2015 Formula 1 Season Review

Lost on Dagobah

Sub-Heading: Five years ago, Renault pulled the plug on its works Formula 1 operation and sold its Enstone-based team to Genii Capital in the wake of the Crashgate scandal. A little after the end of the 2015 Formula 1 season, the French manufacturer announced that it would once again compete in the pinnacle of motorsport. Renault is returning to Enstone, but the Lotus’s last season as an independent operation has been nerve-racking.

Taking forever to decide

Soon after Renault’s initial fallout with Red Bull Racing at the start of the 2015 season, it became evident that the car manufacturer’s senior management was considering two options for its Formula 1 future. It could either abandon the sport completely, or come back with a works team under Renault’s complete control. Initially, it seemed that Toro Rosso captured the French manufacturer’s interest, but the conflict with Red Bull was so profound that no serious negotiations appear to have taken place between the two parties.

Midway through the season it was already clear that Renault’s works plans were set on its former partners at Enstone. Yet, the decision dragged on until past the end of the season. The primary disagreement was not between Lotus and Renault, it was between Renault and the commercial rights holders. Renault’s hopes for the financial future of the Enstone operation were partially based on a legacy status for the team. Such status has been bestowed upon Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Red Bull Racing and Mercedes.

The more likely the sale to Renault became, the more reluctant to invest in the team’s future was Genii capital.

Wasted potential on the track

Under its belt Renault has ten constructors’ titles as an engine supplier and two more as a full works team. It most certainly deserves a legacy status more than Mercedes and Red Bull Racing. But the nine months in limbo certainly did not help Lotus in 2015. The team started the season with a good car, especially compared to the atrocious 2014 challenger, and even managed to record a podium at Spa.

Lotus, however, could not really fight for anything better than the sixth position in the constructors’ championship as major in-season upgrades were prohibitively expensive. The more likely the sale to Renault became, the more reluctant to invest in the team’s future was Genii capital. The situation internally was so difficult that the management could not keep Romain Grosjean on board past 2015.

Broken relationships with suppliers

Letting star driver and team leader Grosjean go was a minor crisis, but it is just one of many that the team faced throughout the season. In Hungary, Pirelli was unwilling to supply the team with tyres before it was paid for its prior services. Then in Belgium, the teams’ trucks seized because of legal dispute with former test driver Charles Pic. In Japan, the team was locked out of its hospitality unit because of unpaid bills. And the drama continued in similar manner in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

It is believed that Bernie Ecclestone repeatedly swooped and covered Lotus’s outstanding payments. Renault, however, should not have let the team disappoint its suppliers so much in the first place. These are mostly partners with which Renault would need to work in the future. Yet, the Renault management waited until the situation at Enstone was hopeless (with the team being hours away from entering administration) before finally agreeing upon the purchase.

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