By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Former world champions Renault know it will take them years to get back on top in Formula One after returning with their own team this season, according to racing director Frederic Vasseur.
The 46-year-old Frenchman told Reuters that a target, set by Renault chief executive Carlos Ghosn, of being on the podium within three years might seem unambitious but was based on a realistic assessment.
"When Mercedes came back (in 2010) they took over the world champions, they put in a huge budget and they took five years to win the championship," said Vasseur. "Red Bull did the same.
"I think that Ferrari, when (former team principal) Jean Todt came in F1 (in 1993), took probably the same time. I am not, and we are not, more clever than the others. We have to be realistic in our ambition because if you put something too strong you won’t deliver and will look bad."
Renault won the drivers' and constructors' titles in 2005 and 2006, with Spaniard Fernando Alonso ending Michael Schumacher's five-year domination with Ferrari, but sold their team at the end of 2009.
They continued as an engine supplier to Red Bull, who had taken over Jaguar in 2005, with their V8s powering that team and Germany's Sebastian Vettel to both titles for four consecutive years between 2010 and 2013.
Then the rules changed, new V6 turbo hybrid power units were introduced and Mercedes, who had bought the title-winning Brawn GP team at the end of 2009, became the dominant force with Britain's Lewis Hamilton champion in 2014 and last year.
Vasseur is a Formula One newcomer but knows all about winning, having had both Vettel and Hamilton racing for his ART teams in the junior categories.
He is also well aware that there are no shortcuts, with Renault's return confirmed only in December, when they bought Mercedes-powered Lotus F1. That team finished sixth out of 10 in 2015 with 78 points compared to Mercedes' 703.
The Renault engine lagged both Mercedes and Ferrari on performance last season, leading to a rift with Red Bull, who will nonetheless continue to use a version of it in 2016.
"We know exactly the situation, we know that we are not at the top," said Vasseur. "We know also that we took over the company at the end of December and the car was designed for the Mercedes (engine)... this is the situation.
"We knew exactly the deal ... when we took over the company that 2016 would be very difficult in terms of results. That’s life. We have to build up a strong team for the future."
Renault plan to increase staff numbers significantly at their Enstone factory in central England after years of under-funding and have already made some key signings.
Bob Bell, the former Renault technical director who went to Mercedes in 2011, has returned as chief technical officer while former Ferrari race engineer Chris Dyer, an Australian, is heading up vehicle performance.
Vasseur, whose drivers in the junior ranks also included familiar F1 faces Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean, Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hulkenberg as well as last year's GP2 winner Stoffel Vandoorne, will take the new role in his stride.
"The job is a bit different but at the end of the day the target is always the same," he said.
"It doesn’t matter if you are in Formula Renault, GP2 or F1. The story is always the same. I know the target."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)