F1 Frontline with Mark Hughes

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

The 2016 campaign marks the 10th anniversary of Fernando Alonso’s second – and most recent – world title. He achieved it with Renault, a team now making a full-time return to F1. The Spaniard might have had a tough time with McLaren-Honda last season, but our GP editor still rated his input very highly… 

enault has completed the repurchase of the Enstone team that it sold at the end of 2009. Thankfully this guarantees the survival of a team that has been around in various guises since entering Formula 1 as Toleman in 1981. Wearing Benetton, Renault and Lotus badges, it won four world titles and a whole heap of races. But had Renault not completed on the deal – which at the time of the F1 Commission meeting between Brazil and Abu Dhabi looked like a real possibility, the press release of its withdrawal averted only late in the day – it would probably have been curtains for the team. 

Renault has committed to a nine-year programme and agreed to invest more than €800 million. In addition, it receives about €100 million in ‘historic’ bonus payments. That may sound like big money, but is actually only a lower mid-grid level of spend – not much more than a quarter of Ferrari’s budget. This is a low-key return as a constructor, one that might not even be as competitive as the almost bankrupt Lotus team in 2015, given that the E23 model was powered by Mercedes – something obviously now out of the question. 

As it shed talented, experienced people over the years, it is remarkable just how long the team was able to maintain momentum – even after Renault’s pull-out when it had already looked like a team on the decline. The glory days of 2005-06, heavily based around a Michelin-led technical concept, seemed long gone into the control tyre era as even the return of Fernando Alonso made little impact. Renault was already wavering about continuing even before the Singapore 2008 controversy blew up a year later: indeed, part of the background to what unfolded that weekend was Renault having informed Flavio Briatore that it might pull the plug if it failed to win a race before the end of the season. The enforced departure of Briatore and Pat Symonds in the aftermath seemed likely to spiral the team yet more quickly into oblivion. Regardless of whether Briatore’s management skills could be replaced, the loss of Symonds’ calm analytical brain – and subsequently that of former technical director Bob Bell – made it seem like this was the beginning of the end.

But the amazing thing about Enstone was how many layers of talent lay within. It was like an onion; peel off one and there was another beneath. Internal promotions put James Allison in technical charge in 2010, supported by Naoki Tokunaga. Chief of aerodynamics Dirk de Beer (supported by Mike Elliot) and chief designer Tim Densham (supported by Martin Tolliday) remained on board under the new ownership. Together they built a car that allowed Robert Kubica – an inspired choice as Alonso’s replacement – to be an occasional contender. But into 2011 Densham retired and Tokunaga was recruited by Renault Sport. Yet another layer of talent had left as Tolliday took up Densham’s role. 

Allison’s decision to pursue a forward-facing exhaust solution that showed promise in the wind tunnel backfired in 2011 as the initially reasonable R31 (now officially a Lotus) slid down to mid-grid. Compounding things was the loss pre-season of Kubica as he suffered his life-threatening rallying accident. This was all surely too much even for Enstone, especially as cashflow problems were straining the loyalty of staff. But Allison emerged during this time as an inspirational technical leader, keeping a core of gifted engineers focused. 

It paid back spectacularly in 2012 and ’13 with the respective E20 and E21 models. These cars, with Kimi Räikkönen aboard, returned the team to winning ways and one wondered just what Kubica might have achieved in them. In the second half of 2013 Romain Grosjean was the only guy who could regularly threaten the otherwise dominant Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel. But still people left. Even as Grosjean was setting the tracks alight Allison, feeling badly compromised by payment delays to people who’d given their all, accepted an offer to join Ferrari, taking de Beer with him. Elliot had already left for Mercedes (where he’d be instrumental in the aero concept of the W05 and W06). Räikkönen quit before the ’13 season ended on account of non-payment.  

Finally, it was too much. Enstone stalwart Nick Chester took over from Allison, but admitted that there had simply been too much contracting and not enough restructuring to keep the technical impetus into the new formula. Rescued at the 11th hour, the team is now on a recruitment drive and Bob Bell’s return is believed to be imminent. He knows all about the solidity of the foundations he will have to build upon.

Related articles

Related products