Commercial side key to Raikkonen fate
|By Jonathan Noble||Friday, September 17th 2010, 16:24 GMT|
Renault F1 chairman Gerard Lopez says Kimi Raikkonen's approach to the team will not sway it from making a decision on its 2011 line-up based on what makes most sense commercially.
Although the signing of a former world champion would be a big boost to Renault's aspirations of fighting for the title next year, Lopez says that the outfit will not be blinded by the prospects of being able to lure a star name like Raikkonen back to F1.
In an exclusive interview with AUTOSPORT, Lopez said that it was far too early to suggest the outfit was keen to pursue the Raikkonen option - and his team still had to balance out the financial attractions of having a driver like Vitaly Petrov against the benefits of paying for a big-name star.
"It's funny because people now think things are going well and we're going to change drivers," he said. "There's a certain rally driver that wasn't interested in Formula 1 but now has made contact and is interested in coming back to F1, funnily enough with us, but we're not there yet."
Lopez says that the team's decision on its second driver will still be motivated by financial factors - as the outfit seeks the levels of sponsorship and investment that it believes it will need to fight for the title next year.
"It's very important, " he said when asked if financial considerations were still important. "As I said, we use Formula 1, and we have to push our team to succeed because we use the platform to do business. And you know, it's a question of image.
"People like to do business with winning teams, so it goes hand in hand. For us still, the main consideration in this outside of Eric's [Boullier] mission and the team's mission to start winning races again, is the business one. And it has become more important now that we've solidified the team, that we've found the sponsors, that we're bringing the sponsors, that we're doing whatever needs to be done.
"It's even more important now to build the team, to use that platform for the business side of it. And the fact that we're doing more and more deals with companies that come through Renault Formula 1 because we provide other things, I think it's even more important for 2011 than it was for 2010. In 2010 we had to rebuild. In 2011 we can focus on business."
Although the sponsorship opportunities that came from signing Vitaly Petrov at the beginning of this year were a key factor in his original appointment, Lopez insists that the Russian's place in the team is not just dependent on money.
"It's not that Vitaly is a paying driver, because he's not, but certainly the sponsors that he brought or that came, which is Lada, have been very good sponsors. But Vitaly was not bringing the kind of money that people were saying.
"And he's a good driver. Vitaly was second in the GP2 championship last year and could easily have won that championship if he hadn't had six failures last year. On top of all that, he is a driver that has 250 million Russian-speaking people that are convinced in him, so we'd be stupid not to assume that there is a business behind that. But we have to build the driver. He is to us a very important element, just as Robert [Kubica] is. "
Lopez has also rubbished suggestions that he is questioning his own future involvement in the sport - on the back of speculation in recent weeks that Renault could be poised to buy back the team.
"There's not even a question," he said. "We have an interest that this team does win races again, that this team does win championships again and hopefully if everything's goes fine we'll still be around in 10 years. And regardless of how often people ask us the question, it is not our intention to sell this. It is not a company like any other company. "
Lopez also reckons that season-long speculation questioning his involvement with Renault was simply fuelled by jealousy from rival outfits.
"F1 is quite an ego-centric environment, so you have jealousy," he said. "It's a little bit funny because people take themselves a little bit too seriously. And, at the same time, it's a little bit... it's not very intelligent. At the end of the day, it is a sport where the sport would benefit from the teams trying not to help each other because it's a competition, but trying to think of ways to help the sport together.
"So just jumping on something, jumping too quickly to conclusions, assuming certain things like a team is not interested long-term, or that a team is just two guys that came in, just had a little bit of fun and they're already bored with their new toy and they're moving on to something - these are shortcuts that people shouldn't take. Pride pushes us to prove even further the opposite."
* For a full interview with Gerard Lopez talking about his involvement with Renault, his plans for the future and its driver line-up, click here.