Renault angers rivals by hiring to tech regulator

Renault's 2017 F1 car, the RS17.

Renault Sport Racing has announced former FIA technical head Marcin Budkowski as its new executive director, ending weeks of speculation and inciting rival teams to call foul on the process.

Budkowski left the FIA early last week and began three months of ‘gardening leave’ — enforced leave between jobs to protect the intellectual property of the previous employer — but teams were unhappy that the Pole could be joining a rival so soon after playing a high-profile adjudicator role in the sport.

As top technical officer Budkowski has been privy to the sensitive intellectual property of the teams since joining the FIA in October 2014. Part of the role had him advising teams on the legality of their designs, in particular those that attempt to push the limits of the regulations.

Teams are united in their displeasure over the length of the enforced gardening leave, with three months considered too short for an officer with access to some of the best-guarded technical secrets in the sport.

“I think [a] three months notice period for him to then turn up in a competitor team in Formula One is entirely inappropriate,” Red Bull Racing principal Christian Horner said last week before Renault confirmed the hire.

“In the role that Marcin has been responsible for he has been in an extremely privileged position, and extremely recently he has been in people’s wind tunnels and looking at intimate details of knowledge of next year’s cars.

“It’s an important and vital role and it’s vital that the teams have trust and faith in the governing body that they can discuss their technical know-how … which cost millions and millions of pounds, in confidence that that information doesn’t have the ability to end up in a rival team.”

Horner suggested that between 12 and 18 months would be a more appropriate length of time for Budkowski to wait before joining a competitor team, and Force India chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer agreed.

“It has to be long enough such that the technology that he is aware of becomes, if not obsolete, then not leading edge.”

Teams are expected to raise the matter at the next meeting of the strategy group, where Renault is an observing member but unable to contribute to proceedings.

Renault, however, has remained unapologetic in the face of criticism.

“We want to be one of the top teams by 2020,” managing director Cyril Abiteboul told Sky Sports F1 before the announcement.

“If you look at the 1.0 to 1.5-second gap between the midfield and the top teams, it’s a big jump. That is why we need to be aggressive in what we do to be there by 2020.

“In this sport you are not here to make friends.”

Abiteboul conceded after the announcement, however, that his team was prepared to work with the FIA to extend Budkowski’s gardening leave period to six months for a start date of April 2018, tough no agreement has yet been reached.

Budkowski is the gem in Renault’s rebuilding crown since rejoining the sport as a manufacturer team ahead of the 2016 season.

Renault reduced its involvement from team-owner to engine supplier after selling its Enstone-based team between 2010 and 2011.

Rebranded as Lotus Renault GP and later Lotus F1 Team, the team entered into a period of decline in the face of reduced investment until UK authorities threatened it with bankruptcy late in 2015 when it was unable to repay a £2.7 million debt to the tax office.

Renault, however, swooped in to buy back the team, and after a difficult 2016 season running a Lotus-designed car, the French manufacturer has taken enormous steps towards the front of the field this season.

Budkowski will be responsible for all activities related to the development and production of the chassis.

“There have been a lot of positive changes these last few months at Renault Sport Racing,” Abiteboul said in a statement. “All of this is happening in a context where the seasons are longer and more intense.

“It was clear that the Renault Sport Racing management structure needed reinforcing.

“Marcin’s mission will be to continue the strengthening of Enstone to enable Renault to join the top Formula One teams by 2020 through relying on the proven personnel of the likes of Bob Bell, Nick Chester and Rob White.

“Marcin’s arrival is excellent news and further proof of our determination to achieve our goals.”