Q&A with Cyril Abiteboul, Renault Sport Racing Managing Director

Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul ensures all aspects of Renault Sport Racing are structured, resourced and working to their optimum potential to deliver on their performance potential. Additionally, he sets the commercial, marketing and communications targets to ensure Groupe Renault takes full advantage of its F1 activities.

Cyril knows the Anglo-French team and Renault inside out. After graduating from the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble, he joined Renault in 2001 and worked in various positions at company HQ in France and also at the F1 team in Enstone. His commercial acumen saw him appointed Development Director of the Renault F1 Team in 2007, looking after commercial matters, partners and sponsor acquisition. He became Executive Director in 2010 before moving back to Viry in 2011 when Renault re-centred its F1 activities around engine supply. As Deputy Managing Director, Cyril oversaw all contractual relations, marketing and communications activities with partner teams and created a solid platform for Renault as it re-established itself in its new guise.

Cyril’s success in the role led to him being head-hunted by the Caterham F1 Team in 2012 to become team principal. He rejoined Renault in September 2014 to become Managing Director of Renault Sport F1 and spear-headed the analysis of reacquiring a team for the Renault brand to fully exploit its long F1 heritage.

Why has Renault returned to F1 as a constructor?
The reasons are threefold. The first is based on a solid business strategy. As an engine supplier our brand visibility was marginal, but it was acceptable when the cost of the technology was contained. With the dual problem of the increased expenditure of the V6 regulations and the level of competition that raised dramatically, it was not the case anymore.
As a team, we can achieve improved returns in all areas, such as brand awareness in traditional markets and new media platforms. This leads to the second reason: to use F1 to grow the Renault Sport brand in particular thanks to a controlled communication strategy with a platform that we fully own. The final reason is that Renault is passionate about motorsport. There is a genuine pride in the results of the past and an enthusiasm to do justice to them in the present day.

How was the news greeted at Renault?
Within the Renault group people have naturally been very positive as it is an opportunity for the group to grow and to re-own the results of the past. It also adds an extra sparkle to the brand as it tackles bigger challenges in its core business. At Enstone the atmosphere has been buzzing. When we visited the factory in November there was a lot of work, but the mood was muted. Now it’s like a light has gone back on – everyone is flat out, but very optimistic. At Viry it’s much the same, despite the huge challenge, there is now a direction. There’s a real drive on both sides of the operation to build for the future.

How will Renault Sport Racing function?
The creation of Renault Sport Racing is a very exciting step. For the first time in a long time we have a coherent brand and structure where all personnel working on motorsport disciplines will be managed by the same team. We will have engineers seconded to Formula E, customer programmes and Formula Renault 2.0, amongst other activities, working shoulder to shoulder. This will facilitate collaborations between Formula 1 and other racing activities we have not seen in the past, such as powertrain developments, aerodynamic advancements and, of course, greater flexibility and mobility. The human performance will also be addressed, with the Academy composed of drivers coming from our feeder series and trained to hopefully become F1 material as soon as possible.

Jérôme Stoll, Fred Vasseur and myself will manage the group and create the necessary crossover points to cover a scope fairly wide from rally, to track racecars and single-seaters. But these synergies must not come to the detriment of the F1 team, which will be relatively independent to manage the very specific technical and sporting challenges of the sport. As F1 Chief Technical Officer, Bob Bell will be fully focused on the F1 performance and oversee the technical teams at Enstone and Viry to ensure everyone is following the same path. Nick Chester and Rémi Taffin will manage the technical teams at Enstone and Viry respectively. I’m very happy with this arrangement; we’ve got strong people in the right roles and a genuine willingness to work together to move forward. We have the budget we need for now, and we need to be cost-efficient and conserve our team spirit as we revitalise existing working models.

How will the Renault brand use Renault Sport Racing?
We aim to use it in several ways. Firstly via the communications and marketing channels with the Renault Sport brand pushed forward through a range of innovative press initiatives and social media campaigns. We also aim to push through technical developments for the road car range by testing them in multiple competitive disciplines.

Equally we hope that the competitive standard will be raised and success in one formula will inspire success in others. One new benefit is also that engineers and other staff working in motorsport will have many career options: there is now a clearer path in motorsport.

But going beyond this, other members of the Renault-Nissan Alliance will benefit from Renault Sport Racing. F1 can help develop expertise in many areas they have not had access to, plus we will profit in areas that have been developed off track. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

What are the targets for this year?
Each category will have its own target. In Formula 1, we have to be realistic about 2016. In some areas we are playing catch-up – it’s no secret that we missed the start of the new power unit regulations and Enstone needs a bit of TLC. This is a year to re-build relations, re-energise both Enstone and Viry and create synergies within the Renault Sport Racing group and the wider Renault-Nissan Alliance. That’s not to say that we will write off the year, but we are aiming to put everything in place for improved success in 2017.

In Formula E, the situation is different, as we are clearly the team to beat with e.dams. But we must not get too excited as we have to harness the very strong performance potential of the package, particularly at venues such as the first French ePrix in Paris, and continue to preserve our competitive advantage for future seasons. For Formula E we are utilising the undoubted talents of Alain Prost, which highlights our aspirations for continued success. In other categories, the primary targets will be to continue the redefinition of our motorsport strategy around the Formula 1-Formula E spine, supporting Groupe Renault challenges around the world.