Renault Sport Formula 1 Team has ended its first season of incorporation with strong foundations for its future. That’s the assessment of Renault Sport Racing Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul, who points to the growth and expansion taking place at Enstone, as well as the significant power unit progress seen in 2016.
Announced in February 2016, Renault Sport Formula One Team is the third full manufacturer entry in Formula 1, alongside Ferrari and Mercedes Benz. The team came into being through the 2015 purchase of the Enstone-based chassis construction facility which was combined with Renault Sport’s Viry-Châtillon power unit facility.
“We’ve stated the reasons for Renault returning to Formula 1 as a full manufacturer entry for 2016 many times, but they are worth reiterating ; through having our own team we are the masters of our destiny and we can promote our image as well as showcase our technology to a massive global audience,” explains Abiteboul.
“2016 was always about laying the foundations for the future as we are committed to Formula 1 for the long haul. Our 2016 car, the R.S.16, was conceived in an unbelievably short timeframe – literally a couple of weeks – so our focus for this year has been on expansion of headcount and infrastructure and looking to next year and beyond.”
To these ends, the workforce has already increased by 20% at the team’s Enstone chassis base, where three distinct extension projects are currently underway.
“Expansion is not the work of a moment so we’ve been recruiting people through the year and they have been joining us throughout the season,” says Abiteboul. “It’s definitely a case of targeting a quality workforce to come join us, but we do require a significant quantity of personnel in Enstone as we grow at a level allowing us to fight against the top teams. As part of this I’m happy to confirm that we have two appointments to Enstone’s senior management with Rob White transferring from Viry-Châtillon as Operations Director and Ciaron Pilbeam returning to us as Chief Race Engineer.
“In terms of facilities, we are significantly increasing our on-site CNC machining capacity with two new machines in a dedicated building, a new spray and preparation facility is currently being built and we will shortly start extending our main factory building by approximately 800m2 to house the expansion of almost every department at Enstone.”
Whilst Enstone has seen the most physical manifestations of the team’s growth, Viry-Châtillon has seen more subtle evolution.
“At Viry-Châtillon we’ve been working on the structure with a process of further evolution to the changes started in the recent past,” says Abiteboul. “This has meant adapting the structure to change from a power unit supplier to part of a full manufacturer entry in addition to continuing as a supplier to other parties, as well as targeted headcount expansion for better control of our skills and talents.”
The progress and improvement on the power unit side has been well documented over the year.
“One of our most tangible successes in 2016 has been the performance and reliability improvements of our power unit and the confirmation of long-term supply contracts with both Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso is the strongest illustration of this improvement,” says Abiteboul.
For 2017, Fred Vasseur, Team Principal of the team, has secured a new driver line-up. The team sees a new driver arrive in the form of Nico Hükenberg. Nico joins Jolyon Palmer who will embark on his third season of working out of Enstone.
“Our driver line-up for 2017 shows our intent and aspirations. Nico comes to the team at a perfect time for both us and him,” says Vasseur. “He has experience of working with different teams, including those we expect to be our rivals next season. As well as a significant amount of experience, he has youth and hunger on his side. He has been a driver hungry for the right opportunity to help build a team and we are that team. It’s a perfect match.
“Jolyon has shown great development over the course of his rookie season with us, combined with his motivating approach and team spirit, and we feel we have a very good driver line-up for what we want to achieve in 2017.”
Next year’s regulation changes should give scope for the team to move forwards.
“2017 is a fantastic opportunity for us to take a significant step forward for many reasons,” says Vasseur. “The change of regulations could mean quite a shake-up in the order of relative competitiveness, plus the fruits of our expansion will be ramping up. We made an early start to developing next year’s car with this in mind.
“Whilst 2017 should see a good step forward, we are realistic in our expectations as we know that we won’t leapfrog the midfield in a single season. However we are all pushing for a big improvement in competitiveness.”
As well as the sporting and technical growth seen, there have also been structural changes above and beyond the formation of the Formula 1 team.
“2016 was a year to rebuild relations, re-energise both Enstone and Viry and create synergies within the Renault Sport Racing group and the wider Renault-Nissan Alliance. Our return to Formula 1 was part of a larger strategy for the Renault Sport brand to highlight to a global audience all the evolution of Renault’s corporate profile in so many key markets,” says Abiteboul.
One aspect illustrating the long-term goals of Renault Sport Formula One Team was the formation of the Renault Sport Academy.
“It’s been an interesting first year for the Renault Sport Academy and we thank our first season line-up of Oliver Rowland, Jack Aitken, Louis Delétraz, Kevin Joerg and Sun Yue Yang for their efforts this season,” says Vasseur.
All of Renault Sport Formula One Team’s efforts would not have been possible without the support and input of its extensive portfolio of partners.
“We pay particular thanks to Infiniti who as well as being a partner are also a family member in the Renault-Nissan Alliance. They have used their expertise in hybrid technology and make a genuine contribution to the new generation of Energy Recovery System (ERS) used in the team’s power units.
“Also a big thanks to Total for the quality and the performance of its fuel and lubricant products which have facilitated the top level of engine performance we have seen,” adds Abiteboul.
Looking to the future, Renault Sport Formula One Team will compete on French soil in 2018, with the return of the French Grand Prix.
“Formula 1 continues to grow in new and exciting markets but we are also very pleased that it is returning to the first market for Grand Prix racing, France. As a company and individually, we are very pleased about the news that Paul Ricard will host the return of the French Grand Prix from 2018 and we hope to be challenging for podiums at that race !” says Abiteboul.
Now the 2016 season is well and truly over, the focus is very much on 2017.
“Next year promises a fantastic show. The cars will be faster and more aggressive looking. The tyres will be wide. The action will be tremendously exciting. We certainly expect to be in the thick of it from the very beginning,” concludes Fred Vasseur.