reward in line with what other teams like Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren had.

That extra finance proved the key hurdle to overcome – and it took until the final weekend of the season for the matter to get across the line. This came just days after it appeared Renault was ready to walk away because it wasn't going to get what it wanted.

As the year comes to a close, Renault's plans are still being finalised – with announcements of team management, sponsors and drivers all set for the New Year. But at least the deal is done and Enstone is saved.

And however difficult next season might be – with the lateness of its deal meaning preparations are behind schedule – at least the hardest part is now done.

Renault's commitment to F1 came into question in 2015. But it now knows why it is there, and what it wants to do – and has the 100 percent commitment it needs to get itself back to the front.

Top 20 stories so far

#15: Fatal Nordschleife crash prompts safety changes

#16: F1's biggest saga: Red Bull v Renault

#17: Vettel wins with Ferrari

#18: Alonso suffers mysterious testing crash, misses first GP

#19: Volkswagen emissions scandal

#20: Nissan's radical new LMP1 challenger

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