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Qualifying stats show the job Senna must do
Posted By: James Allen  |  26 Aug 2011   |  3:59 pm GMT  |  86 comments

Although there appears to be a commercial dimension to Renault’s decision to replace Nick Heidfeld with Bruno Senna, it is also based on performance. The German was outqualified 8-3 by Vitaly Petrov and although he has performed slightly better in races, as you would expect relative to an inexperienced driver, this is clearly not in line with what Renault management was expecting.

It’s hard for a driver to come into a team mid-season, but the team has said they expect Senna to be on Petrov’s pace by Singapore. As for this weekend, I’ve commissioned some stats from the leading stats man in F1, Sean Kelly, to give an indication of the task facing Bruno Senna in qualifying in Spa and Monza, in comparison with Petrov to find a realistic expectation.

Heidfeld was on average 0.490s slower than Petrov on the occasions when he was behind, so that is the target Senna is aiming for on Saturday here in Spa and in Monza.

Heidfeld’s performance relative to his team mate compares badly with the Rosberg-Schumacher comparison and the Alonso-Massa comparison above, both of which are also one-sided qualifying situations (10-1 in both cases).

But it compares even worse to the performance of Petrov versus Kubica last season.

Kubica was on average 0.754s faster than Petrov, who was then a rookie, last season.

Speaking in the Spa paddock this afternoon, team boss Eric Boullier explained the decision for the first time, “Every session, every weekend, the media jump on me asking why Vitaly is faster than Nick,” he said. “I was not very happy with the pure speed of Nick and his global performance as an experienced driver, that is it. His leadership didn’t work in the team and when you are sometimes slower than Vitaly, in fact most of the time slower than Vitaly, it is difficult for him to push the team and to settle himself as the team leader.”

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Robert, simply the best, alongside Hamilton and Alonso. Poor Heidfeld’s and Petrov’s fans still don’t get it. Guys, please stop kidding yourself.

Adrian Newey Jnr

I think things will get “interesting” once Heidfeld is allowed to tell his side of the story as to what is going on behind the scenes at ex-Renault.

Seems like (involuntarily) sitting out this year might have been the best thing for Robert. If the car is a dud, he doesn’t tarnish his reputation like Michael.

Jack Flash (Aust)


Quali Results from Spa are in. Changeable conditions as often they are around the grand old girl of F1 – Spa. Some surprising results and big names missing out on making thru to Q3. Neither of the Renault’s were amongst those victims. Both Vitaly and Bruno making Q3 – with some conviction I’d say.

Furthermore in Q3, Bruno Senna holds it together, holds his nerve, and puts in consistent ever-better laps to snatch a first GP outing 7th position for Spa, ahead of Vitaly Petrov in 10th.

That’s pretty impressive. Even more so for the treachery of conditions in Q1 and Q2.

There is a lot of work now for Bruno to do running out a whole GP around Spa. Especially since the grid position of 7th has him in very new position to be fighting from in Formula 1. We’ll see how he does a that. I wish him a Vitaly well.

So… which Heidfeld fanboy is going to be first to admit that Boullier may have had a valid point or two on the Qual performances of Quirk (sic) Nick? JF


Great Qualifying effort ruined by a spectacular first corner. Oh well


They should of put roman grosjean in the car instead of bruno, roman is in top form in gp2 at the moment and deserves a second chance, might even get some french people watchin f1 again! Christian klien outqualfied bruno in the tricky HRT last on his debut, he would of been a better option.


Petrov deserves his shot as No1 driver. Renault were never going to set the world on fire this year after [i]that[/i] tragedy pre-season. He has done a good job and with the criticism of his leadership being so telling in EB’s statement I think it’s fair enough to move him on. Nothing personal, but they can have a cheaper No1 driver who is already under contract and test a lucrative rookie.

F1 has always been a hard game to play, especially from the sidelines.


I think Renault have been a bit slow on this. If Senna hadve driven the car from the beginning we’d all be discussing how they’d have performed with a top driver. By round 6/7 they should’ve realized they had more to gain by running Senna. I like Nick, but the car’s not a winner and giving seat time to Bruno makes more sense, especially considering the Kubica situation!


That’s right. Other team bosses I’ve disussed this with say Renault had nothing to lose by changing as Heidfeld was only 2 points ahead of Petrov, that’s not what he was hired to do.


It seems that there is absolutely no provision taken here for Petrov improving as a driver?

Heidfeld’s remit is to beat his team-mate, which he has done, surely this is the only actual fact, rather than speculation?

Kobayashi hasn’t been so hot in quali, yet no-one denies he’s a great racer. It would be good to see a comparison of him against Perez…

Anyway, great work on getting the stats, even if I don’t agree entirely with the logic!


Stats are just stats and sometimes could be misleading but is the the oint is there -even if Petrov improved from last year I think Renault clearly expected Heidfeld to perform much better. qualifying gap aside, they are quite even on points with Heidfeld marginaly ahead and ti was not enough for team. Heidfeld hashad his chances for many years and I applaud Renault for their decision to give chance new faces. There is breed of young drivers without a seat while some veterans hanging around glued to the paddock. I mean Trulli, Barrichello or even Schumacher, although he at least brings something to talk about, should go. would love to see Grosjean, Bianchi and others to have a proper shot.


While Heidfeld might not be the answer, this Senna definitely isn’t. Until they get a driver of the calibre of Hulkenberg into the car they won’t know what it can do.

I’ll bet Senna doesn’t get close to Petrov.


At this rate I’ll be proven wrong, it seems B Senna can drive after all. I had to add the ‘B’ in there or it made no sense at all!


Irrelevant to who the driver is… if you are not performing… the fresh breed o’ drivers must be given a chance to hone their skills in F1, for to be honest, after the in-season ban on testing, there is very little opportunity for the young guns to hone their skills and prove their worth as formula one driver.

I feel driver like Perez & Maldanado would’ve been at least been 0.3 to 0.5 seconds faster if the in season testing would’ve been legal.

F1 must also invest in the future of the sport.

Either have Three cars with Rookie running one as Ferrari have been suggesting or run third driver mandatory on Fridays as been suggested.

Otherwise it’d be counterproductive for F1.

So, it is a decent move by Renault


Yeah, agree about the rookies finding pace. The only thing that worries me is that Alonso would spend every waking minute testing and it wouldn’t matter how fast everyone else was.


I dont buy that Heidfield is a dud – but even if he is, why go and replace him with someone who at best will be 0.4 seconds slower than the teams No.2 driver (now promoted to No.1).

Or is there no-one available thats better than Petrov?


Heidfeld has always been a bit of an under performer in my eyes and has had plenty of opportunities in F1 to show his wares. Probably make a good sportscar driver.


C’mon guys. This is a simple decision based on money.

With Senna, Renault have a paying live test pilot. With Heidfeld they don’t.

The money had an and when Heidfeld almost died in flames. Good for him that nothing happened, but the teamget out of money when they lost Heidfeld’s car chassis.

So, at the end of the day, what they have? No money for further developments. So what the team should do with a non paying pilot that don’t want to develop a car that almost killed him twice? Bring some money, and end this horrific season.

The first time I saw the front end exaust concept, I knew that just a crazy guy like Kubica to accept the development of something so dangerous. Heidfeld realized in the first fire action, that his future could be like Nikki Lauda, and stopped the work, by cutting his motivation.

My point is: Now Renault got more incoming money, And Heidfeld got more chances of comming back to F1.

Let’s hope that a combination of a real dangerous car, a real rookie driver and the 80% heat burning flat acceleration race track don’t became a tragedy combination.

James, cheers from a Brazillian fan. Your site is fantastic as aways.


Quite simply, who’s ahead of Heidfeld in the championship that he realistically could have beaten? Rosberg? Renault should be ahead of Mercedes for Heidfeld not getting the boot?

That’s a tall order.

He’s in the same position Kubica finished last season.

I think Mr Boullier made a very harsh decision and I’m not too impressed seeing who jumps in the bandwagon.


I would really like to see kobayashi in a Renault! That’s all.


Wait long enough and he’ll drive into one.

Jokes aside, I agree with you.


I’m quite surprised that so many people have come out in support for Nick. This is a cut-throat business, and I don’t think Renault are doing as well as anyone expected them to. Heidfeld was hired as an experienced, safe pair of hands, and is barely ahead of a team mate who has a tenth of the experience (not to mention getting smashed in qualifying). People can point out circumstances all they like, but circumstances don’t pay the bills.

Heidfeld was given a golden opportunity in the twilight of his career to be the lead driver in a competitive midfield team. To finally shake off the image of perhaps being gifted more opportunities due to his nationality and show that he has the outright speed and racing instincts to warrant his seat in F1. It seems Renault haven’t got what they needed from him, and if they can substitute a driver in that brings extra financial benefits with no discernible loss in performance, surely it’s a no brainer?


It’s unfortunate that you also have fallen to the ‘what would Kubica have done?’ stuff. Last year Petrov showed that when he wasn’t crashing he was near Kubica’s pace. With more testing and experience I think he would have surprised many people by matching Kubica this year. Plus the statistics and raw facts show that in their BMW days Heidfeld and Kubica were very evenly matched, with Heidfeld slightly edging it.


Im pretty sure Heidfeld didnt edge it over Kubica in 2008


So you pick the one year Kubica was ahead..

06 – Kubica rookies, and Heidfeld wins

07 – Heidfeld wins

08 – Kubica wins

09 – Heidfeld wins

It’s safe to say Heidfeld was faster


Heidfeld was lucky in 2009. Kubica retired from a certain 2nd in Australia and that result alone would of beat Heidfeld in WDC in 2009.

Kubica was alot faster than Hiedfel end of.


Thank-you for pointing this out. I find it remarkable how certain drivers drum up massive reputations, while others are never able to. I’m thinking here of Kubica, but also Kobayashi. Yes, he knows how to make a flashy overtake, but he’s just damn slow at times!


This is not mainly about qualifying. This is about Heidfeld having been hired to lead the team and not managing to have the on-track authority do so, as put by Boullier in the quote at the end of the article.

If the unexperienced driver you have is leading the team instead of the experienced one you hired just to do that, you might just as well drop the former and take a young gun with some cash.

And boy, wouldn’t it be nice if Senna pulled a 91-Schumacher! Without the clutch thing, obviously…


And Bruno puts it in the wall in practice for Beef Bovril – I mean, Bouillier. What a shambles.


Argument for Nick:

Nick on pace with Kubica in 2009. I looked up the qualifying and most of the time they were within 2 tenths of each other.

Argument against Nick:

His mysterious gain in speed when Kubica stepped in, in place of Villeneuve. Was it a car improvement, or was he suddenly motivated?

Is Petrov enough motivation compared to the level he had when he was teammates with Kubica, or is it more akin to when he was teammates with Villeneuve?

That said, if Senna can match Petrov in the next two weekends, then they’ll be able to show that a rookie was performing on the same level as Heidfeld, and they’ll have a strong legal case.

If Senna averages half a second slower than Petrov, they’ll have the same argument. Even if Senna is a second slower, they can put it down to a lack of testing (and a lack of dry running in Spa).

If Senna beats Petrov, then Heidfeld hasn’t got a chance.

Basically, any way you look at it, Heidfeld doesn’t have a chance in getting his seat back. Too many variables can be rationalized against poor old Nick, even if he is the superior driver.

My opinion? Nick is the ultimate second driver, as he matches the pace of whoever he is with. Hire your star driver, and Heidfeld will match his pace and impress you. Set up Heidfeld as the leader? He’ll match your pay-driver’s pace and let you down. Renault can’t afford the star driver right now, and was hoping to make one out of Heidfeld… but it was never in the cards.


Very good last paragraph! Highly acurate description of LOTS of drivers out there.


Definitely hit the nail on the head.


you are good!


I think your last paragraph summarises Nick extremely well, and it correlates well with his career. When no one is watching he silently impresses, but expectation doesn’t seem to sit well with him.


This is a good observation on N.H. Through the years there has always been more dangling potential that outlay on the track. You are right – he had the potential / talent to jump the highest bar, but settled for a comfortable height, that didn’t require too much exertion.


I think Vitali raised his level in 2011 season.

Therefore, the comparison Vitali vs. Kubica not very well.


What about allowance for different cars, different years, experience gained over one year etc. Comparison seems a bit odd to me.

If Senna gets within 4 tenths of Petrov, Renault should be very happy since this guy hasn’t been in an F1 car for the whole race weekend for a long time.


To be fair, Senna should have a grace period – 11 races worth before the team can start breathing down his neck to keep up the pace with Petrov’s qualifying times & results.

The person who has has turned this script ugly is non other than the un-apologizing Heidfeld.

I was under the illusion that Heidfeld was standing in for Kubica as a favour & not because he was the team’s test driver.

And instead of stepping aside gracefully, he just had to go & get the solicitors involved – Yikes!!! I now understand where Di Resta was coming from.

And remember this is the same Heidfeld that was reluctant (pretending) about taking Kubica’s seat under the circumstances in which he got it.

Baron Von Awesome

Slow Nick can’t even keep up with Petrov, a guy who Kubica demolished last year.

Nick was hopeless at developing the car. He came in Lotus Renault with a top car and leaves it in a shambles and worse yet is trying to sue them.

Lotus Renault’s one big mistake was hiring this guy.

He really will not be missed at all.


So Nick beat Kubica who demolished Petrov but then Nick can’t keep up with Petrov. So basically if Kubica were to race the current Petrov he should be behind in points right now.. correct? /s

It isn’t good to compare drivers while assuming that they aren’t improving.

And blaming the development of the car to the driver is kinda cheap. If that is the case then Alonso, Hamilton, and probably bunch of other lead drivers should be sacked because clearly they haven’t met their goal to beat their closest rival. Yes, the driver play a role in developing the car, but the influence isn’t as big as you think.


I agree, its a BIT harsh, but he does have to take some of the blame. He has bags of experience. I think the fact that EB was critical of his leadership is very telling, more than results I think that is what renault were looking for with such an inexperienced driver in the other car. He has to take some of the credit for this.


I am glad you provided the comparions. Please take another look at them. Look at how even the differences are especially in the Alonso/Massa and the Vettel/Webber cases. On the other hand, 3 big numbers skew the average in the Petrov/Heidfeld case.

In Australia, Heidfeld was dogged by KERS issues. In China, he didnt get a fair crack cos Petrov himself incidently stopped on the track. Siverstone was a wet GP and some benefit of doubt could be given to the huge gap. Also Hedifeld was much faster in the race itself. In addiction, in Spain he didnt get to run at all in qualifying cos the car went up in flames.

It is clear that his chances in qualifying have been affected one too many times by things outside his control and he has not been as bad as a 8-3 number would suggest. Having said that qualifying is his achilles heel and he himself has accepted as much.


So you proved my point with your last line, right? And Boulllier has said as much today


First of all, go and review Petrov’s data. Correlate where he was decidedly slower (more than a second) than Kubica. You will find these tracks were Bahrain, Malaysia, Monaco, Canada, Singapore, Brazil. Surprise, surprise, the tracks where he was worst were either right at the beginning of the season or tracks he was less than familiar with (or both).

These results wildly skew the time differential between himself and Kubica, and it would be bad statistical practice to incorporate them in your sample.

Even if you include these values, a simple excel representation of their comparative differences will show that Kubica’s qualifying time advantage had trended down during the course of the year, from well over a second to less than half a second by the end of the season. If you remove the tracks I have mentioned from the sample, this advantage trended down from 0.7 seconds to 0.24.

The reality is that the performance differential between Kubica and Petrov was nothing like as wide as you make out come year end.

An analysis of Heidfeld’s performance relative to Petrov indicates a similar trend – I.e. the current gap between the two is nothing like as large as you make out.

Implying that Heidfeld is 1.244 seconds slower than Kubica is completely facetious. The reality is that Kubica would probably be 3-4 tenths faster than Heidfeld right now, a fact supported by your own numbers, not too dissimilar from what we witnessed when they raced with each other at BMW Sauber.

I’ve posted a few comments about Heidfeld on this forum, so don’t take my post as a defence of his performance this year. He probably should have been faster sooner, and irrespective, Renault expected him to be. He hasn’t met expectations, so they have some justification to look elsewhere.

I’m just bemused by the lack of insight of this article, insight that can be gleaned from 5 minutes in Excel.


But not to the extent that the statistics would have us belive.

I suspect Kubica was a little faster on average from late 06-09, yet Heidfeld scored more points during that time.

The race is what matters, and suprise surpise Heidfeld is ahead on points. And it is hard to build a large gap to your team mate if the car can barely score points, or make a race distance without setting itself on fire…


But qualifying doesnt mean everything any more, not that it did before.


Open mouthed…doesn’t mean anything? I’d rather be P1 managing tyres than trying to get past KK to make the undercut work from 11th. If it didn’t matter the WDC would go the person who ran least laps in quali.

Admittedly it’s not as big an ingredient anymore, but it’s pivotal, we’ll see that in a couple of hours when those lunatics are piloting themselves over the hill as close to flat out as they can!


He himself has said that he needed to work on sorting out qualifying. So there is no arguing that he has been perfect. Having said that he has not been as bad as those numbers suggest. And he is mostly very good in the race itself. Jenson also is not the best in qualifying. But he is rightly regarded as a great driver a worthy world champ. Heidfeld is a lot like Button without his charm outside the car.

Webber is yet to win a race in what is accepted as the dominant car of the season. Felipe Massa is yet to be on the podium in the Ferrari. In fact his best finish to date is 5th. Yet they dont draw the same kind of flak as Heidfeld. Boullier even extended an open invitation to Webber to drive for Renault.

Sometimes I just dont understand Formula 1


Why all the fuss?

Against a rookie driver that is on his second year with NO testing during his F1 career Heidfeld HAS FAILED big time,he is JUST 2 points ahead and Heidfeld is a PAID driver,the supposed to be team leader.

True is that there may be some money benefits from this move,but true is too that if Heidfeld have done his job we would not been talking about this.

Call it a day Nick or go drive Lotus or Virgin like Trulli and Glock do.


Totally agree. Let’s see what Bruno can do.


Heidfeld got 3 DNF vs 1 DNF for Petrov. That might explain the point difference. I do acknowledge that probably some of those DNF wouldn’t resulted in Heidfeld finishing ahead of Petrov. But if we eliminate the races where one of them have DNF, then the score is 5-2 which would resulted in a bigger difference between the two.

The fact that 2 times his car on fire (and they let Nick race with a known cracked exhaust) showed that basically the team itself isn’t good in the first place. You might blame Nick, but for me the bigger problem lies in the team itself.


Kind of agree with you there! What does Nick bring to the team? Not money, not performance, not leadership (that is discernible). He’s an OK second drive, pretty consistent, hangs around & scores points but over one lap he hasn’t got anything on Petrov (who brings what $15 million?). Another way of looking at is that Nick’s salary has bought Renault 2 championship points. Not a very good return on investment.

That said, he should likely be paid something as his sub-par performance hasn’t been dismal. Renault is not looking very classy right now (& Nick is looking down right desperate) .

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