Interview: Vasseur on Renault's return
6 January 2017 – Renault returned to Formula 1 as a works team in 2016, after taking over Lotus. Although it suffered on track with an underdeveloped car, team chiefs were hard at work behind-the-scenes, implementing a new structure and guiding significant investment. GPUpdate.net caught up with Racing Director Frédéric Vasseur.
Was the 2016 season tougher than you expected?
For sure, we expected a tough season, and it was a tough season. Was it better or worse than expected? I didn't spend too much time on this! But the situation is like this. Over the season I think we did good progress, in terms of preparation on track, on tyre management, [we scored] some points, but we didn't develop the car at all, and it was quite impossible to improve on the grid. But for 2017, the most important was to improve on the preparation side, not on the 2016 car, because that wouldn't bring something for the next season.
We did a lot of investment, we are building up a new part of the factory, and it was very challenging on this side. We decided quite soon to stop the development on the 2016 car, I think on purpose, because, at the end of the day, we have nothing to gain, one or two positions on the grid – it's not a big difference. For the future, as we have a mid-term project, it was much more important to focus on the structure of the company, the people and the organisation, rather than the 2016 car.
Has everything gone to plan on that front so far?
Yeah, we are sticking to the roadmap. We spent a lot of time at the beginning to do the inventory of the situation at Enstone. Everything is improving, but it's a long way also, and I think it was important to do it step-by-step. Recruiting is quite tough, because when you are signing someone, at some stage they will join six months or one year later. I don't want to say we did a good job over the season, as it's quite difficult to say something like this when you are on the second part of the grid, but I think we did a job on the restructuring of the company.
I think we had a good collaboration. He scored good points for us, he did the job and he was really committed with us. He has his own character, I have mine, and it was not always easy! But that's that. OK, he did a good job, but we had to do a choice. We spoke together after the decision and I think that we will keep a very good relationship, because we had a very open discussion.
What could he have done better over the course of the season?
It's not easy. It [the decision] was really on the edge. We decided to keep one of our guys to have continuity in the team, between 2016 and 2017. If you have a look at the results between Kevin and Jolyon, Kevin was dominating the first part of the season, and the second part was so-so. It was 50/50. It was tough.
Do you have any regrets over how Renault handled the driver situation? Magnussen joked at one point that even the Pope had an offer to join the team for 2017…
I think it's a mistake to have regrets. You are always able to improve. But I think that we have to think about the future, much more than about the past. I don't have to discuss the comments that he made.
If you have a look at Jolyon, and this was part of the decision also, in the past, in the junior series, he was always able to improve a lot between the seasons – season after season he was doing a better job. In GP2, I don't remember exactly the results, but he went from 16th, to 10th, to sixth, to champion. He has the ability to improve race after race and season after season.
What can you realistically expect to achieve during the 2017 season?
It's quite impossible [to predict]! If you remember the last big change of regulations, it was a big surprise to have the Brawn on the top, with the Toyota. The team with the best organisation will be able to do a better job, it's always the case, but you can expect that someone in one team will find a clever idea.