Abiteboul: Come 2022, fighting for podiums is the target

Renault should be fighting for podiums in the first season of Formula 1’s new regulations in 2022, says Cyril Abiteboul.

Team principal at Renault since they rejoined the sport as a constructor in 2016, Abiteboul acknowledges that after half a decade of promises, the French outfit must soon make a return to contention.

“For sure, we will not be able to hide forever,” he conceded to Autocar. “The expectation has to be realistic and reasonable. But yes, [in 2022] we can’t hide if we aren’t capable of fighting for podiums. We don’t expect to dominate, but fighting for podiums is the target.”

Across Abiteboul’s first four seasons in-charge, Renault’s best championship finish was fourth in 2018. Last year, they slipped back to fifth, with Abiteboul mincing no words about the team’s 2019 performance.

“There is only one word: disappointing. It came after three seasons of progression. With Daniel [Ricciardo] joining the team, we would have liked to keep that going – and it stalled.”

Nevertheless, Abiteboul remains optimistic the ship can be righted, while also taking the opportunity to reiterate Renault’s overall commitment to F1.

“We have been in F1 for 42 years in some shape or form. I accept our lack of consistency, plus there have been some statements and changes of management. I get all of that. But the reality is we’re well established with two factories [Viry-Châtillon and Enstone], we’re now a group of 1200 people and we’re well advanced, not only for this year but into next.

“The new Concorde [Agreement] is progressing in the right direction and we’ve got a set of regulations which are very positive for us. Directionally, it’s all good.”

Pressed further on whether Renault — who have not officially committed to the sport beyond 2020 — will continue as a contructor with both changes at the company (CEO Carlos Ghosn was replaced last year by Luca de Meo) and in the automobile industry as a whole, Abiteboul maintained that he didn’t see any reason to single his team out for concern.

“I do accept we are part of an automotive industry that is shaking, and that is also true for Renault. But are we really struggling more than [Mercedes’ parent firm] Daimler? I’m not sure. The value is here already and will be only better in the future. It’s down to us to crystallise our potential, starting with our performance. If our performance was better, we would have to respond to fewer questions of this type.”

As to how F1 can continue to be relevant to the road-car business, Abiteboul offered several examples.

“Connectivity, electrification, artificial intelligence, fuel efficiency, lifestyle… Biofuels are coming, a first step in the right direction, plus a number of technologies that are becoming more relevant to car manufacturing.”

Furthermore, Abiteboul expects his team to be among the major beneficiaries of the 2021 budget cap and 2022 regulations overhaul, even if he is not the biggest fan of it.

“I think it’s a shame [F1 needs a budget cap], but I don’t see a better way to fix a system that has been created by the last round of Concorde negotiations, which weren’t negotiations but bilateral agreements created by Bernie [Ecclestone] for a very specific purpose. It badly damaged the sport, and the only way is financial regulation. I don’t like it, but it’s a necessity. It’s a fix which might one day be replaced by something else.”

“We need to move away from the two-tier system. On one side, we’re doing an excellent job with new marketing initiatives such as Netflix and F1 city festivals, but if we really want to capture this new audience, we need to have a sport that’s much more competitive than the one we have now. What I really like about the [2022] regulations is that, for the first time, we have defined them for the show, rather than having a show that is a consequence of a set of regulations.”