The Renault F1 team will shed its familiar name and colours and become Alpine from 2021 onwards, the French manufacturer has announced today.
While there’s no reason to expect an impact on the personnel side, a change of identity is always a major event in grand prix racing, and the switch from the well-known Renault branding to the much less known Alpine name has caught many by surprise.
Below, our writers offer their first reactions to the news.
Akin to Mercedes becoming AMG F1 team
The marketing logic of the team’s rebrand is not immediately obvious. It loses parent company Renault the visibility provided by F1 in favour of a brand that sells a tiny number of sports cars for Renault.
Alpine is a name with a proud sporting heritage and the original company did actually provide key foundations for what grew into Renault Sport in the 1970s, which played a part in revolutionising F1 technology with turbocharging. But it will always be a highly-specialised brand even if Renault is clearly about to give it a big marketing push. It would be the equivalent of Mercedes choosing to rebrand its F1 team as AMG.
It will make little difference to the team itself, but perhaps the more sporting connotations of the Alpine brand may have been judged to have made it more attractive to attracting sponsors seeking an aspirational image rather than that provided by the manufacturer of everyday road cars.
One slightly more troubling reason for F1 might be that Renault has judged F1 participation in the future to be a PR liability. As it moves its production fleet over to fully electric vehicles, only specailised, enthusiast models – such as the Alpine – look set to be petrol-powered. This could be an early warning sign for F1 itself.
A win-win for F1 and the team
Renault as a company was reviewing its F1 future for a long time before committing and a few months ago some were suggesting the Alpine name was going to be halted altogether.
So, it might be a stretch to assume that this strategy under new group CEO Luca de Meo is the only reason Renault was willing to re-commit to F1 with a works team. But this decision almost certainly hasn’t emerged from a quickfire brainstorming session in the last few days.
Regardless of whether it’s a vital part of Renault staying in F1 or just an opportunistic decision to market the Alpine name and establish it as a performance sub-class akin to Mercedes-AMG, Fiat Abarth, BMW M and the swathe of standalone, specialist brands that exist now, this is a net win for both.
It keeps Renault invested, introduces a new brand and livery to F1, acts as a good example of manufacturers using F1 in a big promotional manner and quietly shuffles an underperforming works team to one side.
While as much Renault’s fault as the fault of F1’s inherent lop-sidedness for so many years, the inability of a major works operation to escape the midfield and dent the big three has not been a great look. This gives both parties a fresh start for a better PR offensive.
A further blurring of F1 team identities
Team identities have become such a mess in Formula 1 that the fifth change of identity for this team since it came into F1 as Toleman in 1981 just fades into the noise. As long as the backing from Renault is the same, it’s just the same team with a new coat of paint accompanied by more corporate branding nonsense.
It’s farcical really. The current Enstone Renault team under the Toleman name raced against the works Renault team from 1981-1985, yet has to be considered the same team. From 1981-1994 it also raced against Lotus, the team that it also claimed to be by name from 2012-2015! And for good measure, it also raced against a team based at Brackley that has raced as Mercedes and Honda and also used to be BAR and originally Tyrrell – the latter, of course, once running as Matra Sport.
Clear? Obviously not.
Whatever Renault wants to do with the team, good luck to it. As long as it can operate at the top of the incoming cost cap, the jobs are preserved and we keep another grand prix team on the grid, that’s a positive. Hopefully this move reflects Renault Group’s dedication to using the Alpine brand properly rather than being a convenient place to park a team that it doesn’t really know what to do with.
Some welcome differentiation
F1 teams aren’t much like football clubs – the trophy cabinets and legacies are shared and argued over, something that became abundantly clear during that weird short-lived tussle between Lotus/Caterham and Lotus/Enstone for the right to be known as Lotus.
The Mercedes of today doesn’t in any meaningful way feel like the Mercedes of the 1950s, ditto for Ferrari or especially Alfa Romeo. And while this second Renault works team is certainly closer to the Renault works team of 2002-2010, it still feels a world removed. Though the gap between its scaling-back of 2011 and its return of 2016 is a fairly meagre five seasons, those five seasons fitted in the dawn of the hybrid era – so it might as well be a lifetime.
This Renault has not lived up to the highs of that Renault, and so be it. Better for it to forge its own path, as Alpine, in what is now a drastically different championship, which should become even more different from 2022 onwards.
Team needed new image
The image of Renault has been slightly tainted because the same team went through various name changes since the team was last called Renault. Chhanging the name to Alpine F1 brings in a new sporting image, which has a very successful racing pedigree.
As long as it also brings in the budget the team needs to be competitive at the front, then it can only be seen as positive.