Robert Kubica has brushed aside concerns over the Renault cheating scandal and has put his faith in the team, signing for next season.
As one of the most highly rated drivers in F1, he had a choice of seats for next year, but he has gone with Renault.
A month or so ago, I thought Williams was Kubica’s favourite choice but I think he may have been put off lately by the uncertainty about what engine the team is using in 2010. The team seems to have cut off dialogue with Renault and is now considering Cosworth. This may be part of a wider commercial deal, possibly involving a large company and equity stakes in either Williams or Cosworth (or both) changing hands in the future.
The Renault announcement says that Kubica will drive from the 2010 season onwards. That is rather vague and my hunch is that he may have done a one-year deal with options, because there are quite a few things which could happen in the driver market for 2011 and he will want to be in a position to capitalise if, for example Felipe Massa isn’t the same driver as he was before his accident or if Raikkonen goes to McLaren for just one year and then retires.
I heard that he signed the deal on Saturday in Japan. It makes sense for both sides; Renault is keen to emerge from the cheating scandal and refresh its sporting brand. It has such a proud history in motor sport, this latest scandal sits oddly with the past.
But the team is trying to reposition itself with the Renault brand to the fore. Before it was Flavio Briatore’s team that happened to be called Renault. The car company makes no secret of the fact that it hired Flavio Briatore because it wanted to win quickly and he knew the road map for that, but the whole place became a personality cult and, unchecked, he went and exceeded his brief and landed the team in a major scandal.
Now the strategy is to blame the cheating on him and move forward proudly as Renault with a low-key team principal who does not overshadow the team and the badge and a top class driver, which is where Kubica comes in.
He will be welcomed with open arms by the engineers who were not happy with Briatore for losing him in 2006 to BMW. Kubica’s first test was in a Renault, as a prize for winning the World Series by Renault. He went well, but Briatore delayed, so Morelli parlayed the Renault test into a test and then race seat with Sauber and BMW. Word had got out about how fast Kubica had been in the Renault test and when Morelli showed Sauber and Mario Theissen the data, Kubica was signed without even testing the BMW Sauber car!
The Renault engineers have thought ever since what a great team Alonso and Kubica would have made. The pair are good friends.
“I share with Renault a strong winning mentality and feel comfortable with their friendly and open attitude, ” said Kubica. “I’m highly motivated and optimistic that together we can be at the front of the grid next year and hopefully fighting for the world title.”
Acting Renault team principal Bob Bell said, “We are very excited to have signed Robert with the Renault F1 Team starting next season. Ever since Robert made his Grand Prix debut in 2006, he has been on our radar as one of the most naturally talented drivers of his generation and he has delivered on that promise so it’s great to have secured him in one of our cars next season. Renault has high ambitions and hopes for the future of the team and we feel that Robert can play a big role in fulfilling them.”