Renault chief admits F1 team's form has given him 'more grey hair'

Cyril Abiteboul admits he's struggling with Renault's current form on the grid. (Getty Images)
Cyril Abiteboul admits he's struggling with Renault's current form on the grid. (Getty Images)

Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul concedes his part-Latin temperament has resulted in him struggling to come to terms “with the fact we are losing every weekend”.

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With “more grey hair”, a by-product of four tough years since the French manufacturer returned as a constructor at the start of the 2016 season, a Renault driver has yet to step on the podium – never mind even win a race.

This is despite the vast investment made “in people, factories, facilities, everything to be an improvement”, according to Abiteboul.

The 42-year-old claims that after Renault bought out Lotus at the end of 2015, the gap between the team at that stage and the leading teams was “underestimated”, as was “the pace needed to keep on investing”.

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Renault can at least claim to be a top team in terms of personnel and facilities, on par with the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari. It’s just that results on the track – where a team is ultimately measured – have been found to be wanting.

Accountability in that respect is high, and Abiteboul can feel the pressure bearing down on his shoulders. Especially as Renault slipped from fourth-place in the constructors' championship last season to fifth this year.

“Moving from P9 (in 2016) to P4 was fantastic, but maybe to a certain extent, it flattered us,” assessed Abiteboul, in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sport.

“The good performance of last year hid some intrinsic weaknesses that we only witnessed this year with a great driver [hiring Daniel Ricciardo], and with all the pressure that comes in having such a driver.

“Daniel has been great at showing the remaining weaknesses we had, and that's put us in a situation where we've nowhere to hide, and therefore to make the changes that needed to be done.

“It's something we only corrected late this year when we saw a limitation in our reliability to develop the car, to put performance on it, and also to come up with a reliable engine, even though we made a very decent step with its competitiveness.

“So it's been mixed, although this year has exposed what still needs to be addressed in our package.”

Renault haven't had a driver reach the podium since 2016. (AP Photo)
Renault haven't had a driver reach the podium since 2016. (AP Photo)

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Abiteboul admits he is “not proud of the results”, although adds: “I am proud of the fact that every single time we found a weakness in our team, we didn't stand still.

“Instead, we took action on the reliability of the engine, and on the organisation of the team when we decided to completely restructure the aerodynamic department that was failing to come up with a package that could evolve over the season.

“Overall, I'm proud of what we've done. It's never a linear progression. Sometimes it's about pausing, consolidating your position.

“Yes, we've taken a step back this year, we've had issues. That needs to go away when we project ourselves in the future.” A future which Abiteboul has vowed he will not step away from.

Abiteboul at the Winter Training in February 2019. (Getty Images)
Abiteboul at the Winter Training in February 2019. (Getty Images)

“I'll do that when I win,” insisted Abiteboul. “That's the challenge, a question mark.

“Every single year that goes by, we are getting stronger, even this year. We are stronger this year in P5 than we were last year in P4. I've no doubt about that, and that's what matters.

“Every year we are stronger brings us closer to the ultimate goal, which is my individual goal, and that's to win. Whether I make it happen or not is another story.

“But I can tell you that right now I'm not close to retiring unless I feel it's not possible, or unless we have achieved it.

“And I am confident that one day this team will win. We've done it before, and we will do it again.”

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However, Abiteboul is honest enough to admit the pressure to win has taken its toll.

“Of course it has, although I feel privileged and lucky but with great accountability and responsibility,” said Abiteboul.

“There has been so much that has been changed already that I don't feel negative about all the things we've done.

“But Formula One is a tough sport, where you can't hide as a team principal. Although there is added pressure on my shoulders, you need to represent your team in the good and the bad moments, with all the strategic decisions that come with those.”

In light of the criticism he has had to face – not least from counterpart Christian Horner during the years when Renault supplied power units to Red Bull – Abiteboul has had to develop a thick skin and learn a considerable amount about himself.

Cyril Abiteboul at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. (David Davies/PA Wire)
Cyril Abiteboul at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. (David Davies/PA Wire)

“I've grown up, but I also need to keep improving my own package. It's like everyone,” said Abiteboul.

“I'm a bit Latin, I'm not just French. I'm from the southern part of France, so I'm extremely emotional, I take things seriously.

“I love racing but I struggle to live with the fact we are losing every weekend, and that's fact. Number two is the first of the losers.

“So it's a change for me. I need to learn to lose, but I don't want to lose sight of the fact that I want to win, and that appetite for winning is still growing with these years of not winning.”

These past four years, which he describes as “quite a journey”, have also seen a considerable amount of personal change for Abiteboul. He became a father to daughters Constance, four, and Anouk, 11 months.

He is appreciative for their presence as they understandably add perspective to his busy life – it is easy to become consumed by life inside F1's travelling circus.

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Renault drivers Niko Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo and Cyril Abiteboul during the 2019 launch. (Getty Images)
Renault drivers Niko Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo and Cyril Abiteboul during the 2019 launch. (Getty Images)

“I'm very privileged to have a very strong personal environment, with my partner helping me, and my two little daughters that are in the background, so all of that is helping,” reflected Abiteboul.

“These simple things are a fantastic way to not lose sight of reality, and what really matters in life, and to sometimes take the necessary distance.

“Not too much, because I don't want to distance myself from what is happening on track, to lose the energy of what a bad weekend gives me to make the changes that need to be made.

“But also to do them with humanity because that is what part of a family gives you, that humanity of being a manager in a congested environment.”

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