Renault F1 team, 0 wins, 3 podiums, 0 poles, 5th in Constructors’ championship
I found the Renault team very interesting to study this year on several levels. Organisationally, the team had new ownership in the shape of tech investor Gerard Lopez and his Genii company. It retained some participation from the Renault car company, but that ended after the season finished as Genii bought out Renault’s 25% stake. The intention is to sell between 25% and 40% of the company to Group Lotus, which also becomes title sponsor for the next three years. Lopez has all sorts of innovative ideas of how to use the F1 team as a platform and the Lotus deal clearly has a lot more to do with a wider business play. Since 2009 this team has moved in two phases from being a manufacturer team to an independent. The problem now will be one of positioning over the use of the Lotus name, with Tony Fernandes already running Team Lotus.
Operationally, the team was led by Eric Boullier, who seems a disciplined, clear sighted manager. James Allison took over as engineering guru from his mentor Pat Symonds, while the old firm of Alan Permane and Rod Nelson decided how they go racing. It’s a very experienced line up of guys, now in their 40s, who were the juniors when Benetton was winning in the 1990s and now they are in charge.
The team had a new lead driver in Robert Kubica and he took up where Fernando Alonso left off; he’s fast, consistent, makes few mistakes, is strong in races and provides good leadership from the cockpit. He was paired with Russian rookie Vitaly Petrov. Initially Kubica wasn’t too happy about not having an experienced driver alongside him during a time when testing is banned as it inevitably slows development. Also Petrov was unable to hit the target of 50% of the lead driver’s points. But the Russian did contribute to the story of the season and his presence encourages Russian interest in the sport which is a price worth paying in my view.
Kubica did a brilliant job, with some stunning drives like the podiums in Australia and Monaco. After a difficult final year with BMW in 2009, he restored his reputation and most F1 insiders and fans would like to see what he would do if given a race winning car. So far most of his career has been lived outside of the pressure of a season-long title fight. I’d love to see how Kubica handles real high stakes pressure; I suspect very well
I was blown away by the array of new front wings coming out of Enstone; it seemed like there was a new one virtually every race. They were beautiful, cascading creations, illustrating that the self confidence of the aero department was coming back after a tough time under old boss Flavio Briatore. And although it took them a while to get an F Duct on the car it worked brilliantly first time out in Spa.
Where will Renault be in 2011? Mercedes are expected to get into the fight with McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari. Can Renault make that step too? It means finding about 7/10ths more than the Red Bull designers find. With new rules on rear wings and diffusers anything’s possible.