It’s likely that a Mercedes-powered car will win this weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone, although Ferrari has gathered fresh impetus and a victory for the Prancing Horse cannot be completely discounted.
But the decline of top Renault team Red Bull Racing has robbed the sport of a team that could potentially defeat the all-conquering Mercedes-AMG F1 squad.
Not all fans were unhappy to see the once-dominant Red Bull/Sebastian Vettel partnership stutter in 2014 after several seasons of tedious dominance, but it’s a case of being careful what you wish for, because the simple fact is Formula 1 is better when more teams and engine suppliers stand a chance of winning.
Important Red Bull team members have been extremely critical of the engine supplier, which has not gone down well within Renault.
Indeed, the manufacturer is considering its future in the sport, feeling that being an engine supplier is the worst all-round position to be in – you don’t enough of a share of the credit when the team wins, and you shoulder the brunt of the blame when the team loses.
It will be interesting to see how Renault responds to the raft of proposals announced yesterday by the FIA Strategy Group. Development of engines – or power units - and the cost of supply is going to be looked at by the rule makers, along with increases in race fuel allowance and limits on the usage of engine dynamometers.
Renault has three choices on the table: remain as an engine supplier, buy a team and rebrand as a factory-backed effort or withdraw altogether.
Bubbling away in the background is Renault’s involvement with Formula E, the all-electric single-seater racing series. Carlos Ghosn’s appearance at the final round of the FIA Formula E Championship in London last weekend was surely no coincidence.
Of course, on one level Ghosn was there in his capacity of chief executive officer of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. The French half of the alliance has confirmed that it will ramp-up its involvement in Formula E even further next season.
But it wasn’t hard to wonder whether the presence of the company’s top man at the burgeoning series was a public message to F1 chiefs.
Renault wants changes to the governance of F1, a more level playing field for all manufacturers involved with the sport and more of the huge amounts of cash that is making some aspects of the F1 infrastructure exceeding rich.
Ghosn expanded on his feelings during a Formula E press conference in which he made no secret of the fact that Renault is toying with an F1 withdrawal.
“In the short-term we will honour our contracts in Formula 1. For the longer term we’re still trying to find our way.”
Ghosn didn’t rule out Renault buying an existing Formula 1 team: “If it makes sense we would. We are analysing everything: we could pull out, we could continue to be an engine developer – but that is less likely – or we can own a team. We need to also understand where the governance of Formula 1 is going before we decide what way we want to take.”
He said he would like to see the kind of governance in F1 where “people who are investing the money and making the show can get a fair return on their investment. The return is not only in terms of marketing but in media rights.”
But Renault’s F1 future is not tied to budgetary limitations: “Renault has the money and resources to participate in anything it wants. The question is how much do we invest and what do we get? Is it worth it? You are engaging hundreds of engineers, you are putting in millions of euros and you are diverting a lot of your technical resources for the sake of the race.”
He ended by promising that we “will not have to wait a long time before we give you a very clear answer on Formula 1”, suggesting a decision will be made during the summer.
I’ll be honest: I’ve regarded some of the recent complaints from Red Bull and Renault as sour grapes because the partnership’s winning run has dried up. After listening to Ghosn’s argument, though, I can definitely see his point.
I hope the French company remains in Formula 1, although with Formula E’s stock on the rise and the electric series offering a way to extol Renault’s commitment to electric mobility, the attraction of the more cost-effective alternative must be compelling.
Results on the track notwithstanding, it’s worth keeping an eye on what kind of messages come out of the Renault camp at Silverstone this weekend.