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.
“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.