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Renault boss admits they are leaving it late on drivers
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Renault boss admits they are leaving it late on drivers
Posted By: James Allen  |  20 Jan 2010   |  4:37 pm GMT  |  49 comments

New Renault team principal Eric Boullier has admitted today that the team is leaving it late to sign a second driver to partner Robert Kubica and that the choice is limited.

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“Today we have a situation where there are not many drivers available on the market,” Boullier told Autosport. “I speak about drivers with Formula 1 experience and drivers who are rookies but successful enough and graduated enough to get into Formula 1. The key thing is that we do consider driver performance and driver development state.”

Boullier’s list has two experienced drivers and two inexperienced ones. He said that Nick Heidfeld is one of the candidates and the other may well be Christian Klien. In the rookie camp is GP2 runner up Vitaly Petrov.

Renault is due to launch its car on 31 January, but Boullier says that the team may not be ready to sign its second driver by then, so Kubica may have to pull the veil off the car and start testing it on his own. Kubica would prefer to have an experienced driver alongside him, because the testing opportunities are so limited these days, a day spent by a rookie in a car is essentially a driving school day. And as the cars develop so much from the first race to the last race of the season, an experienced and technically strong driver pairing will bring the car up more quickly.

It had been intended to restrict the number of developments allowed on the cars in 2010, but this was not agreed in the end and so it will be restricted only by spend, under the resource restriction agreement. Each team will handle this differently, but certainly many teams have allocated budget in order to have something new on the car at every race. So there is a premium on experienced drivers.

Boullier hinted that sponsorship may well play a part in the decision, which would tip the balance more towards a driver like Petrov, who has a big budget and is clearly pretty quick. Another attraction of Petrov for new Renault team owner Gerard Lopez is that he would open the team up to the Russian market. Bernie Ecclestone, with whom Lopez has become very close recently, would also welcome the opening of a new frontier for F1.

“So now we have to focus on two things. First, and this is very important, we have to bring serenity to the team and bring the morale back up. Second, we are looking for sponsors. We are waiting to have all these elements in place to take our decision, ” said Boullier.

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49 Comments
  1. Bernard Barrington-Forbes says:

    I’m not convinced as yet that Renault will have anything more than a mediocre at best 2010 season. With this in mind, they may well be better to nurture a rookie rather than waste money on experience. If I was making the decisions, I’d employ Anthony Davidson. He is constantly overlooked despite his talent and on the plus side, he’s so keen he’d probably race for a second hand Clio and a bag of crisps.

    1. Trent says:

      Gees Anthony Davidson is certainly the cult star on any British based website. Is he really THAT good? I thought Sato was the star of Superaguri, to be honest.

      I will say that he seems like a great guy though, and his podcast comments are incredibly interesting. In that respect it would be a shame to lose him to driving!

  2. Gary says:

    I’d wager that Renault will chase the money on this and sign Petrov. He’s fast enough that they can say it’s not a pay drive, but it helps plug the financial hole that opened up when sponsors deserted in the aftermath of the Piquet scandal.

  3. Nicollers says:

    You have to feel sorry for Kubica. He signed on early at Renault, thinking opportunities would be few and far between. Makes you wonder who would have snapped him up if he hadn’t of signed for Renault so eagerly. This has effectively put a massive pause button on his F1 career and his chances of winning a Drivers’ Championship.

  4. manty says:

    Am I missing something here, but what’s wrong with Anthony Davidison, or his he already commited

    1. Williams4ever says:

      Q – What’s wrong with Anthony?
      A – He hasn’t fared well in “Race” situation barring one race weekend in 2006/07 where he had good measure of Takuma Sato entire weekend and was even running strong before retirement. So on sheer performance criteria, Sato deserves a call ahead of Ant, not to mention irrespective of strong showing of Kamui Kobayashi, Takuma Sato is still most popular among legion of F1 fans in Japan.

      Q- or his he already commited?
      Yes to BBC Radio Commentary team, he is doing a stellar job there (even better than their TV Pundits). Of course the bias when British-Vs-Non British Drivers are involved in action, thats the professional requirement and he has to be excused for that, otherwise his insights are really good :D

  5. Robert Wickens, he was a Red Bull driver in GP2, lord knows how many Red Bull drivers are in F1 now. It’s a good pool.

    1. John MacMicking says:

      I agree John, he is very quick and a smart racer.

  6. MIKE LEA says:

    Shame Anthony Davidson doesn’t have any big sponsors interested in backing him for a Renault seat. He’s not that old, has bags and bags of testing experience, knows virtually all of the tracks and, having qualified a Super Aguri in 11th one time, definitely has a bit of speed. I reckon he would really bring a lot to the team and drive it forward with Kubica. I guess it will come down to dollars, though, sadly…

  7. rpaco says:

    “It had been intended to restrict the number of developments allowed on the cars in 2010, but this was not agreed in the end and so it will be restricted only by spend, under the resource restriction agreement”

    James have you been able to get hold of the “resource restriction agreement” if so what does it say?

    There will be dozens of ways of getting round a financial limit, that is unless it is very tightly defined by means of referring directly to to both in house and third party machinery costs, process costs, prototyping and materials cost and specifically to parts of the car and requiring full open book on each part, process and each subsequent change to the car. Development labour costs should also be included. In fact in order to police this the whole company and any associate company needs to be open book. Even then I would put a fiver on a lot of development cost staying off the books.

    “Another attraction of Petrov for new Renault team owner Gerard Lopez is that he would open the team up to the Russian market. Bernie Ecclestone, with whom Lopez has become very close recently, would also welcome the opening of a new frontier for F1.”

    I suppose we can therefore look forward to a Russian ??? sponsored GP. If Bernie senses a massive profit it is unlikely he will leave it unfulfilled.

    1. James Allen says:

      RRA is a very tightly guarded document. There is some pain in there for employees – workforces going down to circa 280 employees by the end of 2011.

  8. bill says:

    James, does that mean r30 will be developed purely towards kubicas preferences, is it going to be advantage or disadvantage for the team, and how big of an advantage will it be for robert to get more miles in a new car?

  9. Kal says:

    Goodbye Heidfeld

    1. Pawel says:

      Yeah, Goodbuy, we will miss you. James made good points that Petrov is only choice for Renault.

  10. Eric Weinraub says:

    Is Renault going the way of Arrows? My god how the mighty fall. I have a great deal of respect for Bob Bell but its hard to imagine that alot of cash is going to be wasted to do nothing more than be a marketing platform for what?

  11. jose says:

    souseck to campos? at least is what as.com is saying. It could be made oficial in the next few days. He’s got 5 mill, to help campos make up his mind.

  12. Martin says:

    Is nobody mentioning Anthony Davidson in relation to any of the remaining seats any more?

    1. Robert McKay says:

      No, even Ant himself knows it’s not going to happen.

      Unjust but that’s Formula 1 for you.

  13. Gareth says:

    Is that you Mr. Brundle?

  14. Carlm21 says:

    I’d go for Nick Heidfeld. He would work well with Kubica and prove a test for him.

    If not then there’s always Anthony Davidson. He would be my second choice.

    Basically anyone but Jacques Villeneuve.

    1. LF says:

      Basically no one but Jacques Villeneuve.

      He outperformed Heidfeld many times and he’s a much more interesting character.

      He started to loose against Heidfeld only when he learned that BMW would drop him whatever his results.

      He said in Germany GP that BMW would never win anything that year because the engine was to weak ! In Germany! They were so pissed off! Ah! ah! ah! I like him!

      Look at his final race, crashing his BMW : we would swear it was on purpose… I like him.

      He is so proud, he could outperformed anybody; if given the right conditions and if someone could just believe in him.

      1. Carlm21 says:

        No Chance. The man has been finished in Formula One for years now and he is on the scrap heap.

      2. LF says:

        I would agree if F1 has not so many less talented drivers still running, who are there only for marketing and product placement according to their nationality and character.

        After his championship, he refused to join Ferrari because they could not offer him a car as good has Micheal’s car. And it was his place, the place his father left for him. But Micheal did not like him and Ferrari chose to go with Michael; we could not blame them too much.

        So he started an all new team, that became Brawn; we know the result. He also helped Sauber becoming BMW who had great result in 2008.

        He’s a champion, he’s a builder, and if the car is not fast enough, or if you call him to the pit after his teammate and it cost him a position, like I saw in Montreal, he may crash the car. He won’t act like a gentleman in a Hamilton way. And I think that Hamilton said that it would be exciting that Villeneuve came back.

  15. Bernard Barrington-Forbes says:

    I’m so pleased I’m not the only one to rate Anthony Davidson. If I had the money, I’d buy him a drive. Sadly, I fear that as Renault is now an investment they are more than likely to go for the money and Russia makes sense for Bernie and his new best mate.

  16. Andy says:

    Anthony Davidson is a key example of the problem with good british drivers and sponsorship.

    How many times have we seen someone from Japan, Germany, Latin America come into the sport with full backing from sponsors.

    I cant really remember any F1 drivers of late coming in with anything other than a longstanding relationship with a team and a lot of talent.

    DC I think came in as a previous test driver after Senna passed away, Damon Hill similarly had test drives and lower race seats, Lewis had his relationship with McClaren and Jenson came in in a blaze of glory when he got his chance with Williams at the young guys test.

    I like Davidson, and I think he would be a good choice, but faced with competition from these sponsor loaded drivers I fear he faces a long wait for a phone call.

    I really hope I’m wrong, or that some British sponsors put some proper backing behind good young drivers.

    I just dont see Corporate Sponsors in the UK as seeing F1 as being that key when for the same money they can sponsor a football team and get more exposure time for them (i.e not surrounded by other sponsors on a car) on a football shirt or sponsoring an athletics event.

    1. Rudy Pyatt says:

      Andy, thank you for bringing this up! The lack of UK sponsorship for homegrown drivers IS strange, given that the F1 infrastructure is so UK-centric. I guess a decade of hearing Bernie run on with the “I hate Silverstone – I want them to have facilities like we have in Sepang – if they don’t come to terms, there won’t be a British Grand Prix” routine hasn’t helped aspiring UK F1 drivers find sponsorship. As you say, value for money is greater in other sports.

      Lack of “hometown” sponsorship is the problem for American drivers, too. Everyone repeats the “but they have to go to Europe to get noticed” (yawn) line. This ignores financial reality. It just isn’t worth it for sponsors to get involved, at all, with any American drivers looking to break into the F1 scene. When I try to talk about F1 to friends who don’t know the sport, they usually say, “Do they even race here? No? Why should I care?” Sponsors know this, they ask these same questions, and answer them, “I shouldn’t care and I definitely shouldn’t spend money on it.” EVERY other sport here offers much, much, MUCH greater return on investment for sponsorship dollars than F1 ever had, has or will have as long as Bernie’s in charge.

      Forget Las Vegas or New York. Or even Long Beach (or, in French terms, Paris). If he actually WANTS sponsors to get interested in F1, Bernie needs to give up on the “Monaco glamour + Asian/Middle Eastern governments will provide the money I want” business plan.

      Until and unless he accepts that he has to commit to building the F1 brand here; unless and until he’s willing to do that by surrendering some profit (and image) by putting a US race on the calendar, for at least 10 years, at a non-glamour/middle of nowhere venue that has great racing tradition (Indy, obviously, along with Watkins Glen, Road America, Laguna Seca, Sebring and Daytona); and without his infamous 10 percent escalator clause, sponsors just won’t be bothered to participate. I guarantee you that if Bernie had swallowed his pride and/or greed, and kept things going at Indy (making this the tenth year running), that type of stability would make F1 in general, and American drivers looking to get into it, much more attractive to sponsors.

      Given that BCE has deleted the French GP round (and, if I recall correctly, making some unkind remarks about Magny Cours before doing so), I wonder if that’s contributed to the lack of French drivers on the grid.

      Saying all of this, I do think Heidfeld is getting screwed if he doesn’t get the seat. But there’s that sponsorship thing again…

      Hey James, how about doing a piece digging into these issues? Why can’t UK drivers get sponsorship with all the F1 infrastructure there? What is the connection (if any) between Bernie’s business model (and/or his statements about various venues and markets) and the ability of drivers to attract sponsorship, especially in the UK, US and France? How do sponsors involved in other sports (football, football, and basketball, for example) view F1 as a marketing platform? What do they say keeps them away from it?

      Yeah, I know: The marketing departments of every team are trying to bottle these answers for themselves. What’s their take on these issues? Have they had sponsors tell them that F1 just doesn’t provide marketing value?

      1. James Allen says:

        Thanks, I’ll add to the list

    2. krad says:

      It because all our companies are being bought up by foreign investors, but that’s a different conversation

  17. Ben Dz says:

    There sure are a lot of Anthony Davidson supporters on this board.

    Forgive me, but what does he bring to the table that neither Klien or Heidfeld do not?

    And if people are saying that he ‘deserves’ the drive after years testing, remember that CK has been testing for Honda and BMW for the last few seasons…and therefore has equal testing and technical knowledge, and is more up to date.

    1. Stephen Kellett JAF1 says:

      Forgive me, but what does he bring to the table that neither Klien or Heidfeld do not?

      Could either of those put a Super Aguri on the grid in 11th?

      Answer: Unlikely.

      (question provided in a previous posting by someone else, but seem a very appropriate response).

      1. Lochlan says:

        Should sign Takuma Sato then (and he is one of the candidates for this seat, even though James doesn’t seem to like to mention it) he has qualified even higher in a Super Aguri and outperformed Ant in just about every race.

  18. Tomek says:

    James, I would be grateful for your comment on that piece of conversation of Boullier with Autosport (regarding Heidfeld):

    “Definitely it’s a different question because he has spent so many years with Robert. The question mark is if we want to put them together again or not. But he is on the list.”

    As for me it looks like a diplomatic way to say that they will not hire him.

    1. James Allen says:

      Well he woudn’t raise it if it weren’t an issue. I’m not aware of personality clashes with Kubica and they pushed each other very hard with Nick often coming out in front. I think there were some issues of a car which suited one driver didn’t suit the other so well as we saw in 2008 and 2009 – but not sure if that’s a deal breaker. As far as I understand it Nick still wants paying properly and the world has changed.

      1. Tomek says:

        Thanks James, this is another way of interpreting it. It makes sense to me. Greetings!

      2. James says:

        Hi James,

        Nick stated he had turned down concrete possibilites while waiting on the Mercedes drive. Can you shed any light on which teams that might have been

      3. jack tors says:

        “Nick still wants paying properly” this may well be the point that ends his career. Sad as he is the best choice overall.

  19. Martin says:

    Blimey, when I made my comment no. 12 above there were no comments yet posted, so independently several other people in the moderation queue had the same thought about Ant. That speaks volumes! This season is likely to generate more media coverage than any in recent history so getting an F1 presence for your business through sponsoring someone like Ant could be a shrewd move I reckon.

  20. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

    Didn’t Piquet complain that Flavio restricted his testing mileage too much?

    If they leave it too late and hire a rookie he will have no chance – we saw in 2009 that no replacement beat their predecessor and lack of testing was cited as a big factor in this…

  21. SiY says:

    Another vote of support here for Anthony Davidson! At least everyone’s stopped talking about Villeneuve now…

    James, Autosport quoted Boullier’s response to a question asking whether the second Renault driver would have to be French (in the same interview which gave rise to your article). He said: “It’s completely up to the team to decide what is best for the team. The driver could be French, but he could be Russian, Chinese, German, Austrian or whatever you want.”

    Having dealt with the question (about signing a French driver), Boullier mentions Russian (Petrov), Chinese, German (Heidfeld) and Austrian (Klien) – surely his other rookie candidate is Gravity driver Ho Pin Tung, who was hastily given a test seat at Jerez last month at the time of the Genii takeover of Renault?

  22. Spritkopf says:

    I can understand that a carmaker’s F1 team needs external sponsorship but hiring paydrivers is another level. If Renault really hires a driver just because he brings a bag of cash with him they couldn’t sink deeper in my estimation. It would be a new low point in Renaults F1 history and they already have several.

  23. john g says:

    on driver merit alone, heidfeld i would think is head and shoulders above the rest. klien next. then petrov, but it’s all about the money. petrov opens up the russian market. that means bernie wants him in, and also gets russian money into renault, opening up a massive market. you have to think that’s worth a lot more to renault than a very experienced and quick driver. unfortunately. i think heidfeld was just one of those wrong place wrong time drivers. had he gone to mercedes instead of raikonnen, or to brawn last year, things may have turned out very differently for him. you have to wonder if his manager is any good…

    1. bill says:

      you would also have to wonder what is the factor he lacks that he never made it in the first league. Everyone knows he is quick and reliable and great overtaker and preserves his tires, but there must be something only engineers and team bosses know. That is why he never made the few last steps

      1. bill says:

        maybe its the fact that he often uses his team mates setups

      2. Spritkopf says:

        Plainly spoken: This is rubbish. Just ask Dr. Theissen just how much Heidfeld worked on his setups in 2008 when he was struggling in qualifying to get his tires to temperature.

      3. john g says:

        i’ve heard a lot of heidfelds feedback to his engineer – i’d say that he’s one of the best in terms of technical understanding. in the days with TC at BMW Sauber, the amount of knowledge he had on how the systems worked and their effects on the cars was phenomenal. i would be very surprised if he had trouble in setting up a car.

      4. bill says:

        well, that is my impression after watching some practice sessions and listening to radio transmissions between drivers and engineers, most recent one being abu dhabi gp practice session (second i think). That is just the impression i get, and i am not saying it is wrong or anything, it’s a common practice and it works for many teams and drivers.

    2. Rudy Pyatt says:

      yes. yes. and yes.

      1. Rudy Pyatt says:

        as in yes quick and yes, right place, wrong time. Chris Amon, maybe?

  24. john g says:

    just read that petrov may bring up to £13m (15m euros) in sponsorship money with him. that’s pretty persuasive…

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