Formula One’s cutting-edge reputation may have dulled in recent years, with fans and drivers complaining about slower cars, quieter engines and unreliable tires, but one of the world’s leading car manufacturers is confident the elite motorsport can help boost its sales.
Renault will make a fully-fledged return to F1 this year, having bought back the team it sold in various stages from 2010.
It has rebranded the Lotus marque — one of the sport’s most famous names — and on Wednesday unveiled a black team livery and new driver lineup.
“This is the car that will test at Barcelona in two weeks’ time,” Renault Sport chief Jerome Stoll said. “It is an elegant livery. Will it be black at (the season-opening race in) Melbourne? Guess. You’ll see, but the elegance will remain the same.”
The French company said it aims to use F1 to promote its brand to a wider audience, while continuing to use Formula E to showcase the electric cars in its range.
“Motorsports still spark the imagination of both enthusiasts and everyday drivers, and we are putting a comprehensive program in place today,” CEO Carlos Ghosn said.
“Formula One is a big part of our efforts to boost awareness of Renault, particularly in markets where Renault is a newcomer, and will enhance the transfer of technologies from the track to our road cars.”
In launching its new motorsport program, Renault noted its past success in transferring pioneering F1 tech to the consumer market — such as the turbocharged engines it devised in 1977, and the collaboration with the Williams team which led to its successful Clio model, one of only two vehicles to twice be named Europe’s best.
The F1 cars’ chassis will continue to be created at Renault’s UK base in Enstone, while the engines will be developed at the company’s home HQ of Viry-Chatillon, with a new program by Nissan partner Infiniti to “enhance” its second generation of energy recovery systems (ERS).
Renault will continue to supply Red Bull’s power unit for another season, despite the tensions over a perceived lack of performance in 2014-15 (after a run of four successive world titles) that threatened to end their relationship. Red Bull, however, will reportedly supply its own ERS components.
While Renault bosses felt they were gaining little positive exposure from the Red Bull deal, they hope a full return to the F1 circuit can have a similar impact to the glory days of its 2005 and 2006 championship-winning teams — its only outright successes.
Since starting in F1, Renault has contributed to 12 drivers’ titles, 11 constructors’ crowns and 168 grand prix victories.
On Wednesday it confirmed that former McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen will replace Pastor Maldonado for the 2016 season.
The Dane, 23, will line up alongside British rookie Jolyon Palmer, having been relegated to a reserve role at McLaren last year following the arrival of former Renault and Ferrari star Fernando Alonso.
Maldonado’s lucrative sponsorship deal with the Venezuelan government had reportedly played a big part in keeping the cash-strapped Lotus team on the track, but his erratic performances earned him the dubious nickname “Crashtor.”
He completed only 10 of 19 races last season, though scored 27 points compared to just two in 2014.
Palmer was a test driver for Lotus last year, and steps up to replace Romain Grosjean — who has joined the new Haas team, the first U.S.-led F1 marque in 30 years.
French 19-year-old Esteban Ocon, who won last year’s GP3 Series title, will be Renault’s reserve driver.
Renault has had success in Formula E, winning the team title in its inaugural 2014-15 season. Sebastien Buemi has won two of the three opening rounds of 2015-16 for the Renault e.dams outfit.