Renault F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul says compromises were made in 2021 rules package
Budget cap, prize fund distribution could help tighten the Formula 1 grid
After watching his team finish fourth in the Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship in 2018 and after signing former Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo this past offseason, Renault F1 team managing director Cyril Abiteboul can be excused for being more than a little disappointed in 2019.
Renault enters the U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of the America’s in Austin, Texas, fifth in this year’s constructors’ race standings. More to the point, the team that has supplanted Renault as “best of the rest” behind the sport’s big three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull is McLaren, a customer team using Renault power plants.
“We failed to develop the car as much as needed,” Abiteboul told Autoweek. “We knew it would be difficult to make it to the top three, but we weren’t expecting to be P5 either. McLaren has simply done a better job.
“They’ve done a better job than us on the chassis side. We are using the same equipment. There is absolutely nothing different between what we are using and what they are using.”
In other words, Renault is losing in a fair fight.
“Once we made a decision to have a customer, we made the decision to treat them as a partner, a partner team,” Abiteboul said. “It is what it is. If they beat us on the track, than so be it.”
Ricciardo, who had two wins a two poles last year for Red Bull, has been a disappointment. He’s ninth in the standings and has just one top-five finish (a fourth at Monza) this season. Teammate Nico Hulkenberg, who is 10th in the standings, has been told he won’t be back with the team next year. Esteban Ocon, who last raced for Force India (now Racing Point), gets the seat in 2020.
Abiteboul said that there is a light at the end of a rather long tunnel in the form of the 2021 rules package. While he said that Renault didn’t get everything it wanted in the deal, he is not entirely disappointed.
“No, because we’ve been part of the process,” he said. “We feel we’ve been listened to. Our opposition has been taken into account. There have been compromises.”
The biggest change, and one of the biggest compromises, may be the team budget cap which is set to be locked in at $175 million. Abiteboul said that in addition to the challenges of the cap in 2021 will be keeping up with the arms race sure to be set off next year as teams pour as much money they can into the development of the 2021 cars ahead of the cap.
“We would have liked it to be lower,” he said. “We are operating at a level below that, about $150 million. We were sort of targeting or expecting $150 (million) instead of $175 million. We have been building our team in accordance with where we were anticipating that level to be. Now. we need to ask ourselves whether we need to increase our budget to reflect that ($175 million).
“The 2021 season is an opportunity, but I do know that teams will be spending like hell next year — in the year before the budget cap — and we have our limitations.”
Another compromise appears to be in a new look to the end-of-the-season prize money for teams paid out through the Constructor’s Championship. Those figures have not been made public, but Abiteboul believes it will be more equitable than the current top-heavy system.
“We’re confident that the revenue share will be less top heavy,” he said. “Teams finishing from four through six are going to get a bit more, and that’s what we need. And that’s great. That’s what we need. It’s like society. If you are in middle class and you want to join the upper class, we need some help from them to do that.”
Ultimately, Abiteboul is hopeful that the grid will tighten up by 2021.
“I don’t think the sport is bad.,” he said. “We have two tiers, but each tier, each category is extremely exciting. We have three teams fighting between Merceces, and Ferrari and sometimes Red Bull, and that is great racing.
“We have a midfield that is extremely tight and that’s great racing — sometimes a it’s a bit dirty racing — but it’s great racing. The only thing we would want rather than to have two tiers would be to have one tier, and that’s not going to happen until 2021 at the earliest.”