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Renault Seals Lotus Deal, Signaling Full Return to Formula 1

  • French carmaker to run its own team after six-year absence
  • CEO Ghosn says F1 has `enormous' potential yet to be tapped

Renault SA said it signed principal contracts for the takeover of the U.K.-based Lotus Formula 1 team, paving the way for the French carmaker to return to world motor sport’s premier competition next year after last competing as a constructor in 2009.

The purchase was agreed on Dec. 3 and will be completed “in the shortest time-frame possible,” Renault said in a statement Friday. Details of the Boulogne-Billancourt-based company’s plans for the 2016 championship will be announced in January.

Renault has competed in Formula 1 only as an engine-maker after selling its own team, rebranded Lotus, to Genii Capital in 2009. An agreement to power cars built by Red Bull GmbH delivered four consecutive driver’s crowns for Sebastian Vettel through 2013, before the partnership soured when a rule change to hybrid engines saw Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton win the last two titles.

“Renault had two options -- to come back at 100 percent or leave,” Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said in the statement. “After a detailed study, I have decided that Renault will be in Formula 1, starting 2016.”

In it to Win

Ghosn said that “final details” supplied by the sport’s main stakeholders had given Renault “the confidence to accept this new challenge,” adding: “Our ambition is to win, even if it will take some time.”

Formula 1, which claims to be the world’s second-most watched sport after soccer, has about 450 million television viewers a year and is a “technology showcase,” according to Renault. It said “enormous” growth potential in online viewing, social media, and video games has “yet to be fully exploited.”

Renault previously won the world championship with Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006 after returning to Formula 1 with the purchase of the Benetton team in 2000 after an earlier break. Following the 2009 exit, Renault Formula 1 was rebranded to Lotus, though isn’t directly related to the original Team Lotus, which won six drivers’ championships between 1954 and 1994.

Red Bull, which in August nullified the partnership with Renault that had been due to last until 2017, now plans to stick with the French company’s engine next season, though as a customer rather than a joint builder. The team had suggested it might abandon the sport after failing to agree terms with other possible suppliers including Ferrari.

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