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Following my discussion with F1 legend Alain Prost, I got the chance to speak with Jérôme Stoll, the President of Renault Sport Racing, ahead of the official launch of the brand-new Renault Megane R.S Trophy-R.

Yes, the ‘R’ that recently achieved the new lap record for a front-wheel car around the infamous Nürburgring. Although it is equipped with the same 300 horsepower engine, it managed to decimate the previous record thanks to significant weight reduction, improved aerodynamics and a developed chassis, achieving an official lap time of 07’40’’100. 

Ultimately, this wouldn’t be possible without the help of the Renault Sport and Renault F1 teams, which have influenced this special performance vehicle with leading technology and innovation. This isn’t an outlier in the French automaker’s strategy, as Stoll explains to me the importance of the connection between motorsport and vehicles we see on the road.

Hybrid Pioneers 

Although the chassis, aero and weight reduction were to thank for the record, the ties between F1 and road cars extends much further. Especially when it comes to hybrid technology and energy management.

Renault has been involved in F1 for over 40 years, but the team has only recently got back into the sport. This is due to the emergence of hybrid technology, which Stoll explains was important for Renault, in order to bridge the gap between motorsport and road cars. 

“Today, most of the general public does not know that F1 cars are hybrids,” he says. “When the new engine regulations came into place in 2010, Renault decided to create a new strategy that was focused on becoming a leader in electric vehicles and energy management.”

Stoll pushed the idea of hybrid vehicles to his team at Renault, making his strategy clear. He highlighted the importance of hybrid technology from the world of motorsport and explained how it would affect the global trend of environmental issues and, generally, the entire car industry. 

“When you look at the engine that is used in our F1 cars, there is a 35% reduction in terms of consumption, which is in line with the evolution of our technology,” he adds.

Thanks to this progression, the Renault brand has introduced hybrid variants and fully-electric vehicles into its lineup. With a prestigious Nürburgring record, a new hybrid E-TECH engine and over 200,000 EVs sold across Europe, you can clearly see that this is at the core of the Renault brand.

“The more that we do from the F1 side, the better our products will be for customers,” Stoll affirms.

The Alliance 

Renault formed an Alliance with Nissan in 1999, creating a French-Japanese powerhouse that, as of January 2018, became the world’s leading plug-in electric vehicle manufacturing group, thanks to the Leaf and Zoe. 

Today, Nissan is a global leader in EVs, selling the Leaf in America, Europe and Asia. Due to this, the Alliance decided to allocate the Japanese automaker to the fast-growing Formula E series, in order to raise awareness of its capabilities in the EV sector. 

Simply put, both Renault and Nissan are utilising their findings in motorsport to improve their product lineup for customers. One example being the Trophy-R.

“The engine that you see on the Megane R.S Trophy-R has been developed by the same partners that work on our F1 engine,” explains Stoll. “A high performing road car, whether electric or internal combustion, will have some form of involvement from the Renault Sport team.”

So, when you jump into the new Trophy-R, you realised that you are a lot closer to F1 than you first thought. And what a feeling that is. Just ask Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg, who took two ‘R’s for a spin and emerged from them with large smiles spread across their faces. 

The Combustion Engine: Here To Stay? 

Stoll is a great person to ask about the combustion engine, understanding all three major powertrains: ICE, electric and hybrid. I was interested to find out whether the conventional engine was here to stay – something which would be reflected in Renault’s future lineup. 

“The car industry produces 90 million vehicles a year. When you look at the share of EVs, which is growing, you are only looking at around 2%,” he says. “You will always have people who will be a fan of the ICE vehicle, but now you have fans of e-mobility. The scope is very wide.”

He is still convinced that ICE has a bright future ahead, provided that the industry continues to work on the reduction of consumption and emissions. Ultimately, Renault wants to be part of the solution. 

“You also have people in the middle who want to have both, which is where hybrid technology comes in,” he continues. “They can use electricity in the city and the combustion engine when on longer journeys or having some fun.” 

Some of the products on the market today can reach 100km in 3 seconds, which shows the sheer performance capabilities of electrification. But there is still room for both. 

Read Between the Lines

Road cars developed in Renault’s Guyancourt technical centre are treated to highly-experienced Renault Sport technicians, who help create such performance cars as the new Trophy-R. 

This alone shows the influence of motorsport, especially within Renault. But Stoll believes that the ties go far beyond the technology itself. 

“The F1 way of working is very specific. So specific that people think that it is no use for other parts of the company. Which is wrong. The way we have to react, stay agile and fix problems in a short period of time is extremely similar to the rest of the Renault brand.”

If you can implement the same thinking as you do in F1 into a road car, you can save money, as well as introducing leading technology and innovation. It’s the perfect recipe. 

To me, Renault is in a unique position, which makes its involvement in the race series even more interesting. Formula 1 is a billion dollar industry with unrivalled marketing opportunities for brands like Renault.

Although this is part of the strategy, it is great to see the automaker utilising its findings from an elite sport and channelling it towards the everyday consumer. Above all, it shows that F1 still remains – and will continue to be – a petri dish for future technologies to trickle down into consumer models, whether that’s performance, efficiency or software. 

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