Renault wants ‘charismatic’ driver; Buttoning up their brand

An interesting story from Renault Sport F1 about their driver lineup in 2017. Apparently they are looking for charisma and a leader with brand appeal for the long term. Makes sense if you’re Renault and accelerating your investment in Formula 1. Managing director, Cyril Abiteboul, said:

“When I look at all the big teams they all lend themselves to the leadership of charismatic drivers from [Sebastian] Vettel, Michael Schumacher, [Nico] Rosberg, and so on, and we will need that.”

The first thing I find interesting about this statement is the lack of Lewis Hamilton’s name when he first thinks of brand ambassadors for a marque. He does mention him, along with Alonso, later though:

“We know Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and so on, are under contract, so there won’t be any movement this winter.

“So it’s better we do not rush any decision and take more time to form an opinion about who we have in priority, and that is the best way forward.”

While Lewis Hamilton is all about brand, it’s mainly his brand he’s all about and he does do good work for Mercedes and L’Oréal but if I were a marketing person, I would want a stable, consistent brand ambassador who doesn’t have the tendency of flash paper from time to time. When something doesn’t go right in Lewis’s world, the brand can spend time trying to manage his social media mind-vomit and that isn’t something marketing divisions really have patience or a penchant for.

He certainly mentions Lewis and Fernando but weren’t first amongst his idea of a brand representative. While I think Renault might be intrigued with a return to Alonso (having won two titles with the team), I wonder who they might get for 2017 onward or would they wait to find their brand-leading driver after the big names end their contracts in 2018? Alonso, like Lewis, has a brand that’s all his own but I’m told he’s not the most amenable on sponsor events and sometime a challenge to work with.

I’ve been on a few sponsor events with both Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen and I wouldn’t say they were elated to be there. Not like Felipe Massa or Sebastian Vettel. Fernando and Kimi are good guys, just not the easiest to work with from a marketing perspective. Seb and Felipe were much more chill and engaging.

To be fair, there aren’t a lot of big brand ambassadors who have that appeal, experience and savvy on the grid. This is what you get when you put teenagers in cars but one name does come to mind and he may be available in 2017.

Jenson Button could be a ticket for a one or two year deal and he’s got big brand appeal, professional attitude toward sponsor engagements and a lack of drama yet lots of charisma. JB has more than Valtteri Bottas who also might be looking around and to be honest, I think JB has more than Kevin Magnussen and Jolson Palmer combined. It’s just and idea and could get the team to 2018 when the contracts of Rosberg, Hamilton, Alonso and other “big names” are up.


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The problem in motorsports, and sports broadly, today is that the personalities that made drivers exciting and larger-than-life characters that we grew up loving are discouraged. Those who posses those charismatic traits often are either kept on a short leash, or have those traits trained out of them until they’re the bland corporate spokesperson that is all too common today. This is what I like about drivers like Lewis Hamilton, Josef Newgarden, or Kyle Bush. Yes, it can be risky for your brand to have someone who, like Lewis or Kyle, is a bit unpredictable, but it can also be… Read more »


Hiring a big name certainly makes sense only when there is realistic hope the car will perform much better. Their current rather low key line-up served them quite well, because they were certainly aware that 2016 will be a bad year in terms of results. This years car is for the most part last years Lotus with a paint job and they are working flat out for 2017. No big name driver would have made much of a difference this year. In contrast I think Hondas push with hiring Alonso last year was a huge mistake, because it only highlighted… Read more »

Alianora La Canta

Sebastian and Nico are not the sort of people I would consider to have charisma at the moment, though both seemed to have more than their share when they were younger. Nowadays, “charisma” would be the likes of Ricciardo, Verstappen, Massa, Pérez and Hamilton (each of whom has a subtly different type of charisma, since that word is to some extent in the eye of the beholder). What it looks more like to me is that Renault are listing the sort of quietly super-competent people whose racing does the talking. The sort who would take a younger Raikkonen or perhaps… Read more »


When you think of the name Renault you think ‘boring’ and ‘soul less’. I can see why the likes of Nico would appeals to him. But Merc and Ferrari are flashy. (Yes Merc have $1m sports cars) and their biggest buyers are flashy people from the middle east and hip hop stars. So yes Lewis is the right fit and has raised the profile of Merc to be more hip a bit like how Tiger changed Golf from being a sport for stuff out of shape old white males. Only car left for Lewis to drive is Ferrari. He wont… Read more »

Max Johnson

Their first choice should be Perez.