Abiteboul admits 2021 regulations 'go in Renault's direction'

Renault F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul believes the French manufacturer is the team on the grid that could benefit the most from Formula 1’s 2021 regulation overhaul.

The technical and commercial changes that shall be introduced from next year will hopefully steer the sport into a new era, in which a more equitable sporting and financial playing field among competitors will emerge.

Renault’s five-year plan, initiated in 2016, to chase down F1’s front-runners and challenge for the title in 2021 now appears to lag by a couple of years.

The French squad’s performance has stagnated in the past few seasons, with Renault even ceding its spot as best of the rest to engine customer McLaren.

But Abiteboul is confident his team faces a massive opportunity ahead, not only to bridge the gap to its rivals but also to consolidate its future in the sport at a time of disruption for the automotive manufacturer’s top brass.

“I think we are the main beneficiary of the 2021 deal and set of regulations,” he told Motorsport.com.

“I can’t say that they’ve been engineered for us, but for sure it goes in our direction.”

However, there’s an axe hanging over Enstone in the form of an internal strategic review currently conducted by Renault interim management, the potential outcome of which could annihilate the F1 team’s future.

“From my perspective everything that we’ve built we’ve done it with 2021 in mind, and everyone is aware of that, including at Renault corporate,” insisted a confident Abiteboul.

“The figures speak for themselves. Having said that, until a decision is made the decision is not made.”

However, Renault’s C-suite will take its time to assess the pros and cons of remaining in F1, as implied by the sport’s next Concorde agreement, the crucial legal document that governs the teams’ financial relationship with F1.

“I think it’s a parallel stream,” explained Abiteboul.

“On one side there is what the team is committed to do, with the FIA, with FOM. There is lots of discussion going on about the documentation itself.

“We’ve seen hundreds of pages of contract, and it takes a while.

“There’s also the stream having to keep on moving and improving and progressing in terms of our own performance in parallel.

“Renault is indeed making its own strategy and plans. We still have a management in interim, so we are indeed in contact on a regular basis with that management.

“The two will happen in parallel, and I hope will develop in a nice way. In my opinion it’s more for Q1/Q2.”

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Abiteboul aiming to get a jump on rivals in 2021

Renault F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul is determined to gain the upper hand on the team’s rivals by getting a head start on its 2021 development.

The sport is introducing a number of sporting and technical regulation changes to come into effect after this year’s campaign in an effort to boost on-track competition.

Abiteboul is convinced that no one on the grid has put more work into 2021 development, and that this will give the French manufacturer the upper hand next year.

“It’s a big opportunity, he told Motorsport Magazine this week. “There is no team looking at 2021 the way we are looking at that particular year.

“I don’t think there is any team as advanced as we are on 2021, simply because we have decided to allocate lots of resources to it.”

Renault returned to Formula 1 in 2016 with high hopes, but after finishing in fourth place in the 2018 constructors championship it fell to fifth last season and was beaten by McLaren, to which it supplies power units. That’s despite the high profile signing of Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull.

The revived team is yet to secure a podium finish despite heavy investment, and Abiteboul is determined to avoid such disappointment in the future.

“I don’t want to make the same mistake again,” he said, adding that this year he intends to close the gap not just on McLaren, but also on the top three teams that currently dominate the sport.

“2021 should not be an excuse for having a poor season in 2020,” he cautioned. “I am expecting a better season, and that we deliver on the changes and improvements that we’ve already made.

“Every year we are stronger,” he insisted. “[That] brings us closer to the ultimate goal, which is to win, which is my individual goal.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault F1 Team RS19 makes a pit stop.

“Whether I make it happen or not is another story,” he added.

Some pundits have started to question whether Abiteboul is the right man to turn things around at Enstone, and suggesting that he might be nearing the end of his time as team principal – something he himself flatly rejects.

“I’m not close to retiring unless I feel it’s not possible, or unless we have achieved it,” he insisted.

“I am confident that one day this team will win. We’ve done it before, and we will do it again.”

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De Beer takes over as Head of Aerodynamics at Renault

Renault has revamped its aerodynamics department, the French outfit recruiting former Williams man Dirk de Beer who replaces Peter Machin as Head of Aerodynamics with immediate effect.

De Beer – who previously worked at Ferrari and Lotus – left Williams earlier this season in the wake of the Grove-based outfit’s catastrophic start to its 2019 campaign.

De Beer’s work in Enstone’s aero department will be supported “by a Deputy Head of Aerodynamics who will join in the course of next year from another team”.

Vince Todd shall take on this role on an interim basis until his arrival, while James Rodgers, currently Principal Aerodynamicist in charge of future car projects, is promoted to a new position of Chief Aerodynamicist, responsible for Aerodynamic performance development.

“In 2019 we have shown some strengths, but identified areas that needed reinforcement,” said Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul.

“After a rapid growth of our aerodynamic department and a modernisation of our equipment, the strengthening of the management layer of this key department will help us reap the benefits of our investments.

“This is particularly relevant as we enter a very important year in our midterm plan with the 2021 aerodynamic regulations now confirmed.”

Renault stated that Peter Machin had left the team by mutual consent.

Renault F1 director Marcin Budkowski added: “We are delighted to welcome Dirk as Head of Aerodynamics.

“His proven technical and management skills make him the perfect profile to lead such a large and complex department.

“James has demonstrated a strong ability to generate performance and this new role will enable him to steer the aerodynamic development of all our car projects.

“These changes are the next step in the restructuring of Renault F1 Team’s Chassis operation in Enstone and I am confident that they will allow us to resume our progress towards the front of the grid.”

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Abiteboul admits 2019 has been 'most difficult season'

Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul has admitted that 2019 has been a particularly hard challenge for him, and for the team that he leads as a whole.

“It is a tough season,” he told motorsport.com this week. “It is by far the most difficult season that I have personally lived because of the level of expectation.”

After signing Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull at the end of last season, hopes were high that Renault would be competing with the existing Big Three teams for pole positions, race wins and even titles.

But the reality has fallen far short of that. The team is currently in fifth place in the constructors championship and is 34 points behind McLaren, which ironically uses Renault customer engines.

The French squad is also at risk of being caught by the Honda-powered Toro Rosso team, which would be an embarrassing situation for the manufacturer. Meanwhile Ricciardo is ninth in the driver standings, just ahead of his team mate Nico Hulkenberg.

“We always said our target was P4, and clearly we are not there – we are P5,” Abiteboul conceded. “But I don’t think we announced that, and I don’t think we set it ourselves directly.

“We have underdelivered, but people have overestimated what were the actual expectations and actual target,” he argued, adding that this was the reason why “the gap between the two is big.”

And Abiteboul agreed that the team had contributed to those raised expectations which were proving to be such a burden.

“I think through our acts – in particular Daniel, through our investment, through some of the recruitment – many people started to think that there were higher expectations. And that was not really the case.”

The biggest problem for the team has been finding some consistency, with the R.S.19 proving to be very sensitive to the sort of tracks it is running on.

“It works extremely well in some conditions and not so well in other conditions,” he said, explaining this was the reason why the same car that was contending for P4 at Monza ends up P15 on the grid at Suzuka.

“People from the outside may think we are losing the plot, but we know that certain conditions mean we are massively struggling,” he added. “There is very little we can do.”

Abiteboul confirmed that the car hasn’t received any significant upgrades in a very long time, in part because the windtunnel at Enstone has been unavailable over the summer while it was being upgraded.

“We have been struggling,” he said. “Struggling with aero development And it’s not just aero to be honest, it is the whole system. We have been struggling with this new set of regulations.

Cyril Abiteboul (FRA) Renault Sport F1 Managing Director on the pit gantry.

“We sort of know what to do [to address the issues],” he said. “The front wings are super sensitive, the way that they are hitting the bodywork, hitting the floor, leading edge and so on, they are super sensitive.

“But until you do it you will never know for sure. Most of that cannot be done on this year’s car, it will have to be done for next year.”

Abiteboul acknowledged that the pressure on him was now “very high”, and it doubtless hadn’t been helped by news that the FIA has impounded steering wheels and ECU components used by the team at Suzuka.

It’s the result of a protest lodged by the Racing Point team about Renault’s brake bias system at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher said that if the protest was upheld, and the breach of regulations deemed to be intentional, then Abiteboul’s head could be on the chopping block.

“As a team that would be very questionable and you would have to rethink the entire management level,” he told Sky Germany this week.

“Such a thing cannot happen without the knowledge of the drivers,” he added, also noting that Racing Point’s protest might have been the result of a ‘whistleblower’ within the team.

“There are more than 1000 people working for both teams and one or the other will change jobs and then, of course, information like this may leak out,” he said. “That would be the most likely version.”

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Renault prepping for fierce Ricciardo/Ocon rivalry in 2020

Renault F1 Team boss Cyril Abiteboul is bracing for a challenging 2020 when it comes to managing the relationship between Daniel Ricciardo and new recruit Esteban Ocon.

After a year on the sidelines as Mercedes’ reserve driver, Ocon will return to the fray next season, the 23-year-old former Force India driver resuming his career in F1 with Renault, replacing Nico Hulkenberg.

Ricciardo’s skill and experience coupled with Ocon’s still maturing talent will provide the French outfit with an interesting line-up, but one that also holds the potential to deliver some fiery intra-team fireworks according to Abiteboul

“[Esteban] will want to beat Daniel,” the Renault F1 boss told Formula1.com.

“And I know that we will have some challenges from a driver management perspective on the pit wall to manage that. But that’s also a nice problem to have.”

Abiteboul expanded on the reasons why Renault chose to sign up Ocon for 2020 rather than retain the experienced Hulkenberg for a fourth season, insisting the choice was first and foremost about improving the team’s “dynamic”.

“The one thing that I want is to have a team of people who are ‘starving’,” said Abiteboul. “We really are desperate for [people] happy to be in the sport and are desperate for success.

“The problem sometimes in Formula 1 is you have people doing very long careers, and at the end, they are just a bit [there] to be in Formula 1 and almost to win becomes secondary.

“I don’t want that at any point in the company.

“Don’t get me wrong, when I’m saying that, I’m not talking about Nico, because he’s desperate for reaching that podium and those wins…

“But I do feel that when you are 22, in your early days of your career – a career for which you had to fight a lot, what he [Esteban] had to prove, for me it’s a different dynamic.

“It’s the sort of dynamic that I feel is the right dynamic for our team.

“So, if you ask me whether we’ve taken Esteban because Esteban is simply a better driver than Nico, I am absolutely unable to tell you…

“But do I believe that it’s better in the dynamic of our team? Yes, I feel so.”

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Renault wants more leniency for tech breaches but FIA disagrees

Renault F1 boss Cyrill Abiteboul believes minor tech breaches in F1 should be treated with more leniency, but FIA race director Michael Masi says such a change would put the sport in a “dangerous territory”.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was excluded from qualifying in Singapore last weekend when the stewards found that the Aussie’s MGU-K had delivered a temporary power surge that exceed the legal limit.

It was later revealed that the sudden energy spike had occurred just once in Q1 and delivered a microsecond advantage on a lap on which Ricciardo did not improve on his best time.

Given those circumstances, many believed the stewards should have simply deleted the specific lap rather than enforce the exclusion sanction.

Abiteboul sees a contradiction between the FIA’s more indulgent approach to driver penalties and its merciless rulings involving technical breaches.

“It’s a bit sad because we all know the fans want less penalties, that’s obvious,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com.

“It’s strange because on the one side you can see that on the race track Michael Masi is coming with a new doctrine, the black and white flag, a sort of yellow card, so we’re trying to be sensible about the regulations and the impact on the sport and the show.

“And on the other side we have this, and for me there is disconnect between the two that we can only regret because we were on the receiving end, and obviously you can’t expect anything else from me.

“In my opinion in the future there has to be a discussion with the FIA on whether we want to follow more that system that is going on on the race track, or that strict application based on machines, not based on people.”

However, Masi sees building in margins when it comes to technical infringement as a can of worms the FIA official is very reluctant to open.

“When it comes to technical infringements, Martin Brundle put it best: you’re either pregnant or you’re not!” he said.

“I think everyone knows when it comes to technical infringements of that nature what the outcome is. You either are or you aren’t.

“I can feel for Daniel, it was an error, and sadly it is what it is.

“Personally, I think we’re treading on dangerous territory when we’re starting with technical infringements in particular building margins in upon margins.”

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Abiteboul certain that catching McLaren is 'doable'

Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul remains convinced that catching McLaren for fourth place in the constructors championship is possible with seven races still to go in 2019.

A strong Monza weekend saw Renault cut McLaren’s advantage in the points standings by over half. Fourth and fifth place for Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg in the Italian Grand Prix netted Renault a total of 22 points.

Meanwhile McLaren ended the weekend with just a single point from Lando Norris crossing the line in tenth, after Carlos Sainz was forced to retire following a botched pit stop. It means the gap between the two teams is now down to just 18 points.

Ironically McLaren is a customer team for the French manufacturer’s power units, making this a more personal battle between the squads than a mere scrap over ‘best of the rest’ honours behind the big three teams.

“The target was still P4 and today the target remains P4,” Abiteboul confirmed. “I think we are 18 points away from them: seven races to go, three points average more than them, it’s completely doable.

“I think there will be a number of tracks where they will be quicker than us, that’s a fact,” he conceded. “And there will be a number tracks where we will be quicker than them.”

Abiteboul stressed that the secret to beating McLaren was to maximise Renault’s opportunities when they came. “We just need to be capable of doing what we have not done so far, and when we are quicker, scoring more points.

“It’s been bumpy this year,” he admitted of Renault’s performance up to now in 2019. “There have been a number of occasions where we could have had a decent result with some points and helping for the championship.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault F1 Team RS19 and Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team RS19 at the start of the race.

“That has not happened for many different reasons – sometimes for our own cause, sometimes external factors,” he told the official Formula1.com website this week.

He added that in Italy, for almost the first time this season, “nothing has gone against us, against the result … a deserved result.”

Abiteboul added that it was proof that Renault were heading in the right direction and paying off their earlier decisions on engine design in particular.

“I think it’s really fair to say the job done on the engine side is very clear, he said. “We were competitive in Montreal, in Spa, in Monza, which means the demonstration is clear.

“The weaknesses of the car are still here,” he admitted. “That’s why I’m not overjoyed, because I know there still will be tough times ahead of us in the season. But this is just a demonstration of the strengths.”

And even if Renault does achieve fourth place in this year’s team championship, it’s still only the first step in their ambitious plans to climb the ladder of success.

“The target is not just McLaren,” Abiteboul stressed. “The target is to improve everywhere and against everyone.

“Ultimately, P5 and P4 is good – but it’s not where we want to stop.”

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Renault's Abiteboul: 'No sense in hiring Alonso for just one year'

Renault Sport F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul would likely roll out the red carpet for Fernando Alonso, should the cost and duration of a contract with the Spaniard be within the manufacturer’s means.

Abiteboul still appears to favour an unchanged line-up for 2019, with Nico Hulkenberg already locked in and Carlos Sainz yet to be confirmed, either by Renault or by Red Bull should Daniel Ricciardo suddenly decide to jump ship.

“We are not in a hurry and we also have to see what are the side effects of the [Red Bull] decision on the engine,” said the Frenchman at Silverstone last weekend.

“In general the drivers we have work well and we would like to keep them.

“But I am also calm in the sense that, if we have a good car and progress as a team, we will have a selection of drivers who want to be with us.”

To that effect, Abiteboul would obviously consider hiring Alonso although he insisted there was currently nothing in the works regarding the still McLaren driver.

“I don’t want to encourage that rumour,” Abiteboul told Spain’s Marca.

“I think Fernando first has to decide what he wants to do for himself, which is whether to continue driving in F1 or not.

“We have a lot of respect for Fernando, but we are more interested in drivers who want to be with us in the long term.

“We could still reach an agreement with Alonso, but doing it for a year would not make sense,” Abiteboul added.

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