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The second seats at Renault and Sauber
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The second seats at Renault and Sauber
Posted By: James Allen  |  18 Jan 2010   |  8:10 pm GMT  |  64 comments

Both Renault and Sauber are set to launch their cars and announce their drivers on 31 January in Valencia ahead of the first test the next day. There is still a seat available at both teams.

This is unusual and it has to do with the changes of ownership at both teams and the change of circumstances, with manufacturers backing out – completely in BMW’s case and partially in Renault’s. It also reflects the fact that the in the era of the Resource Restriction Agreement, the driver market has changed with teams looking to spend half what they were spending on driver salaries. Some of the top names appear to have accepted this.

There are rumours swirling around today as to who the Sauber seat might go to, with Giancarlo Fisichella and Pedro de la Rosa the two names most commonly heard. However the second Renault seat is shrouded in question marks. The team was recently taken over by Gerard Lopez’ Genii Capital firm and a new team principal Eric Boullier installed.

Kubica with Renault boss Eric Boullier

Kubica with Renault boss Eric Boullier


Renault’s lead driver, Robert Kubica, was signed last Autumn by then team principal Flavio Briatore. His contract was with Renault, but he has stayed with the team following its sale to Genii Capital. He visited the factory recently and is said to have been very positively impressed with the spirit of the team and the state of this year’s programme which is well on schedule, unlike some teams.

The Renault seat is still a good one; last year Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet struggled to make a poor car work. Romain Grosjean, whom Renault had nurtured for years, got in the car and had a torrid time, illustrating that it is a huge gamble to hire a rookie in modern F1. This thinking is likely to have been going through the minds of the new Renault management. Renault apparently has a budget, so is not necessarily obliged to hire a pay driver – that would be quite a comedown for the team who won the world title four years ago.

Sauber meanwhile has gambled on the only rookie to shine last year; Kamui Kobayashi and that means that he ideally needs to go for experience in the other seat. But it’s about getting that experience at the right price. A driver with money would be ideal; Sauber didn’t get the Petronas money and is looking for sponsors in a difficult climate.

Peter Sauber took the team back reluctantly when BMW decided to pull out last year and although he is likely to have done very well out of the deal personally having sold at a strong price to BMW and bought back cheaply, he will want the team to pay its own way. Historically he doesn’t like taking pay drivers if he can avoid it, although he has been forced to use them in the past. And he has been trying to find the best driver available who might have some sponsorship backing. There are some out there; Vitaly Petrov seems to have a fair combination of skills and budget.

Sauber is definitely torn; he has approached the experienced drivers, including Jarno Trulli, asking if there is a sponsorship angle, but there was no sponsorship avenue to be pursued with Trulli. De la Rosa has traditionally had some Repsol money and there is no longer a clash with Petronas. Fisichella is well known to the team, if his name is in the frame, one would imagine that perhaps Ferrari has offered Sauber a discount on his £6 million engine bill. Ferrari may well be thinking that it would be advantageous to have Fisichella racing this year as a back up, just in case there turns out to be anything wrong with Felipe Massa, who is returning from injury. This would be worth something to Ferrari, not the full €6 million, but maybe 25% of it.

The one name who ought to be top of both teams’ lists is Nick Heidfeld. He is fast and experienced, but he wants paying. Heidfeld has earned a lot of money at times in his career, especially the recent BMW years. For him to find a seat in the new resource restricted F1, he will have to accept something more modest, perhaps something around €1m with a good results bonus.

Whoever gets the two seats is likely to have accepted reality in this new financial climate.

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1

James, Is robert kubica going to be testing by himself for the whole 3 days in valencia next month, would it give him some advantage over his rivals?. With refuelling ban, the cars balance and handling will be constantly changing over a race distance which is something the drivers will have to get used to fast because there isn’t a lot of testing time available before the season starts.Few extra days in a new car can make a huge difference, can it?

2

Well he will have more time, yes, but then there is only one opinion to work on. Time is very precious, though and RK is supposed to be pretty hot on the technical side

3

Thanks, so the progress renualt makes in the next tests will tell us a lot about technical side of robert and his ability to push the car development in the right direction.

I always wondered what was the situation like at bmwsauber in 08, given the huge handling problems they had in the beginning of pre season tests and how they managed to solve them before melbourne, most testing duties were carried by robert. I also got the impression that f108 pace begun to drop compared to its rivals right after nick got significantly more tesing time than robert, sometime before french gp. I guess we will see how good he is with the enginneers

4

If renault don’t sign Nick then they’re missing out! look at the wonders that pairing did at BMW (even in last year’s disasterous car…)

5

Davidson hasn’t had a fair crack. He showed plenty of ability while with Super Aguri that has put him on team’s list but the money isn’t there.

There are a number of British drivers Paffet, Di Resta, Turvey and the best candidate Adam Carroll but they don’t get financial backing. The Renault and Red Bull driver development schemes seem to avoid British drivers and the Mercedes boys seem to get a raw deal too. Worse still are the British companies, like RBS and Virgin who don’t seem to be bothered that they don’t have a British driver in the team they are sponsoring.

Looking from a far I find it strange that a team won’t always put the best driver they can afford in their car. I suppose it is the question do we take the money but stay at the back of the grid or not take the money and hope to raise money by being further up the grid!

6

Heidfeld has never impressed me but in the current situation, with a number of seats still up for grabs, I can’t imagine that he won’t get one.

Quite a few people have thrown Anthony Davidson’s name into the frame. He has had a number of chances but has never really delivered in races, although he often headed the testing/ practive time sheets. He has never had the chance to race in a competetive car so maybe he is worth consideration.

There ought to be countless British drivers coming up through the ranks as I believe that no other country has the amount of racing opportunities for driver development. Can’t offer any immediate suggestions for F1 race seats though!

7

Kobayashi comes with Panasonic money doesn’t he?

8

Really don’t see why Fisi deserves a seat in F1. Sure he’s a lovely bloke but he’s past his best and his best was never that *consistently* good in the first place. Better to give a younger driver a chance . . . even Ant . . . not a rookie, but still with time on his side.

9

Seems like Nick’s best chance of getting the Mercedes drive is to hope that Schumi’s comeback does a ‘Mansell 95′ and he quits after a few races if the car isn’t up to snuff. Admittedly, that doesn’t seem likely, but I still think that the Macca and the Ferrari might both be quicker out of the box than Ross’ new charger, at least in the first few races…..will Schumi have the hunger to develop a car, especially if Red Bull has a trick or two up its sleeve as well??

10

Very interesting post, James.

I would love to see Ant in a race seat but he just doesn’t seem to have the aura and glamour of an F1 driver. I think he live in a semi near the Brawn factory?

11

Heidfeld deserved a seat for 2010. Although he is considered as boring drivier just let me recall his great double-overtaking in Malaysia 2008 and double double-overtaking in Silverstone 2008. However on the other hand I can understand Peter Sauber looking for a new driver as it was Kubica to help BMW-Sauber to develop a car for season 2008 as first tests were disappointing after computer simulations. That’s why Renault made good choice with hiring Kubica. Unfortunately both Heidfeld and Raikkonen might be out of F1 as they are perceived as not pro-developing-car team members. (and too expensive in current global economic circumstances)

12

James

What about Anthony Davidson? Everything seems to have gone quiet with him. He seems to have some contacts with Brawn and i find it really surprising that he hasn’t even really been mentioned. Are his struggles due to a lack of sponsors he would bring to a team?

13

AD came out around Christmas and said that if he had £5million behind him (which is what sponsership would bring) he would be in F1 next season.

It seems that he spoke to a few teams but they need money and he doesn’t have any to offer…

14

I’m willing to bet Quick Nick will end up alongside Kubica.

Speaking of gambling; has anyone laid a bet on 2010 WDC yet? I’ve got 100 riding on Vettel at 7:1.

15

Wouldn’t have thought Kubica would be too keen in that and neither would the team’s sponsors as he has to be the most boring drier in F1 at present (well up till last year at least).

16

I read many times ppl saying that Heildfeld deserves a seat,but what has he done honestly to get one? and on top of that get paid a lot?

I would take Fisi instead of him, neither of them is looked for their speed,they can bring to any team experience and some set up knowledge,but Fisi at least knows how to win a race.

17

Peter Sauber said recently that they would go for someone experienced and it would be quite a shock to everyone.

Could it be…Villeneuve?

He didn’t leave the team on good terms, but anything is possible.

18

James, do you reckon Kubica has reason to feel content about where he has ended up?

Was it a case of being locked into a contract early on?

19

No mention of Takuma Sato to Renault? He is right up there in the running with Heidfeld for that seat, and would be a much better choice in my opinion.

20

Nice article James. I think Heidfeld has to be Sauber’s other driver next year; he has experience, knows the team and has possibly been involved in the development of the new car already, surely Peter Sauber wouldn’t throw all that away for what is no doubt a modest wage by driver’s standards.

As far as the other possibilities are concerned, I like de la Rosa but has been out of F1 racing for too long I think, and Fisi doesn’t cut the mustard as a number one driver. I think Petrov would make a better fit for Renault, but he’s more likely to go to Campos, having been one of their GP2 drivers for a couple of years.

21

It’s awful to say but. I had forgoten the Heidfeld was still without a 2010 drive. All this talk of MS at Merc and FA in Red, not to mention the McLaren pairing has overshadowed some genuine F1 tallent. It would be strange see the old BMW pairing both at Renault!

Sauber really shouldn’t let this opportunity slip, although I would be really pleased to see DLR back on the grid. Possibly a big loss to McLaren for his testing experiance, but who can blame a test driver jumping ship for a genuine drive in these balmy no testing times.

22

James,

Is Heidfelds performance last year the hold up to him landing a seat? I am surprised he hasn’t already been snapped up by Sauber or Renault.

23

gp update and the spanish media, say the same. Fisico has gone from maddona de campiglio, to the sauber factory, to sign the contract last thursday.

24

Can I have one of the seats? I can “deal” with a “paltry” one million. I’ll find out how to get by. Haha. 😉

25

Slow news day, eh ?

26

Heidfeld seems the natural choice for both teams but more so Renault due to his previous successful partnership with Kubica.

If I was Sauber and I had the chance I’d be all over Fisichella. It’d be worth the risk especially for a possible engine discount. After all, lightning couldn’t strike twice could it?

27

James,

I thought the drivers salaries were exempt from the cost figures, or was that just in the FIA version?

28

Ferrari must be offering some serious incentives for Fisi to be considered, after the terrible display at the end of 2009. In my opinion Heidfeld stands head and shoulders above the available drivers with experience, and he is familiar with current operation.

29

To be fair to Fisi he impressed as much in the Force India as he disappointed in the Ferrari.

Given pre-season testing time and not being thrown in as a reserve there’s no reason to think he couldn’t do a decent job at Sauber.

30

how about anthony davidson for renault ??

i wouldnt like heidfield to partner kubica again, we need another point of comparision

31

I would prefer Sato.

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