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Q & A with Alain Dassas on Renault's deal

Renault F1 president Alain Dassas talks about his team's commitment to Formula One, the new GPMA deal, their search for a top-line driver and new sponsors, and Flavio Briatore's long-term decision.

Q: Flavio Briatore has said for several weeks that Renault were ready to sign a commercial agreement with Bernie Ecclestone. How happy are you that the five GPMA teams have now signed it?

Alain Dassas: "Well, we finally reached an agreement and have agreed to sign an agreement very soon. It is a question of details.

"We have an agreement with Bernie and have been working with the other manufacturers very closely, the GPMA members, we have made progress together and we have reached a level where everybody should feel happy.

"As we wanted to go ahead rapidly, it is clear that we decided to go ahead today. Flavio has been telling you that for several weeks. We need to sign this accord as soon as possible, but now that the agreement is done then fine, it is going to be done.

"Why did we need to have this agreement? Clearly for a couple of reasons. To show that Renault has the willingness to pursue its presence in Formula One. It is a 2008 to 2012 agreement. So the team is committed to be there. We show the market, we show the other teams, and we show the sponsors that we are there to continue.

"The fact is that it is a good commercial agreement. Why is it a good commercial agreement? Well, because the breakdown of the Formula One income is more balanced than it used to be. It is a significant increase compared to what we had before.

"We don't release exact figures because we prefer to keep it confidential, but it is a significant increase and also it is not only an increase which is going to take place in 2008, but it is going to be applied as soon as 2006. So for 2006 and 2007. That is a very positive point.

"So now that we are there, now that this agreement will be behind us, we can now concentrate on other tasks - and the other task is finding a good driver and finding sponsors. For as long as we demonstrated that we were not there for a long period of time, people were hesitating, so that is why it was important for us to reach this agreement.

"We are now, at this stage, looking for drivers and looking for sponsors. We are also working on the technical regulations; you know that all the manufacturers and the organisation are trying to set up new technical regulations to limit this inflation in terms of costs.

"So we are working on that and we will hope to reach agreement on that also in the near future, because if we want to have Formula One be a long-term sport for everybody, then you have to control costs somewhere. You have to stop this race - and I think most of the manufacturers are in agreement with that, so we should be able to reach good regulations."

Q: Has the commitment to reducing costs been crucial? I get the impression that is very important to Renault, but less important to Honda - they seem to want free technology and just to throw money at it?

Dassas: "You have differences between the manufacturers. That is true. I think a vast majority of them realise that we must cut costs."

Q: At the beginning of the negotiations, there was a proposal on the table for 60 percent of the income, beginning in 2008. When you compare these two proposals, is there not much difference in money? Why did you go for the 50 percent?

Dassas: "I did not say we went for the 50 percent. I did not mention a figure. But we went for less [than 60%] because it is a matter of negotiation. We went for less, but we get it from the start of 2006. And the agreement is not just the 50 percent, 60 percent something like this - it is the rest. There are a set of clauses that are constraining so we feel it is a good agreement."

Q: Was Renault's decision to sign done in full co-ordination with the rest of the manufacturers?

Dassas: "We have been working closely with the rest of the manufacturers. All the improvements we have obtained in these negotiations have been obtained together with the other manufacturers. We have decided today to go ahead, to agree with that, and I hope the other manufacturers will do that.

Q: Flavio Briatore has said this weekend in the Italian press that he has a contract on his desk that he has not signed for four weeks. Was that due to the uncertainty over this? Do you expect that contract to be signed?

Dassas: "I expect Flavio to take his decision as quickly as possible, but the fact is that we are committed for a long period of time, the fact is that we have stated clearly that we want to have a driver who is ready to give top performance.

"What interests Flavio, but you should ask him, is that he wants to be at the top of the races. So if we give him the means to be at the top, I think he will be happy to sign. But, again, I am not Flavio, so you should ask him."

Q: Was there ever a point where Renault would have signed the agreement even if the other four members of the GPMA refused?

Dassas: "I would prefer not to answer that. We wished to stay with them as a GPMA member, but at a certain moment in time you have to take your own responsibility, so that is why we prefer to stay as a group and hopefully we will stay as a group."

Q: Ron Dennis said this morning that there was one aspect not agreed yet with CVC, but that Donald McKenzie was coming to resolve that. Could you give any more information on that?

Dassas: "No, I cannot give you any more details. I just know that Donald McKenzie was not there and could not come (to the meetings held so far this weekend). It is not a major concern."

Q: Do you think if you had this commitment half a year ago that you could have kept Fernando Alonso?

Dassas: "I was not there half a year ago, but I guess Alonso has left the team for a couple of reasons or several reasons. Maybe that is one of them. I am sure it is not the only one. Maybe it is one of them, but I am not sure that even if we would have committed that Alonso would have stayed."

Q: Any more thoughts on who might replace Fernando?

Dassas: "Of course I have some thoughts about what can be done, and you all have some thoughts about what can be done. That is Flavio Briatore's responsibility, and he will make proposals, and he will make selections, and we will see. We are ready, as Renault is a shareholder of this, to do what is necessary to have a good driver."

Q: The increase in income from Formula One will surely be of assistance in paying for a top-line driver?

Dassas: "Yes, it will help."

Q: Have you talked to any drivers?

Dassas: "In F1, everybody talks to everybody. I am sure Flavio has had serious talks with a lot of people."

Q: Are there any guarantees that you will stay in Formula One as Renault, or will you use another brand?

Dassas: "We will stay. F1 will stay. All the manufacturers have teams and the teams are committed and we will see what they do. It is Renault's intent and Renault's interest to continue."

Q: With which brand?

Dassas: "We have several brands in the group, is that what you mean?"

Q: Yes...

Dassas: "That is a good question. We have several brands within the group, but for the moment we will stay with Renault. We have a lot of brands, and whether we use them or not is too early to say. It is not for the immediate future, but it is an idea."

Q: In the discussions about engines there are two proposals on the table. There is the Maranello document with the full homologation, while the GPMA members propose part homologation but a limited amount of engines over the year. Which one do you favour?

Dassas: "I really want to leave that to the experts. There is a technical group that is working on that with all the engine experts and they will come up with solutions. That is their speciality and we will see what they come up with.

What is a reasonable budget for a season?

Dassas: "We don't have a specific figure in mind, but it is certainly a decrease compared to what the budget is [now]. You know that the budgets are variable from one team to another. I am sure we are not one of the most expensive ones, but we still need to have a significant decrease in net costs, taking into account an increased income from the FIA and hopefully some good sponsors."

Q: Were there any compromises necessary to get the commercial agreement that will affect the engine rules?

Dassas: "No. They are completely separate discussions."

Q: How will it look if you paid a lot of money for a driver for the next two or three years, having let Alonso go? Renault's philosophy has always been to grow your own talent from within.

Dassas: "It is true that we like to grow our own talent from within, but it is also true that we are there to have top performances. We need a top driver to do that. Alonso is not replaced easily, so we need to a top driver. We need a young talent and we need a top driver."

Q: Does Giancarlo Fisichella constitute the top driver?

Dassas: "I cannot answer this question. He is a top driver..."

Q: Do you have a master plan in place in case Flavio Briatore decides to retire?

Dassas: "Let's say it like this: we don't want to envision that for the moment."

Q: Had there not been this commitment to reduce costs, would Renault have definitely pulled out of F1?

Dassas: "It is maybe tough to say. We would maybe have been looking for a way of getting out, but not abandon like this. We would have been looking at it, and that is why all our efforts were there to see what conditions we can live.

"We can live with a better Concorde Agreement. We can live with sponsors, and we can live with better technical regulations. We are working on this, and so far, so good."

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