Cyril Abiteboul, team principal of Renault’s Formula 1 operation and the man responsible for the single greatest line in the first season of Netflix’s Drive To Survive, is out at the French squad, the team announced today.
At the time of this writing, Abiteboul’s replacement has not been announced. His departure comes at a time of great change for the Renault team, which will rebrand to Alpine for the upcoming season.
Last week, it was reported that Davide Brivio, who oversaw Suzuki’s 2020 championship-winning MotoGP campaign, was on the move to Alpine, potentially as the brand’s new CEO. But with Abiteboul’s surprise departure, it’s now been confirmed Laurent Rossi will oversee Alpine, while the nature of Brivio’s involvement remains unclear. Marcin Budkowski, Renault F1's executive director, is rumored to be a likely replacement for Abiteboul.
Abiteboul was employed at Renault for the better part of the last two decades, briefly leaving the brand to run the short-lived Caterham F1 outfit in 2012. He returned to the French team in 2015, when Lotus briefly took it over, and led it from 2016 through 2020. Abiteboul had this to say following today’s news:
I would like to thank the Groupe Renault for having trusted me for many years, particularly with the relaunch and reconstruction of the team since 2016.
The solid foundations of the racing team and the entities in France and England built over these years, the strategic evolution of the sport towards a more economically sustainable model, and more recently the Alpine project which provides a renewed sense of meaning and dynamism, all point to a very fine trajectory.
Renault has improved its performance in F1 over the past five seasons under Abiteboul’s tenure, though probably not to the extent the team hoped. In 2016, it finished the year ninth in the Constructors’ Championship, ahead of only Sauber and Manor. Its best result came two years later, where it snapped up the best-of-the-rest fourth spot. In 2019 and 2020, the team ended fifth.
During that time, Renault continued to invest in F1 in terms of both technical resources and personnel, and it snapped up seven-time race winner Daniel Ricciardo in 2019. However, those investments haven’t produced consistently better results, save for a pair of third-place finishes for Ricciardo at Imola and the Nürburgring, and a second-place result for teammate Esteban Ocon at Bahrain last year. Modest gains couldn’t help Renault break clear of McLaren and Racing Point, which finished third and fourth in 2020, respectively.
Now, as Ricciardo leaves for McLaren, the Alpine crew will look to veteran Fernando Alonso, as well as Ocon, to restore it to Renault’s mid-2000s glory. Renault may find itself supplying engines to rival Red Bull once again in 2022, as that team’s partnership with Honda will conclude after 2021. I suspect there’s probably an interest from Renault higher-ups in patching up the Red Bull relationship, but I still hope Abiteboul’s successor is as quick and devastating with the one-liners as he was.