RS18 launch : Interview with Cyril Abiteboul, Renault Racing Director
"Last year was successful in many ways"
How would you evaluate the 2017 season for Renault Sport Formula One Team?
Last year was successful in many ways. It was the second year in our rebuilding and a further step towards our long-term plans and aims. 2016 was all about recruiting, investing, bringing in new sponsors, new talents and building our brand.
Over the past year I’ve seen progression in many areas: ninth to sixth in the standings – in many races we were often the fourth fastest team on the grid. This is a testament to our drive, commitment and adherence to a very ambitious plan.
It was a quantified progression towards what we want to become and challenging the top teams.
We saw a lot of development away from the track too. What were the key updates?
We have two facilities with distinct purposes and histories. In Enstone, it’s about modernising and going forward. Amongst several projects, we have acquired new machine tools, the composite department has moved forward a great deal, a paint shop area was created, CFD facilities came on line and we have built new working environments to accommodate our burgeoning workforce. We have recruited over 100 people in the past year, with some very respected names joining the ranks. More will join us over the coming months.
The stability of Viry gives us a platform on which we can build and go forward. We have a streamlined team with effective practices and management that allow us to produce power units that are capable of challenging for wins. The best endorsement for the quality of the engine is that Red Bull Racing and McLaren have chosen Renault.
I am also pleased to see that the two sides are working better and better together. The best example came in Abu Dhabi at the last race of the season; we knew we had a hard task to finish in sixth, but Viry and Enstone functioned as one, mobilised exceptionally well, and got the job done.
How do you rate the driver line-up for 2018?
We have everything to be positive about this year. We have two very talented and ambitious drivers.
Last year Nico gave us exactly what we needed with his experience, knowledge and ability to lead both on and off track. Carlos joined us at the end of the season and we thought long and hard about it. A driver change mid-season is difficult from a human side as well as a technical side, but I think it came at the right time and it was well executed. He brought something fresh at the end of the year, and he scored points to help us in the Constructors’ battle. Without that we wouldn’t have finished where we finished.
They have become incredible team members who have built up strong relationships within Renault Sport Formula One Team. Their feedback has been invaluable in honing the Renault R.S.18 and their skill shines every time they exit the garage. They are as committed as we are to getting every last tenth out of the car.
What influenced the appointment of Jack Aitken as Third and Reserve Driver?
Jack has been nurtured in the Renault Sport Academy so we’ve seen his development over the past couple of years. It is clear he’s a talented young driver and he is ready for this opportunity. He has a full season ahead of him with racing in Formula 2 and fulfilling his Formula 1 commitments. He has the perfect environment to reach his targets and we are keen on seeing him in action.
You have a burgeoning sponsor portfolio as well. Is this a sign of the growing strength of Renault Sport Formula One Team?
Last year we had some big names joining us and we’re pleased to say that what they have experienced with us last season has convinced them to make long term commitments to our team and strengthen their involvement. BP Castrol, Infiniti, RCI Bank, MAPFRE, Microsoft, Estrella Galicia, EURODATACAR and Bell & Ross are all valued partners supporting us in this journey, and we are glad to see them all staying on with us; it shows the merit and credibility of our project and the ambitions we have. We are also glad to welcome new partners such as Tmall and le coq sportif to bring innovative marketing experience to our team. We hope to reward our partners well. There’s a lot of promise for the years ahead.
The Renault Sport power unit will be seen in action with two other teams: McLaren and Red Bull Racing. How important is engine supply to Renault?
Our strategy in Formula 1 is very clear. We are in Formula 1 as a full works team. The marketing value is associated to the works team and that’s clear.
However, power unit technology is at the heart of what we do and what we offer. Renault has an amazing track record of supplying engines to the best teams and best drivers, securing many successful results with Formula 1 teams, from Williams to Red Bull. It’s natural to continue that history and stay true to that legacy.
It’s an honour to supply to teams as big as Red Bull and McLaren and is a recognition of the quality of our product and work that they have chosen Renault. Of course, they are very strong competitors and that’s an extra challenge and motivation. They will clearly be our benchmarks for performance this season.
What’s the plan, the target, the desire for 2018?
Our headline target is to show continued progression through results. We want to be able to showcase our progression in every regard; power unit, chassis, operations, drivers. Everything must improve and we must continue to grow. We want to demonstrate this in many different ways, from the teams we will be directly racing against, to the gap to the leaders, including also our fan base and the respect that our team will inspire in our way we behave on and off track.
How important is the return of the French Grand Prix?
The French Grand Prix is the cherry on the cake of our programme. We are a global brand with a strong French heritage. We are registered as a French entrant to the championship. If one day we win, it will be the French national anthem we hear. We are not quite there yet, but the French Grand Prix will be an amazing moment for us. For the French Grand Prix, Renault is a partner and we’re working hard with the organisers and Formula 1 to create more opportunities for engagement with the fans. That connection with the fans will be strong and give extra energy to the team.
We also have other special races over the course of the season: Silverstone is just down the road from Enstone, then there are Carlos’ and Nico’s home races too. No matter what the sentiment at any race, the goal is always the same: maximum performance.