Thought leadership series

Thought leadership series

Abiteboul: Renault plans "very long" stay in racing

Renault F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul reckons that the 'new deal' for Formula 1 involving a wide-reaching package of measures aimed at cost control and levelling the competitive playing field is a victory for common sense and will be a boost to his French car manufacturer staying in the sport.

Abiteboul believes the changes will move F1 away from being a two-tier sport to one where any team entered could win a race, with features like open source components on which teams collaborate rather than compete, to drive innovation and reduce cost.

Speaking as part of our #thinkingforward series, looking at how the sport emerges from the current pandemic crisis, Abiteboul who represents one of the world's top three automobile manufacturers, added that motorsport is in Renault's DNA with over 120 years of history in the sport and that it would be committed to racing long into the future.

Renault opened its Viry engine base from lockdown last Monday and today the chassis factory at Enstone reopens in preparation for the restart of racing, although the effects of the UK Government's ruling on quarantine for anyone entering the country still have to be worked through.

Abiteboul believes that the sport has acted decisively in the face of the crisis to reset the business model to preserve its participating teams,

"It's a major crisis, so it's difficult to assume now what will be really the (global economic) effect, but all the things that are happening: better money distribution from prize fund, lower budget cap.. much lower than it was and we've been pushing for years for this type of figures, so frankly.. will probably be very good for us. Very close to the level at which we've been operating.

"It's a much better business model in my opinion. If the condition was good enough for a number of manufacturers to join the sport in the past, they will be even better tomorrow.

"We've been able to push for containing the crazy development race on the engine, and it's really insane what we've been spending on the engine, and finally that's going to change.

"Our voice has finally been heard as maybe a voice that is representing common sense.

"All of that is pointing in the right direction for those who are already in the sport, I have a firm belief into that."

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There are doubts over the appetite of manufacturers to continue to invest in motorsport as sales of light vehicles have crashed during the lockdown.

There were question marks even before the crisis about Renault's continued participation in Formula 1 and while Abiteboul does not yet have a cast iron guarantee from the top levels of the Renault-Nissan alliance

that F1 is still considered core business, he says, "We've been in Formula 1 since the '70s. We've been loyal to Formula 1 and clearly as we look forward I think it's important to stay true to your roots, to where you're coming from, to your history, not just because of loyalty but also because it means something in the narrative that you can appeal to today's and tomorrow's customers.

"Motorsport has a unique value and contribution into it. That's why we believe in it, just like we believe in a number of marketing activities, except that it's sport, except that it's been a core of technology. That's racing, that's emotion also, and Renault stands for emotion. So all of that means a lot. And that's why we've been in this for a decades and we intend to do so for very long.

"You want to have a clear narrative as to why a consumer should be interested in your brand and your product, rather than others. And I think what you have in your DNA, in your history and your legacy counts to a certain degree much more than anything else."

The Renault-Nissan alliance is committed to Formula E and Abiteboul observed that being in both Formula 1 and FE has allowed them to do Formula E cost effectively because they develop "a number of technologies for Formula 1 that can then be transferred into FE. That's why I think Formula 1 will continue to drive innovation.

"Frankly the trend for electrification is not going to go away, it's going to accelerate in particular with a commitment that has been taken in the automotive sector towards more sustainability. So yes, clearly Formula 1 needs to keep on pointing in that direction but it's been the case since 2009 with the first KERS introduction and then 2014 with this [turbo hybrid] power unit. I think we need to do still a better job in marketing F1 in relation to that."

However the Frenchman believes that the sport must still go further, with the driver salary cap something that he feels there is a moral obligation to introduce. With the lower budget cap coming in, many F1 teams are going to have to lay off hundreds of employees, with all the social consequences and that will entail. So it would be the morally wrong for the levelling of the technical playing field to lead to driver salary inflation, "hopefully we'll be heard, like we've been heard on the rest," he said.

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