Renault’s newly-promoted ‘team principal’ has admitted French youngster Esteban Ocon is in the running for a race seat in 2017.
This week, although he was already running the new French works team, Frederic Vasseur had his place at Enstone memorialised with the official title of team boss.
But although still in 2016, Renault has its eye firmly on the future.
The team’s competitiveness has not been good this year after taking over the almost-collapsed Lotus outfit, but Vasseur said everyone at Renault “knows that the project is for the medium and long term”.
“We started from scratch,” he told Brazil’s Globo.
“If you look at other projects, you see that Mercedes needed five years to be world champion, and Red Bull won its first race only after five years. It is always a long-term process,” Vasseur added.
So after Lotus almost collapsed, he said Renault is now “investing heavily” at Enstone in a process that will continue for “the next two or three years”.
“To enlarge the space, build a new building, it takes time,” said Vasseur. “If you hire engineers from another team, you must comply with grace periods until they can start so it means it (their work) doesn’t go on the car for two years.
“You need time to develop a team and have to accept it,” he added.
“If you focus your interest only on getting a good result at Silverstone you are lost. You have to be realistic set a goal to fight for the first places in 2018 or 2019.”
Vasseur therefore confirmed speculation that Renault started work on its 2017 car long ago.
“We started early, as I believe our competitors did, with the chassis in the wind tunnel,” he said. “There is a lot of work within the group in this project.”
Renault has proved it knows how to make rapid progress by significantly improving its power unit from 2015 to 2016, but Vasseur only smiled when asked how that was possible within the current ‘tokens’ regime.
Told that he will probably not want to answer the question, Vasseur laughed: “Your question is my answer!”
He is similarly coy about Renault’s next driver lineup, although he did say the team wants young drivers rather than big names.
“First, we have two young men who are doing a good job,” said Vasseur, referring to Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer.
“The second point in the choice of our drivers is the need to build the team around them. All the success stories in F1 were made that way.
“We know we will be in a position to fight for the title in 2020 or 2021, so I need to choose a driver for then rather than now, so that he can develop and gain experience.”
One obvious choice is Frenchman Esteban Ocon, the reigning GP3 champion who was loaned by Mercedes to Renault to be reserve driver this year.
“From here in Silverstone he will often be in the car on Fridays, and will test for us next week,” Vasseur confirmed. “After that we will have a better view of his potential but he is a natural candidate to race for us in 2017.
“I know a lot of other people who would like to drive for us but until the end of August I will not think about it. We have some initial conversations with some but it is not the time to focus on that,” he added.