Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Thursday, July 11, 1996
Renault Driven Out by Its Success
By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - Renault, the leading engine maker in Formula One, goes into the British Grand Prix Sunday knowing that it cannot improve on its last performance.
Two weeks ago the four Renault-powered cars finished in the top four places in the French Grand Prix, something Renault had never achieved before. The triumph came just days after the team announced its withdrawal from the sport at the end of 1997. The French Grand Prix only pushed Renault further along a dizzying upward spiral of success it finds increasingly difficult to live with.
''Renault has won so much that now our victories go without notice, while our defeats become great events,'' said Jean-Jacques Delaruwiere, a Renault spokesman.
''When Mr. Michael Schumacher wins the Spanish Grand Prix, it's a big event,'' he said of the German driver who left Renault last year to join Ferrari. ''When Renault did one, two, three, four even L'Equipe, the French sports newspaper, didn't put that on the front page!''
The problem becomes clearer if Renault loses. When Damon Hill blew an engine while leading Monaco it became a ''catastrophe,'' to critics, though Renault had not blown an engine in a race for three years.
''It is true that it is very difficult to reach the top, but even more difficult to stay there,'' said Delaruwiere. ''But we are leaving Formula One simply because we have nothing more to prove. We have won 81 Grand Prix. We would like to win 100. But what purpose would there be in winning 120 or 130?''
Renault entered Formula One as both a car and engine constructor in 1977, but failed to win any titles. So in '87 it withdrew for a period of observation, returning in '89 as an engine supplier only. Since then it has won half the races, and been part of four constructors' and three drivers' titles.
Renault is one of eight engine constructors serving 11 teams of two cars. Only three of those have won a race since '89: Ford, Ferrari and Mugen-Honda. All would probably love to find out how bad things can be at the top.
One reason for Renault's success has been an enormous budget and a separate factory with 150 staff devoted to the sports engine.
In today's Formula One winning races is no longer enough to provide the publicity an engine constructor needs.
In 1992 Renault won its first constructors' and driver's titles with a Williams driven by Nigel Mansell. Immediately, Mansell had a contract dispute with Williams and headed for IndyCar, where he earned $8 million and won the championship in a car powered by Ford.
Renault was deprived of the publicity of starting the season with the reigning champion driving its car. It signed Alain Prost, the triple world champion. Prost won that year and then announced his retirement. Renault again lost the publicity possibilities by losing Prost.
The next season, 1994, Renault had Ayrton Senna in the Williams car. He died in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix casting a cloud over Formula One, and while Williams-Renault won the constructors' championship again, the drivers' title went to Schumacher in a Benetton-Ford. Again Renault was deprived of the publicity of carrying a winning driver into the next season.
In 1995 Renault covered all the bases by equipping both the top teams, Williams and Benetton. Schumacher and Benetton-Renault won the championship so easily, that Schumacher said he needed a greater challenge for the next year. He joined Ferrari.
Again Renault lost its champion driver, and Benetton said it could not understand why their man wanted to leave a winning team for a losing one.
Well, it might have had something to do with the $25 million contract Schumacher was offered to join Ferrari.
This season's championship leader, Damon Hill, who drives for Williams-Renault, said after the Renault announcement that he may have to reconsider his future in Formula One. Will Hill carry on the tradition of leaving the winning team for greener pastures?
Ferrari has weakened the enemy by snatching the best driver; now the best engine is going too. Should Ferrari quickly buy up Renault's technicians, as many think it will, it would have cleared a lot of obstacles from its track to victory.
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