Renault have signed a letter of intent to buy a controlling stake in Lotus to create a new Formula 1 team for 2016.
Renault have been in talks to buy Lotus for several months and the latter's financial position has become precarious without a deal in place.
But in a statement on Monday, Renault said it was the "first step towards the project of a Renault Formula 1 team".
Lotus F1 were due in court on Monday over unpaid tax, but the case was adjourned until 7 December.
Renault, whose engine partnership with Red Bull appears to be heading for a messy divorce, say the move to buy the Lotus team represents the ambition to extend their 38-year involvement in F1.
The French company previously ran their own F1 team from 1977-85 and 2002-10, winning the drivers' and constructors' championships in 2005 and 2006 when Fernando Alonso drove for them.
In 2009 Renault sold the majority of shares in its F1 team, which became Lotus Renault in 2011 and from 2012 the team competed as Lotus F1.
Lotus's current owner, Genii Capital, has recently scaled down its own investment.
The Lotus team have suffered a number of operational problems and were locked out of their hospitality building at last weekend's Japanese Grand Prix because of debts from last year's race.
Despite that, both drivers finished in the points at Suzuka with Romain Grosjean coming seventh, one place ahead of team-mate Pastor Maldonado.
Lotus announced last week that Venezuelan Maldonado, 30, would be staying at the team next year, but their other driver has yet to be decided.
Frenchman Grosjean, 29, is expected to leave to join the new US-based Haas team, who are announcing at least one of their drivers on Tuesday.
The original Lotus team, founded by Colin Chapman, first competed in F1 in 1958 before collapsing with financial difficulties in 1994.
Lotus had been one of the dominant teams of the 1960s and '70s, winning seven constructors' championships and six drivers' titles.
Scotsman Jim Clark was world champion in 1963 and 1965 and England's Graham Hill also won the F1 title in a Lotus in 1968.