So Pastor Maldonado has admitted defeat and says he will not be in the Renault F1 team this year. Denmark is rejoicing, Kevin is back! Time to get out the horned helmets again. The Danes are enthusiastic about the sport – and such enthusiasm is terrific. But, before everyone gets too carried away, one does need to wonder just how good the Renault team is going to be this year, given the mess it was in at the end of last season. The chassis was good and with a Mercedes engine it was able to score a pretty miraculous podium finish at Spa, where Romain Grosjean was inspired (and Sebastian Vettel had a late race puncture). But with a Renault engine?
Yes, in theory the French engine should be better in 2016, but that does not mean it will be? The 2014 Renault was, by all accounts, better than the 2015 unit. So we must wait and see how the new engine goes. At the same time, there will need to be reorganisation at Enstone and that will take time. The job of fixing the team will go to Fredéric Vasseur, who is a good man, but it is likely that his primary initial task will be to get Enstone operating quickly and efficiently, without too much interference from Paris. F1 is a world in which a good operator will be respected as a good operator whether he is French, Greek or from Baluchistan, so the idea that there might be a clash of cultures doesn’t really work. The folk in Enstone will want a good engine. The folk at Viry-Chatillon will want a good chassis.
That may sound obvious for racing folk, but it is amazing how often car manufacturer executives, riding around on their high horses, mess things up when they start meddling in racing teams. A team needs to be ring-fenced to stop car executives sticking their oar in. The perfect model of this was created by Jean Todt back in his days at Peugeot Talbot Sport. He was the boss and reported to the big suits once a year. That was the right model. He used similar techniques at Ferrari to build the successful team there.
There are too many examples of this to list them all, but if you are looking at the real Chamber of Horrors then Jaguar Racing is the classic example of how NOT to do it. Control of the team and of the competition department that was supposed to oversee matters became a snake pit, with executives screwing one another in their efforts to gain control, only to be knifed in the back or axed in the head in their turn. It was painful to watch. Toyota messed it up in another way, taking control away from the racers and giving it to plodding middle management types. They always say things like “it’s just like any other business”, but it is not and those who do not understand that, will never succeed, even if they have enjoyed successes in other businesses. Racing is racing. Things move faster.
On wonders the same sort of things about the Honda. There are stories from Spain that there has been some huge leap forward in the performance of the Japanese engine, but it doesn’t sound right to be. Things don’t happen like that. If you make gains in one area, you might lose in another. And weight is key. Honda should know how to make engines, but there is always their that companies like this underestimate F1. Honda was brilliant in the 1980s and 1990s but that generation have passed on and the next generation have not shone in their F1 adventures to date. Maybe there are new people coming up… We can hope.
If ever there was evidence of that one needs only to look at Porsche, which built the brilliant TAG engines in the 1980s. The company came back in 1991, with engines for the Footwork team. This was a complete disaster and the team gave up on the engines at mid-season.
People say that it is not fair that Mercedes and, increasingly, Ferrari are strong and that it is not fair, but the truth is that the two are where they are because they have done a better job than the others – and that means that there is nothing to stop the others from catching up – if they do it right.