Renault turn to Heidfeld after Kubica’s disaster

2011 F1 season preview

Renault

Renault R31 launch, Valencia, 2011
Car: R31
#9 Nick Heidfeld
#10 Vitaly Petrov
Form 2006-2010: 1, 3, 4, 8, 5
2010 points: 163

The team that some are calling ‘Lotus Renault GP’ have a weak claim to both names.

The self-consciously prominent ‘Lotus’ branding on the R31 is at present down to little more than a sponsorship deal.

Renault have sold their remaining share in the team, but the car continues to use their engines and carries their name.

Sadly, this means we’ve lost the distinctive yellow-and-black cars of last year – the only time in their modern incarnation that Renault raced in their traditional colours.

They are replaced by a rendering of Lotus’s classic black-and-gold John Player Special livery which is attractive if not quite perfect (blame Total for that).

But the real substance of the car looks promising indeed. The team made rapid progress with the R30 last year.

Their aerodynamic division, shored up in numbers following a too-hasty reduction in the latter days of the Flavio Briatore years, excelled in bringing rapid updates to the car which generally worked as intended.

For 2011 they’ve pushed the envelope further with a radical exhaust solution which blows hot air out around the front of the sidepods with the aim of increasing downforce.

It was starting to look promising for Renault when Robert Kubica set the fastest time in the final day of the Valencia test shortly after the car’s launch.

But just three days later came the blow that may derail Renault’s entire season. Kubica suffered serious injuries when he crashed while competing in a rally in Italy. If and when he might be able to return to racing remains to be seen.

This presented a problem for team principal Eric Boullier. None of the team’s five reserve drivers including new recruit Bruno Senna was considered experienced enough to take Kubica’s place.

Robert Kubica, Renault, Valencia, 2011

Robert Kubica, Renault, Valencia, 2011

The loss of Kubica exposed the weakness in the team’s driver line-up.

Vitaly Petrov’s debut season last year was patchy at best. There is little doubt that his continued presence at the team owes more than a little to the sponsorship he has helped attract.

Boullier reacted quickly by installing Nick Heidfeld as Kubica’s replacement and there is little doubt he was the most qualified driver available for the job.

The question now is what Heidfeld can make of the car that was made for his former team mate. The pair were often closely matched while at BMW together from 2006-2009.

And can he and Petrov raise the team above the fifth place they finished in last year?

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44 comments on Renault turn to Heidfeld after Kubica’s disaster

  1. bosyber (@bosyber) said on 8th March 2011, 10:01

    It will be interesting to watch the team. Will their exhaust give them reliabiliy trouble? Will it actually give them an advantage over the others? Maybe Heidfeld will finally win his first race. I wonder if the calmer, quieter Heidfeld will actually be a lot better for Petrov to learn from (even if he keeps repeating that the drivers very similarly to Kubica so could just watch and learn, it always sounded a tad desperate to me).

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 8th March 2011, 13:15

      Wirth said it should give them about 0.3 seconds per lap, according to his CFD simulations.

      Agree on this being interesting to watch and see what they can do. To early to tell where they are, as McLaren is pretty unclear, Mercedes wants to bring a lot to the car and Heidfeld might be solid, but he never did too good when not being pushed by a fast teammate.

  2. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 8th March 2011, 10:05

    There is little doubt that his continued presence at the team owes more than a little to the sponsorship he has helped attract.

    Except that according to his manager, his contract states that he has no financial obligation to the team. She said as much at the press conference where Petrov was retained by the team – and she said it in the presence of Eric Boullier, who made no attempt to correct her and no retraction or denial was issued.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 8th March 2011, 10:09

      Oh well if his manager said it and his boss won’t admit to hiring him because he helps attract sponsors then I’m definitely convinced…

      In the words of the great Homer Simpson “In case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic”.

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 8th March 2011, 10:22

        I’m not denying that he helps attract sponsors – but he’s under no obligation to. If he can’t find any, then he still keeps the seat. Probably because of the deal with Lotus Cars. If you look carefully, there aren’t too many Russian sponsors. Renault can only drop him on the grounds of performance, not a failure to pay.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 8th March 2011, 10:27

          I’m not denying that he helps attract sponsors – but he’s under no obligation to.

          I never said he was under any obligation to.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 8th March 2011, 13:27

          Sure, he is under no obligation, just like Renault will not be under an obligation to run him if they are not satisfied.

          In reality this is a deal of having the driver there for the dough. Sure Petrov is not bad, but if he would not be bringing the money as well, he would not be there. Like Sutil in FI, or Maldonado in the Williams. Or Perez in the Sauber.
          Good drivers, all good enough for a place in F1, but the money is the convincing argument.

      • RIISE (@riise) said on 8th March 2011, 10:24

        Exactly Keith, just because they say the contract states there is no financial obligation you have to take that with a real big pinch of salt.

        I mean what team, if not for money would keep Petrov on when there are other options that would get them solid points each race?

        Besides Renault were pretty open at the start of last year about that Petrov bought in a good chunk of money and reiterated it was good business sense.

        • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 8th March 2011, 10:33

          just because they say the contract states there is no financial obligation you have to take that with a real big pinch of salt

          So Petrov has to pay them to keep his seat, even though his contract says he does not have to?

          Sorry, but if that’s the case, then Renault would be called before the Contract Review Board. That’s a massive violation of contracts law. At the vey least, Renault would be forced to repay the money to those sponsors.

          • verstappen said on 8th March 2011, 10:50

            There are other ways. A sponsor could state in their contract, that they only sponsor Renault if Petrov is driving. Adds up to the same but makes it possible to deny you’re a paydriver.

            *blushing* Jos Verstappen did exactly that when he drove for Arrows. They were sponsored by Lost Boys, a company of Michiel Mol (part owner of Force India). But only because Arrows let Jos drive. And boy, did he entertain us, dutch fans.

            We spotted the similarities between Jos and Petrov before, I wonder how Petrov will fare in the future.

          • Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 8th March 2011, 11:01

            A performance clause in the contract could do the trick. Let’s say the contract says, just like the previous one, that the team may fire him if he doesn’t score at least 25 percent of his teammate’s points. The team is not obliged to execute this, but it may serve as an excuse to kick Petrov out if the budget doesn’t add up.

          • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 8th March 2011, 11:14

            The team is not obliged to execute this, but it may serve as an excuse to kick Petrov out if the budget doesn’t add up.

            Nope, that would get them before the CRB, too.

          • Todfod (@todfod) said on 8th March 2011, 11:44

            At the end of the day.. Heidfeld is in the team because they needed a dependable, experienced and consistent driver to fill Kubica’s shoes. They didn’t hire him for sponsorship money.

            Vitaly on the other hand, is absolutely useless without his sponsorship money. And I wouldn’t expect any team manager to come out and publicly declare that Vitaly is only driving because of the funds he has bought in.

            We do not have access to their contracts to say what is true and what isn’t. You cannot believe everything team managers put diplomatically to the media.

          • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 8th March 2011, 12:11

            And I wouldn’t expect any team manager to come out and publicly declare that Vitaly is only driving because of the funds he has bought in.

            We do not have access to their contracts to say what is true and what isn’t. You cannot believe everything team managers put diplomatically to the media.

            They made no secret of it last year. Petrov openly advertised that he would bring fifteen million Euros to any team that signed him up.

            People are only saying that Petrov is there for his money and his manager and Boullier are lying because they don’t like him and don’t think he “deserves” the seat.

          • Mike said on 8th March 2011, 12:24

            He has had a full year in a great car and achieved very little.

            Maybe he does deserve his seat but I feel safe in saying there are many drivers that deserve it far more.

            And just because his contract doesn’t mention sponsors doesn’t mean the reason he is there isn’t to do with sponsors.

          • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 8th March 2011, 12:52

            He has had a full year in a great car and achieved very little.

            So did Nico Hulkenberg, and everyone complained when Williams dropped him.

            What you have to understand about Renault is that they weren’t expecting a good season in 2010. They weren’t expecting to be where they are now until this time next year. They just produced a very good car and didn’t know about it until they went racing. People seem to think Petrov somehow cheated half a dozen better candidates out of the seat, when the truth is that Renault themselves didn’t know they were sitting on gold with the R30.

            I actually worked this one out a while ago: if Petrov and Kubica were as evenly-matched as Schumacher and Rosberg (who are not evenly-matched, but nor as they as disproportionate), Mercedes still would have comfortably beaten Renault in the Constructors’ standings.

          • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 8th March 2011, 12:55

            There are other ways. A sponsor could state in their contract, that they only sponsor Renault if Petrov is driving. Adds up to the same but makes it possible to deny you’re a paydriver.

            No, it doesn’t – because the team aren’t obligated to take Petrov for money. Only that they are to take Petrov for money from that particular sponsor. If Renault do not need or want to take that sponsor, then they don’t need to run Petrov. Nowhere does that force Renault to take Petrov as a driver under all circumstances.

            Besides, the companies that sponsor Petrov are holding companies. The money is coming directly from the Russian government, so the sponsors are all companies that the Kremlin has a stake in.

          • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 8th March 2011, 13:10

            So did Nico Hulkenberg, and everyone complained when Williams dropped him.

            Weren’t you criticising Hulkenburg before because he turned down the Williams seat?

          • unoc said on 8th March 2011, 13:14

            Nope, that would get them before the CRB, too.

            No it wouldn’t. If their are grounds in the contract to allow the team to dismiss him at the end of the season if certain performance targets aren’t reached then they are fully entitled to do so. If part of it is because the sponsors have pulled out then it doesn’t matter because all they have to say is ‘Petrov didn’t meet the crtieria set out in the contract that we both signed’.

            If all honesty is to be used then yes, sure it wouldn’t be applicable, but they just wouldn’t consider thinking about it.

            And anyway F1 teams have hidden agendas in the past as far as contract reviewing goes, if the contract says Petrov must score atleast 25% of teammate’s points by the end of the year and Petrov fails to do so, then Petrov can legally be fired without worry.

          • David-A (@david-a) said on 8th March 2011, 15:34

            I actually worked this one out a while ago: if Petrov and Kubica were as evenly-matched as Schumacher and Rosberg (who are not evenly-matched, but nor as they as disproportionate), Mercedes still would have comfortably beaten Renault in the Constructors’ standings.

            Comfortably? Kubica and Rosberg were seperated by 6 points. Petrov and Schumacher by 45. Mercedes may still have finished 4th, but not “comfortably”.

            And for the record, Schumacher did pretty poorly. Petrov was just abysmal.

    • Solo (@solo) said on 8th March 2011, 13:02

      Yes Petrov probably has the seat because of the sponsors he brings but saying his useless it’s unfair.
      He didn’t put the world on fire in his first year but he didn’t do much worse than what you will except from a rookie. The all praised Mr.Hulkenberg hardly did any better but just because he got that silly poll people react like he was ten times better than Petrov.

      Petrov hasn’t proved to be an incompetent driver yet. This is the year that will show if he has what it takes to keep going in F1. So people that already pulled a judgment of him are hard for me to understand.
      Hey many people still think Luizzi should get a chance despite having quite a big number of races in two different teams and always being unimpressive and yet the jury is out for Petrov already?

  3. Ben N said on 8th March 2011, 10:14

    Can’t imagine them finishing higher than 4th this year – but I wouldn’t put many podiums and a possible win beyond them…

  4. Maciek said on 8th March 2011, 10:55

    That car seems to have a lot of interesting solutions on it, besides the exhausts. It really sucks that Kubica won’t be there, but I think that Petrov will be steadier than last year – if he can bring his best stuff to the races regularly, he will impress. Heidfeld is pretty sure to be a steady performer, so I’m not too worried about their line-up. It just remains to be seen how good that car is.

  5. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 8th March 2011, 12:19

    I hope and think Heidfeld will do well this year with a few podiums. I also think Petrov will actually do better, he just needs to iron out mistakes.

    • I agree. Heidfeld could spring a surprise and Petrov should be a lot more consistent (he did at least show flashes of talent for instance during Hungary) and hopefully will have learnt from his rather daft moments like when he crashed in Spain and said he was just trying to see if the kerbs were wet.

      I like Vitaly and think he has potential but I think it takes at least until the second season to really judge rookies due to the testing restrictions. Although this probably is far from Renault’s dream line-up I think they’ve got a fairly good pair personally.

  6. Prof Kirk (@prof-kirk) said on 8th March 2011, 12:38

    …livery which is attractive if not quite perfect (blame Total for that).

    Unfortunately, although understandably subjective, I disagree.
    Despite having a Bachelor in Fine Arts at the University of Melbourne and a Major in Industrial Design at Bauhaus, i admit my opinion is of no higher or lesser authority on the internet, but the red breaks the very ‘classic’ and ‘historic’ livery we see into something more contemporary whilst maintaining all aspects of the traditional scheme. The red also highlights the 4 points of the vehicle, which allows the car to sustain a well balanced frame work for the more prominent black and gold. Visually the red alone does enhance the cars appearance in photos as well as on television due to it’s bright nature that is contrasted strongly against the black. Without the red, the car would be difficult to view and appear as though it blends into the dark shades of the tarmac.

    Say what you like, but I for one admire the red detailing and I have mentioned this before and I will mention this again, that I don’t agree with attempting to re-create the past but reinterpretation of something classic with a contemporary twist is very welcome.

    • unoc said on 8th March 2011, 13:07

      +1 for mentioning Uni of Mel

      -1 for actually liking the livery.

      It looks horrible. THe Team Lotus black and gold actually looked pretty sweet. THe renault version is a word that keith word prefer not written on his blog.

      Subjective though.

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 8th March 2011, 13:13

      I don’t think the red makes it better, but I have never disliked it either. I think there’s a lot of heart-over-heads going on with this one, which is understandable.

    • Solo (@solo) said on 8th March 2011, 13:15

      Maybe you should start chewing on that Bachelor in Fine Arts you got there because a user here already did a photoshop of the car without the Total being red and the car looked amazingly better. Most people agreed to that after seeing it.
      I personally thought that the problem was more that just the red of Total but i was surprised when i saw that the car really looked good without it.

      • Prof Kirk (@prof-kirk) said on 8th March 2011, 13:58

        @Solo, can you elaborate on your decision of why it looks better without the red? I’m interested in why you perceive the livery to be composed more aesthetically pleasing without the red, instead of just “I saw it done on photoshop, looks better”.
        I completely understand that some will agree and some will not, it is that quality that defines who we are. It’s an unavoidable conflict.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 8th March 2011, 14:00

      I agree. At first I hated the R31 but perhaps that was more to do with their frantic release of the livery to get one over Tony Fernandes. I think the red balances it well and I bet Total are loving it!

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 8th March 2011, 17:49

      While I prefer it without the red, but I agree that the red definitely makes the car pop more in photos and video, which makes it more instantly identifiable.

  7. Agreed, I like the red on there…
    It’s not the same team as before – why use a replica livery?
    Times are changing, teams are changing and well… so does the paint work.

  8. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 8th March 2011, 13:48

    Definitely a team to watch this year, i’ve thought so for a while. The Lotus row is unfortunate but that doesn’t detract from what the R31 promises.

    Really a big shame about Kubica, I would have reckoned a few definite podiums this year for him, but Nick is the best replacement and he instantly sprung to my mind.

    I would love to see a bit more positive consistency from Petrov and i’m sure we will get it. Abu Dhabi was brilliant from him, I bet he was proud keeping Alonso behind him.

    I guess only time will tell with regards to their exhaust system but I hope it’s something innovative just to make a few othr teams quake in their boots!

  9. kirk said on 8th March 2011, 14:32

    They obviously are feeling the absence of Kubica for at least the start of the season, given the car is designed around him and he is their star driver it’s obviously a massive blow, but the car is very good and if Nick adapts quickly and Vitaly steps it up a level they could have a solid year, if the R31 is a great car perhaps even better. Either way though they’ll be wanting Kubica back in that car soon as they can.

    It really is most aweful timing, one can only wonder what Kubica would be doing with the R31 but I suspect podiums from the get go where a strong likelihood.

  10. MattHT (@mattht) said on 8th March 2011, 15:33

    Very unlucky for kubica as i reckon only alonso and vettel are better than him – guaranteed race wins i reckon. Sadly it could end up being a frustrating season for the team – not completely without reward one suspects but without the Pole a lot less high profile. Heidfeld is nothing more than a consistent point scorer and Petrov still has a lot of learning to do. I think the Russian was fairly hopeless last season but one season for a rookie is nowhere near long enough, so i hope he’ll add a bit of staying power to his game this year. The livery is ok but looks a bit old school and doesn’t stick out as much as last years – the photos of yellow r30’s were among the best i got at silverstone last year :)

  11. antonyob said on 8th March 2011, 15:55

    wow that was a dull start arguing semantics over Petrovs contract!

    Its a shame teams are apeing old colour schemes but it was a corker in its day but that day was 30 years ago. The red bits are even worse, really out of line with the rest of the car. They should have had the balls to come up with something as distinctive as todays Mclaren and the name is dreadful. Teams risk alienating fans if they just crowbar names, it’d certainly hurt merchandise sales:

    “Daddy daddy can you buy me the Lotus t shirt? no the Lotus Renault one, no i know its neither, yes the red collar does look odd and i know it may be obselete pending the court case but i really want one”

    exactly.

  12. Fixy (@fixy) said on 8th March 2011, 16:11

    What’s happened to Robert? Has he left intensive care?

  13. slr said on 8th March 2011, 17:37

    Oh my God, red shoes, they look awful.

  14. Mauricio said on 8th March 2011, 19:18

    Heidfeld will add absolutely nothing to the team. But I agree he probably was the only reasonable satisfactory option. Who eles? De La Rosa? Senna? Grosjean? But this German is one of the more gutless drivers in F1 history ever. A bureaucrat.

  15. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 9th March 2011, 2:07

    Nothing will fill Kubica,with him in the team I was looking for another Renault glory year. Now will Nick do anything? No, he isn’t been racing for a year & was never the racer many thought he is. Renault have to hope that Kubica make a quick recovery, may be get some races in the end of the season so that he can prepare himself for 2011.

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