With the driver line-up for the 2011 all but stitched up across many of the top teams, Renault finds itself having only confirmed Robert Kubica for next year, giving it the rather luxurious position of having many out-of-contract drivers making overtures to join the Enstone squad.
So just who are the possible candidates for a berth at Renault?
Having gone winless since the end of the 2008 season, Renault is weighing up whether to continue with Vitaly Petrov, the Russian rookie who comes armed with considerable backing from his homeland, but an equal propensity to throw his car into the wall. Petrov has out-qualified and out-raced Kubica just once this season, and has the worst record in comparison to any other ‘team-mate vs team-mate’ analysis.
Of particular concern is that Petrov has amassed more than 100 points fewer than his more experience team-mate, but the problem this has presented is that Renault won’t be able to overtake Mercedes GP for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship standings, and in doing so it loses out on the additional TV revenue that the result would have brought.
The results moved Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport to ask Renault team boss Eric Boullier “if a second Kubica” would have provided better value for the team in 2010.
Boullier’s answer was telling, to say the least.
“A sentence beginning with ‘if’ is wrong,” he answered. “Vitaly is lacking experience at a high level. He started very late in motor sport and is needing to learn more than the other newcomers.”
But how much longer is Renault prepared to weigh off the sponsorship revenue he brings if it’s all going down the drain with a big repair bill? Is the team prepared to wait for Petrov to develop into a more rounded driver, and will he be part of Renault’s plans to return to the top of the championship?
“The title is at the end of our master plan,” the Frenchman responded. “We must take one step at a time.
“It would be stupid to get a second top driver if we are not ready for it. I want to establish ourselves as a top team, for the long term. Then the top sponsors will come again.”
Renault lost a fistful of sponsors in the wake of the Singapore Grand Prix ‘Crashgate’ scandal, and in some respects its hand was forced to sign Petrov for this season, given the considerable backing he had from corporate and government Russia.
“We have said we are supporting Vitaly until the end of the season to give him a chance. Then we will make a decision,” he continued, clearly hinting that Petrov’s 2011 seat was by no means certain.
Two drivers interesting in joining Renault are Nick Heidfeld (free from his short-term Sauber drive at the end of the year) and Adrian Sutil (seemingly desperate to leave Force India for a more competitive proposition).
When asked if the German pair was still in running for a seat if it became vacant, Boullier replied: “Yes. But first we have to give Petrov his chance.
“Only then can we enter serious talks with them. Nick is free for 2011, as we know, and he wants to be with us.”
[Original images via AUTOSPORT]