PARIS (AP) — Renault's return to Formula One looks imminent after the French manufacturer announced plans on Monday to buy a controlling stake in the debt-laden Lotus team.
Renault said in a statement that it signed a letter of intent with the owners of the Lotus team "regarding the potential acquisition by Renault of a controlling stake in Lotus F1 Team Ltd."
Renault, which has been in talks to buy Lotus for several months, added it hopes a permanent deal will be finalized "in the coming weeks."
Renault's announcement came as Lotus officials were due in court on Monday over unpaid taxes, a case that could trigger the appointment of financial administrators.
Renault withdrew from team ownership after the 2008 season and has since served as a successful engine supplier, helping Red Bull win four successive championships.
"The signature of this Letter of Intent marks Renault's first step towards the project of a Renault Formula 1 team from the 2016 racing season thereby extending 38 years of commitment of the brand to world's premier motorsport championship series," Renault and Lotus said.
Renault's return to F1 would represent a major boost to the sport amid a difficult season that has been dominated by Mercedes, with traditional powerhouse team McLaren struggling and concerns that Red Bull could quit after falling behind its big rivals.
With Renault, F1 would return to a grid with at least three teams fielded by engine manufacturers. Ferrari and Mercedes are the others.
Returning to the hugely expensive sport also represents something of a gamble by Renault at a difficult time for the car manufacturing industry, which has been under the spotlight following revelations about Volkswagen's rigging of emissions data in the United States.