JULY 20, 1998
The Renault plan...
When Renault announced its plans to pull out of F1 and sell its engine technology to Mecachrome in January 1997, Renault chairman Louis Schweitzer said that the company could return to F1: "in three or four years".
Almost immediately after that announcement Schweitzer began a cost-cutting program, closing the vast Renault factory in Vilvoorde, Belgium. He also informed the French unions that 2,750 jobs would have to be sacrificed in France. Soon afterwards the company announced losses for 1996 of $750m.
Since then Renault has been quietly building up its production outside France while avoiding clashes with the French unions. Job cuts will, however, be necessary for Renault to become competitive in the over-supplied European market, particularly when the European trade barriers come down in the year 2000, allowing the Japanese car companies to launch into Europe without restriction.
Although Renault has been privatized the French government still holds a 46% stake and the state is keen to use Renault's sporting success to promote France's high-technology industries in the future. At the moment, however, the government does not want to pay.
It is interesting, therefore, that Supertec Sport should pop up to pay Renault Sport to build a new engine for 1999. It is also interesting that the ownership of this company should be so carefully disguised, which suggests that someone would be seriously embarrassed if the news leaked out.
Whatever the ownership structure it seems that Supertec Sport is looking to play a similar role to that of TAG in the early 1980s, supplying money to a manufacturer for the development of an engine. This would not be a new concept for Renault as in its early years all of its sporting programs were funded by the French national oil company Elf.
The only illogical part of the package is that Alain Prost is not involved. Prost Grand Prix is the only French team in F1 and Alain is still one of the highest-profile sportsmen in France. He is currently using Peugeot engines but will probably need new engines in 2001 when Peugeot is expected to turn its attention to rallying. Prost, it should be remembered, was involved in talks with Reynard and BAR in the early stages of the project but timing appears to have been wrong and he went his own route.
It is worth noting that British American Racing's plans for teams to be run in both Europe and America suggest that Renault may have plans to relaunch its products into the American market.