SEPTEMBER 16, 2009

Life goes on

Life does not stand still in Formula 1 and although the Renault team is yet to be judged on what happened in Singapore last year, the F1 paddock is already hypothesizing about who could be called in to run the team if Flavio Briatore is forced to depart. One suggestion that is floating about is that Alain Prost might make a comeback as a team principal. This does not make a great deal of sense given that Prost Grand Prix went out of business back in 2002 with debts in the region of $30m.

Since the demise of the French team the only attempt by an old F1 driver to run an operation was Gerhard Berger, who briefly owned 50% of Scuderia Toro Rosso. Next year Adrian Campos is planning to start his own F1 team but while Campos was a Grand Prix driver back in the 1980s he would never be described as being a leading light.

Given that Flavio Briatore is largely a figurehead, who deals with the politics of the sport, the options are many and varied. Some manufacturers have employed automotive executives, notably Mario Theissen of BMW and John Howett of Toyota. Neither team has been a great success as the racing attitude is rather different. Looking for a suitable executive within Renault is possible but there are no obvious choices beyond Bernard Ollivier, an engineer who currently heads the Renault Technical Centre in Paris but was previously head of Renault Sport Technologies. His replacement at Renault Sport is Remi Deconinck (59), who has worked with Renault since 1976 in various different roles.

It is considered fairly unlikely that the team would appoint a non-French team principal, but Renault's top boss is Carlos Ghosn, a Brazilian-born Lebanese, who is a naturalised Frenchman, so anything is possible.

If one looks in the French non-F1 racing world there are various potential options. Renault might look at other car companies which have men with suitable experience. The obvious choice in this respect is Olivier Quesnel, who started his career back in 1978 with the Simca competition department but then went on to run the Michel Hommel automotive publishing empire for 23 years before being appointed as head of Citroen Sport in January 2008. He also took over Peugeot Sport at the start of this year. He has enjoyed much success already and might relish the challenge of a chance in F1. Jean-Paul Driot has been running the DAMS team for 21 years and used to have ambitions of his own F1 operation, but he also runs his own oil business. His teams are actually run by Eric Boullier, who is team principal of both A1Team France and DAMS in GP2 and has been in charge of the company since 2003. He has no F1 experience but then again nor did Christian Horner when he started at Red Bull. At the other end of the scale are ART principals Frederic Vasseur and Nicolas Todt. They have limited experience as team bosses but Todt is well-connected in F1. Bruno Michel, the man who runs GP2 is thought to be too closely linked with Briatore to be a credible candidate.