Renault is poised to scale back its Formula 1 involvement next year and become only an engine supplier, as its current works team closes in on an alliance with Group Lotus, makers of the Lotus road cars.
Although the French car manufacturer announced on Friday that it was expanding its engine supply deals in 2011 to include the current Lotus Racing squad as well as its works team and Red Bull Racing, sources suggest that the move has come following a behind-the-scenes decision to totally revise its F1 strategy.
Rather than continue having its own team, sources suggest that the company is planning to wind down its involvement with the Enstone, UK-based team to become just an engine supplier next year. That decision has left the way clear for the Renault team's current majority shareholder, Genii Capital, to seek other partners for next year as it looks to maintain the momentum it has gained during the current season.
Sources suggest that the team is close to finalizing a deal with Lotus for the company to become a major sponsor – and potential minority shareholder – of the team. The squad itself could become known as Lotus Renault from the start of next year.
If the deal is agreed, the association with Lotus would provide a financial boost to the rebranded team, and give Group Lotus – owned by Malaysian manufacturer Proton – the opening into F1 that its ambitious CEO Dany Bahar has been seeking.
Even if the Lotus deal does happen, it is likely that the team would maintain elements of the Renault name until at least the start of the next Concorde Agreement, which is set to come into force in 2013.
Renault's new engine deal with Red Bull Racing has included more branding for the company on the team's cars – as Renault Sport's president Bernard Rey suggested on Friday that there were still tangible benefits to being involved in the sport.
"We remain firm believers in the benefits of our successful involvement in F1 – it positions Renault as a technological leader, and boosts awareness of the brand across the globe," he said.
The Group Lotus move with Renault has cast fresh doubt on whether the current Lotus Racing team will continue its push to use the Team Lotus moniker in F1, as it would make little sense for there to be two Lotus Renault teams competing against each other in 2011.
Speculation that Lotus Racing may seek a rebranding next year was heightened by the team not making any reference to its current name in press releases confirming its use of Renault engines for next year. Renault itself announced that it was supplying engines to the 1Malaysia Racing Team (UK) Ltd in 2011.
Lotus Racing team owner Tony Fernandes was not available for comment about his plans as he is missing this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix.