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Formula 1

Briatore return erodes final bit of Renault's F1 credibility

by Edd Straw
4 min read

Renault’s Formula 1 strategy has always been puzzling. At times half-hearted, only sporadically as successful as it should be and always unstable, the appointment of Flavio Briatore as ‘executive advisor’ is the most extraordinary decision of all.

What does it say about the culture of Renault Group, CEO Luca de Meo and Alpine F1 that the architect of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix scandal is brought in as its saviour?

Briatore is perfectly entitled to work in motorsport and has widespread involvement. It’s no problem that he has worked with F1 itself and there’s no reason why he couldn’t take a role with one of the other nine teams, just as it was perfectly acceptable that Pat Symonds, also a key player in Singapore 2008, went on to work for Marussia, Williams and F1.

But the willingness of Renault to appoint him to a role with its F1 team is absurd. Yes, 15 years have passed since the fallout of Singapore 2008 led to Renault selling the team, but this is the exact same team with the exact same majority ownership. 

And make no mistake, this is De Meo’s decision because the perfunctory press release Alpine issued made it emphatically clear he had appointed Briatore personally. The advisory role is characterised as touching on the driver market, assessing the current structure and “advising on some strategic matters”.

The problem is not his capabilities. Briatore was key to the team’s rise and his positive contribution to the success of the team in the past should not be erased from history, in fact, when one of Alpine’s regular farragoes erupted 11 months ago with the ousting of the team leadership, I argued that what the team really needed was a Briatore-type figure. But this was with the caveat that it could never be Briatore. 

Incidentally, this put in place the current structure that now needs to be assessed. An honest assessment might turn the glare away from Enstone and Viry itself and lock onto those at the top of Renault who expect success on the cheap and couldn’t strategise their way out of an F1 paper bag 

One thing this team has often been worried about is the optics, which has often shaped decision-making for the worse. For example, the candidacy of Nico Hulkenberg when it needed a driver for 2023 was dismissed primarily because he had previously been dropped and it would look bad rather than rooted in the merits of his recruitment. 

Amid the widespread rumours in the F1 paddock that Alpine is considering closing its engine programme, not to mention the mutterings of concern from the American investment group that bought into the team amid much fanfare last year about the team’s direction, it only makes sense if this is another nail in the coffin of Renault’s F1 programme that’s slowly being constructed.

Renault frequently denies it’s for sale and did so again to the workforce at Enstone yesterday when promises were made that this is not on the horizon for the workforce. For their sake, you have to hope that is true as this is a team that deserves a chance to fulfil its potential and show what it can do. There are many accomplished people there and they have been badly let down by Renault.

The only possible logic for bringing in Briatore in this role is as the facilitator of a sale. Disconnect the team from Viry (which has a role to play still in the wider Renault Group), leave the F1 team as its own separate and easily sellable entity and potentially even throw in your unconvincing Alpine car brand with it. Briatore is enormously capable commercially and would likely facilitate such a sale very effectively of an entity that is apparently not for sale.

But there are others who could do this. Part of the rationale given for this appointment was to give team principal Bruno Famin, a hard working first-in, last-out character, greater support in key areas so he isn't stretched too thin and it may be this is all that is about. But again, it was De Meo that forced the leadership structural change last year and if that isn’t felt to be working, there’s again big questions about the Renault strategy. 

There’s an end-of-day feel surrounding the Alpine team in terms of the wider F1 paddock perception and the remains of Renault's F1 credibility have crumbled away with this latest move.  

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