It's hard to imagine that Renault Sport would go to the trouble of engineering the Renault Clio RS16, showing its inner workings to journalists and publicising it so widely ahead of the Monaco GP without bringing it to production.
There are many good reasons. First, Renault Sport needs the buzz this car can create more than it has for years. While its Mégane RS models are still fast and desirable, their look has been superseded by a new shape for the rest of the range, and a proportion of buyers are more curious about newshape models than buying older ones.
To complicate matters, Renault Sport has been knocked off its former perch as maker of the fastest front-drive car at the Nürburgring, and that matters in this market.
But the big issue concerns the Clio. For all the company protestations that buyers in new markets love the 1.6-litre turbo engine with paddle-shift gearbox, the UK remains a leader in the acceptance of fast Renaults, and the car has had a cool reception here. Renault Sport needs a king-hit to keep its star high; if you have a business that sells 35,000 cars and generates £500 million a year in revenue, you can’t afford to let it slip.
The RS16 has all the hallmarks of a lay-down winner. Our ride in it didn’t confirm that outright, but it did three-quarters of the job. Company insiders say the car is expensive to build and insist it must make a profit. But we suspect its role in keeping the Renault Sport flame burning brightly is more important, and delays are more likely to be over production scheduling than money.