All Renault No Excuses
January 28, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
The launch was more than just an opportunity to show the new Renault R202, as this marks the official full-time return of Renault into F-1.
Renault, which ran its own F-1 team from 1977 through 1985, also supplied engines to the world champion Williams and Benetton teams in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997. Then, after sitting out the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons, Renault bought the Benetton team and returned to F-1 last year. The 2001 season was a transition one for the team, which was known as Benetton Renault, but 2002 marks, as was announced at the launch, the 100 percent Renault F-1 venture.
"F-1 is a challenge for the whole company," said Renault president Louis Schweitzer. "F-1 is the cream of the motorsports world, and we will be able to show all our technology in this biggest global sport in the world."
Last year was a tough one for the team as it took on the challenges of developing its radical wide Vee (111 degree) V10 engine, and at the start of the season the cars of Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella regularly qualified at the back of the grid.
"Last year was a very painful one," said team boss Flavio Briatore, "but we have created a team that is very strong. We have amalgamated the French and British cultures in a very short time."
This season the team continues the same engine philosophy but with higher goals.
"This year our aims are fairly modest," said Renault's F-1 chief executive officer Patrick Faure. "You have to be fairly ambitious but avoid being arrogant. We want to finish the season as near as possible to the top three teams. I'd be disappointed if we were not fourth (in the constructors championship). I feel that we can do it. This day you cannot win in F-1 without the technical input of a major engine manufacturer. I have confidence in our total package.”
Although the team is 100 percent Renault, it will continue to operate on the same basis as before, with the engines being built in Viry-Chatillon under the direction of Jean-Jacques His and the chassis being developed at the (former Benetton) factory in Enstone, England, under the direction of Mike Gascoyne. The exchange of information and cooperation between the two sites, however, is better.
In a departure from the policy of the other F-1 teams, Renault actually displayed its new R22 engine and allowed it to be photographed. True, it was only the block, heads and exhaust pipes on display, but this was a different approach than the other teams used.
"It's because we are different," engine guru His said when asked why Renault was allowing the world to see its new engine. "Everybody knows about our wide Vee angle, and we wanted you to have a look at it."
While His would not confirm the exact Vee angle, he said it was the same as last year (believed to be 111 degrees) and said that he is convinced its low center of gravity is worth problems such as excess vibrations that they had to solve last year.
The car, technical director Mike Gascoyne said, is an evolvement of last year's chassis, but added "every part has changed." The team worked around the clock in the wind tunnel to improve the aerodynamics.
"While the car looks quite similar to last year's," Gascoyne said, "it's the parts you can't see that make the aerodynamic difference."
The new car is painted traditional Renault yellow and blue of sponsor Mild Seven. Because of tobacco advertising laws in France, the logos of prime sponsor Mild Seven were not displayed on the car at the launch.
Jenson Button is back with the team for a second season. After a brilliant rookie season with Williams in 2000, Button struggled in 2001, and it wasn't just because of the slow car. That's all changed now, Briatore said.
"He's a lot more focused on the job now," Briatore said. "He is a completely different guy."
Button, who spent part of the off-season training in Kenya and Norway, was relaxed and in a good mood at the launch.
"My aim is to do the best I can for myself and the team this year," Button said. "Jarno (Trulli) and I get along well and we can push each other a lot."
Jarno Trulli left Jordan after two seasons to join Renault somewhat against his will (his contract is controlled by Briatore) but is happy he had to make the switch.
"This may be another year of transition," Trulli said, "but I am not frustrated. I have learned that you can't win with a small team. I have made a big jump. It is going to take time, but I am where I need to be to win."
This marks the beginning of Renault's quest to, as Schweitzer said, "increase the brand awareness and the globalization of Renault." And as such, Schweitzer said, Renault is in F-1 "for the long term."
And it's the long term that team boss Briatore is looking at when it comes to returning the Renault name to victory lane.
"We are very realistic," Briatore said. "We don't expect to win this year. F-1 is a serious business. Only a dreamer would say that we could win now."
"It is going to be difficult," Briatore concluded. "We will do everything we can to be competitive, but after that I don't know what will happen."