OCTOBER 5, 1998
THE chairman of Renault Louis Schweitzer told a French radio station last week that the company would like to return to Formula 1 at some point in the future, but added that any racing comeback is still some years away and would be dependent on Renault having a highly-competitive engine package.
"We have a team of engineers," he said, "and a new generation of engineers who are researching for the engine which will once again give Renault an advantage over the opposition. The decision will depend on the technology."
The implication is that Renault Sport is developing a revolutionary new V10 engine - as has been rumored for some time - and that this may eventually be supplied to Supertec to see if it can compete with the best engines in F1. If this proves to be the case Renault would come back in an official capacity, probably in the year 2001 or 2002.
British American Racing has long been telling people that it has a Renault factory engine deal in the long-term but the logic behind this has never been clear as Renault still needs a great deal of restructuring if it is to survive in the more competitive European car market in the year 2001 when Europe's trade barriers come down and Japanese companies will be able to sell as many cars as they like.
Schweitzer is faced with a company which is overmanned and under considerable pressure from the powerful FrenchÊUnions not to change anything. There is also legislation for a 35-hour week which will come into force soon which will make the French factories less competitive than ever. It is worth noting that Renault is rapidly expanding its production into countries which offer cheaper labor - notably Spain and Eastern Europe. Even if the company can be competitive in car prices there will still come a point in the course of the next few years when the Renault management will have to reduce the French workforce - and thus take on the unions. Having an F1 program when that happens will be a serious weakness and one which union bosses will be quick to use against the management.
Renault's chief rival in the French market - Peugeot - seems to be well-aware of Renault's long-term F1 ambitions and has recently taken steps to ensure that it does not lose Alain Prost to Renault. Peugeot says that it is building a completely new V10 engine for the year 2000 and that means that the company will more than likely stay in F1 beyond the end of the current Prost deal as it does not make sense to pull out having invested in a brand new engine. Having said that Renault did exactly that inÊ1997...