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NOVEMBER 8, 2003

Iley's move is bad news for Renault

The fact that John Iley has moved from Renault to Ferrari is not in itself a starting piece of news but it is a worrying sign that the team that made Renault competitive this year is being ripped apart by frustrations with the way Renault is going forward and better offers from rival teams. The process began with Mike Gascoyne becoming a Toyota target early in the year. Gascoyne was made an offer that he could not refuse and unhappy to have designed an impressive car which was let down by the engine, was ready to move on. Renault fought to hold him to his contract but a settlement was found and Gascoyne walked. What was significant was in the end Renault agreed to take money rather than have Gascoyne sitting on the sidelines for six months. Some would argue that this sums up the state in which Renault finds itself. Toyota must be considered a serious challenger for Renault's fourth spot in the Constructors' Championship in 2004 and it is odd that Renault was willing to allow Gascoyne to go to work at Toyota so soon. This will mean that the team will be subject to much more Gascoyne influence and will almost certainly be stronger as a result. It is odd therefore that Renault chose this course of action.

The team's biggest problem is that despite a lot of hot air emanating from the public relations division, the Renault package for next year is going to be late-arriving and probably not as competitive as the current car. The fact that Renault has announced a new 90-degree V10 programme for 2005 is an indication that it knows that 2004 is going to be a difficult year. At the time Renault's veteran engine boss Bernard Dudot admitted that the 2004 engine would not be state-of-the-art.

"The design of the engine will be similar to the design used on the engines from the 2000 season," he admitted, "but they will be completely new."

Since then Renault has confirmed that the RS24 engine will not actually run on a test bed until mid-January, which will leave very little time to make sure that the new units are reliable when run in the cars before the season kicks off in Australia in March. The new engine is believed to be taller and with a higher centre of gravity than this year's engine. The engine will have to run for around 700km because of the new one engine per weekend rule and so will probably be heavier than the 2003 unit as well.

The question asked at the time of the time of the engine announcement was whether or not another year with an engine which is no match for Ferrari and BMW would lead to defections and the departure of Gascoyne and now Iley suggests that this is indeed the case. It will be interesting to see which other Renault engineers take off elsewhere.

The danger of this, of course, is that Renault's plans to be fully competitive in 2005 may now be compromised and that means that both Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber, the men who are expected to be at Renault in 2005 may be less willing to stay around. Webber is on the Williams shopping list and Alonso is very clearly number one on the list of Ferrari.

It is worth noting that back in 1995 Benetton's previous team imploded when Michael Schumacher took off to Ferrari, leaving Flavio Briatore to go through a series of unsuccessful seasons which led, ultimately, to him being dropped by the Benetton Family in September 1997.