With the upcoming season of 2021 we won’t see Renault F1 anymore. The team was officially rebranded to Alpine F1 a couple of days ago, as we knew it will happen. What was the reason for such rebranding, and what does the future hold for the team, with the internal changes in staff and focus?
The reasoning behind the rebranding is the currently quite difficult situation of the Renault Group. The group is currently restructuring and undergoing a change in their strategy, due to the fact that the previous strategy to help the company was not successful. Although the COVID-19 situation definitely had an impact on their situation, but definitely the biggest impact had the fact that Renault, as a group, divided their resources into too many projects on too many markets (models that were competing with each other; markets that were not profitable). Their stock price dropped to all time low in March 2020 and has recovered since, especially in the period between November 2020 and now, but the entire year was not really filled with profit for the Group which led to drastic attempts to rescue the brand. In January 2020 Luca De Meo was announced to become the CEO of the Renault Group effective July 2020, and he began constructing a plan to bring the company back from it’s low point. One of the points for the company was focusing on 3 different brands in the group and strengthening of their positions: Dacia, Lada, New Mobility and Alpine. What is supposed to happen with Alpine is for it to include the Alpine brand cars, Renault Sport Cars and Renault Sport Racing into one entity. This is why we now have the Alpine F1 team. Additionally, because Renault has a pretty decent place in the EV market and is interested in expanding and developing their electric programme, they’re now also interested in potentially joining FE. What impact will it have on the F1 division for now we don’t know, but so far the brand is committed to its F1 programme, after signing the new Concorde Agreement that binds them to Formula 1 till at least 2025.
When talking about the introduction of Alpine into the current F1 grid, Luca De Meo said himself: “Alpine is a beautiful brand, powerful and vibrant, that brings a smile to the faces of its followers. By introducing Alpine, a symbol of French excellence, to the most prestigious of the world’s automotive disciplines, we are continuing the adventure of manufacturers in a renewed sport. We are bringing a dream brand alongside the biggest names, for spectacular car races made and followed by enthusiasts. Alpine will also bring its values to the F1 paddock: elegance, ingenuity and audacity.”
Signing a contract with Fernando Alonso was possibly an attempt to rescue the team. He drove for the team back in his days of glory, and although these might be already in the past, he will surely help the team with some of the technical things and potentially attract new sponsors that would like to invest their money there. For sure, this is a rather costly commitment to get the Spaniard back in their car, but the investment might return before putting a young driver from the Renault academy in that place (Guanyu Zhou was the most often linked with that seat).
There have been more interesting thing on the line when it comes to the team than their driver lineup. What definitely came as a surprise was the departure of Cyril Abiteboul from the team, as announced somewhere mid-January 2021. Not only the team, but the entire Renault Group, after he was put in charge of the rebranding from Renault to Alpine F1. Abiteboul was working with Renault since 2001 and gradually progressed through the ranks to the position of the team boss he had since 2016, when Renault came back to F1. He was named the Alpine CEO in September 2020 and had the major say in Alonso coming back to the team. Now, in a surprising move, he exists the entire group. We are still yet to know the reasons, but for now we only know who will be replacing him. Laurent Rossi, the Director of Strategy and Business Development of Groupe Renault, is taking over as the new CEO of Alpine. That does not mean Rossi will become the new Team Principal, as rumours are pointing into another direction. The direction being: the appointed in December 2020 director of Alpine Racing Marcin Budkowski (after retirement of Jerome Stoll), who has been working in Renault since 2018 and held the role of the Executive Director. Budkowski, who worked prior to Renault in teams such as Prost, Ferrari and McLaren, came to Renault in a light of small controversy. He moved to his position in the team after working as a F1’s Technical and Sporting Coordinator at FIA to the disapproval of other teams at that time (due to the fact that someone from FIA was now supposed to work for a rival). It is now forecasted that Rossi will be the new CEO of Alpine, and Budkowski will become the new Team Principal. It is not the end of changes in the team. Lastly, the team will be joined by Davide Brivio, after his shocking exit from the Suzuki MotoGP team to work with Alpine. Brivio has a lengthy career in MotoGP behind him, after working and leading to 2020 title the team of Suzuki, but also working with Yamaha, where they delivered multiple championships. It is anticipated he will overlook wider operations of the team, and possibly having something to do with the resources side of the team, if he’ll be appointed the CEO of the team. What will be the actual positions of everybody is still unknown, but these moves inside of the team will definitely have a huge impact on the entire team and their operations from 2021 onwards.
How exactly will the future of Alpine F1 look like it is still greatly unknown. But as we see, the team and the entire Renault Group are putting a lot of efforts in order to save their brands and still compete in the sport, while trying to regain their position on the automotive market. After the merge between FCA and Renault was not allowed, and the in the end of 2020 the FCA and PSA groups merged into Stellantis, Renault will have a lot of work to do in order to bounce back from the hard 2020. For us, they hopefully will, as this would mean potentially undisturbed operations of the F1 division of Renault and the team would remain in the sport, which is the most important looking at the current state of the grid. Competing in F1 is a costly challenge, which means that if the Group is not doing so well, the operations of the racing division will be ceased as first. Hopefully, with the right people and good plan in place, the future is brighter for both Alpine F1 as well as the Renault Group.