Exclusive interview - Renault's Alain Dassas 02 Jun 2006
Fernando Alonso's impressive Monaco victory coincided perfectly with Renault company President Carlos Ghosns first race visit of 2006. No wonder then that the Renault teams new President, Alain Dassas, was all smiles. He knows that every win will reinforce Renaults long-term commitment to Formula One racing. We caught up with him in Monte Carlo
Q: Mr Dassas, as one of the new faces in Formula One racing can you tell us a little about your background with regards to motorsport?
AD: I have always followed Formula One with great interest. In 2000, I negotiated Renault's purchase of the Benetton team, that's how I first met (Renault team boss) Flavio Briatore. Since then, I have been directly or indirectly involved with the commercial negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone.
Q: You were one of the driving forces behind the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the manufacturers concerning their future commitment to the sport, with Renault reportedly even willing to go solo if the others would not follow. What convinced you to take up this position?
AD: We had some deadlines, and as everybody was talking about Renault staying or not staying we wanted to give a good positive sign that we are there for good. That's why we wanted to make that signature as soon as possible. We are very glad that we were the driving force and that the other manufacturers followed.
Q: The time frame of the MoU extends until 2012. Is this the period for which Renault is committed to staying in Formula One racing?
AD: It means that the team will run until 2012. And it says clearly that we want to be behind things, but to be truly behind them we also said that we need a good economic environment, and that there has to be a cost reduction. And everybody is working on that. We are there for 2012 with the right conditions - and with the right drivers. But we are doing everything possible in order to stay.
Q: Fernando Alonso is off to McLaren at the end of the season - quite possibly as champion - and Giancarlo Fisichellas contract will also be up. As the top team on the grid you obviously want top drivers. How are the driver line-up discussions going? Given that the decisions are partly financial, will you be directly involved?
AD: Flavio (Briatore) is in charge of the driver selection. He will make the proper choices and we will see what we do if he comes up with those choices. But we clearly as Renault want to be in the position to be able to win next year. For name dropping it is clearly too early. But we trust that Flavio will come up with the right choices.
Q: Flavio Briatore's contract also finishes by the end of this season. Have you already made a new agreement with him?
AD: Not yet. This is something we also have to come to terms with in the coming weeks. But, as Flavio has had excellent results, we naturally want him to stay.
Q: You have said that the Renault company provides around 60 percent of the team's budget right now, with the remaining 40 percent covered by team sponsors. With your biggest sponsor leaving due to new tobacco advertising laws, Renault may have to up their share, or find suitable replacements. Are you prepared for that?
AD: We are working on solutions on the sponsor side as there will be a big change in the sponsor environment in Formula One due to the tobacco legislation. But we are sure that we will come up with other strong sponsors. It is too early to say in which direction we will tend to go but at the end of the season we will audit our situation and decide what Renault has to do. But our clear focus is to find the right sponsors.
Q: Carlos Ghosn wants to exploit Renault's Formula One success under acceptable economic conditions - meaning better brand building, ultimately leading to more consumer car sales. What are the immediate and long-term plans for better exploitation?
AD: What Mr Ghosn said is that he wants to use the success of Formula One to a larger extent. One of the most important results of F1 is brand recognition leading to consumer loyalty. Clearly the product range of Renault can benefit from our F1 success and the higher our product range is the more it will benefit. So we will improve our product range upward in the next three to four years to get it closer to our F1 image and draw better synergies.