Moving on from the misfortunes of one driver to speculating about his possible replacement might be considered by many as a serious act of bad taste, but the landscape shifts so quickly in this sport that it’s a necessity, albeit never a pleasurable one.

Standing still in these situations is simply out of the question, and the Renault F1 team will need to make a decision quickly as to whom will step in to occupy the vacancy in the R31 cockpit usually reserved for Robert Kubica.

Whoever this replacement is will need plenty of running in the new car, especially with the second pre-season test session getting underway on Thursday.

  Eric Boullier
Renault F1 team boss Eric Boullier has some tough decisions to make … and soon… 

And while it’s obvious that a decision has to be made quickly, it’s certainly not an easy decision to make.

And while we have questioned the outfit’s ethics and tactics in the ugly naming rights row with Team Lotus, we would be remiss for feeling very sorry for the squad in this situation.

The loss of Kubica – and we certainly hope it’s temporary – from the Renault team will have a huge impact. He is an outstanding driver, touted by many to be a future World Champion, and it’s now small fact that the team was heavily geared towards his success.

Vitaly Petrov is certainly capable of being rapid, but he’s far too unpolished to fill the breach and lead the team.

Of the team’s sizeable number of reserve drivers – Romain Grosjean, Bruno Senna, Jan Charouz, Fairuz Fauzy – none of them screams ‘team leader’ material either. They could certainly do a commendable job if asked to step up, but that won’t cut it for an outfit targeting race wins and a serious tilt at the 2011 championship.

There have been suggestions – most notably sprouted by F1 journalist Adam Cooper – that Kimi Räikkönen would be a prime candidate to replace the injured Pole. But given the former World Champion’s rather public spat with the team (over whether it did or didn’t make an approach to his camp over him driving for the team in 2011), that would seem an unlikely prospect.

The team needs a driver with recent experience in the sport, as opposed to a quick-but-keen youngster who won’t be able to effectively drive the development of the revolutionary R31 during the season when in-season testing is not allowed.

So who are some of the drivers who fit the bill and are currently out-of-contract?

Nick Heidfeld is the first candidate who springs to mind. With over 170 Grands Prix to his name, he is quick and reliable, but huge question marks remain after a rather limp stand-in showing with Sauber at the back end of 2010. And with that many races to his name – still without a win, mind you – one might argue that the curtain is coming down on his F1 career.

The man Heidfeld replaced at Sauber – Pedro de la Rosa – is also out of contract and his years of testing and development experience would work well for Renault. But the Spaniard has now forged the reputation of being a tester, not a racer, and the fact that Sauber sought to sack him midway through 2010 probably says it all.

Another driver who shouldn’t escape our attention is Vitantonio Liuzzi, recently sacked by Force India despite being on-contract but well-recognised as a good test driver. But there exist valid cases that the veteran of 63 Grands Prix has had (and failed to grasp) his opportunities during his F1 career to-date.

Some of the more radical scenarios – which include suggestions that Nico Hülkenberg, Adrian Sutil, Jarno Trulli or even Mark Webber would jump ship to the team – provide a lot more negotiation and look increasingly unlikely, although it’s not unknown for one team to sell a driver if the bidding gets high enough.

We might be better off waiting for an announcement, after all…

[Original image via Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.