The announcement of Bruno Senna’s appointment as Renault’s test and reserve driver was a well-kept secret in the Formula 1 paddock, for it seemed that the man with the most famous surname in the sport would be left high a dry after a single racing season.
No doubt there is also a nod to the ‘Lotus-Senna’ heritage from the 1980s when his famous late uncle competed in the back-and-gold Lotus Renaults in 1985-6, with great success.
Long-time readers of Richard’s F1 will well recall that Bruno was our very first ‘current’ driver interview we have managed to secure in our series of exclusive interviews, and those who do will remember Bruno declaring his ambition to follow in his uncle’s footsteps of becoming World Champion.
So is his ambition being realised with a year on the reserves bench ahead of him? How does the Renault outfit compare with HRT? Just what is he expecting from the year ahead? Let’s have a read and find out…
We at Richard’s F1 were very excited about your appointment to the Renault reserve driver line-up was a well-kept secret. How did the opportunity come about for you to join the team?
It was a very well-kept secret because it was a very last-minute arrangement. We had been keeping in touch with Eric [Boullier, the Lotus Renault GP Team Principal] and the team for quite a long time now, and the opportunity came quite late. Eric was quite happy to take me on board when he saw that I was available.
For me, it’s absolutely amazing, because being part of a great team like Renault is just going to add to my curriculum. For sure, this year I have a great deal to learn – even without driving the car, such as attending the races, learning technically, gelling with the team, and being part of it all will be a great learning opportunity for me.
We last spoke to you before your debut race had even happened. What are your thoughts on your debut season with HRT?
What have been your initial impressions of the R31, particularly given some of the new technology you’re having to deal with, such as KERS and the adjustable rear wing?
Firstly, the car is a very big step up from the car I was driving last year. I could attack the corners and the track in general much more, so it was very good for my confidence. The Pirelli tyres, the KERS and the rear wing are great changes from what I’ve been used to, and it’s a great deal to learn. You need to understand how to adapt to the new tyres, in particular.
The KERS and the rear wing take a huge amount of concentration in the beginning when you’re still learning how and when to operate them, and it’s easy to think about it too much. When you’re driving a lap, what you really want to be doing is thinking about the lap itself, you want it to become automatic. After a while, it becomes second nature, and less complicated.
The drivers who can set their cars up – particularly those who can set their minds up – will have an advantage, particularly how much more complicated it has become.
The team has made the decision to appoint Nick Heidfeld as Robert Kubica’s replacement while he is recuperating. Firstly: what is the latest on Robert’s condition? And secondly: how is Nick settling in?
Unfortunately I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit Robert. It’s been super busy since his accident, because of course it caught everybody off guard and I had to be prepared to replace him on the test he was supposed to do.
Leading into this season, it’s obviously quite difficult to tell where everyone is at in a test environment where everyone is running different programmes and simulations. How do you think Renault will sit in the overall pecking order?
It think it’s going to be OK. It’s hard to say where we are in terms of raw performance, but the team is focusing a lot on the longevity of the Pirelli tyres. This is going to be a key factor this year. There is still a great to do in terms of setting up the car to make it better suited to these tyres. They are very different to the Bridgestones we ran last year, and it’s a big challenge.
The tyres are one of the most important pieces of the car, so if you don’t get it right – no matter how good your car is – you simply won’t get the lap time. I believe there is still a lot of lap time to be unlocked in terms of setting the car up.
And then of course there are the updates – there is a big update coming, which will hopefully bring the car forward, and that is going to be quite good.
The sport is grappling with concerns over the likelihood of the Bahrain Grand Prix even going ahead, and the teams have said they will back whatever decisions the FIA and FOM make. Have you got a sense of the mood among the drivers as to what they want to do?
Of course no one is very keen on taking risks in terms of going to a place where there might be some trouble. It’s hard for anyone to assess what kind of risk you’re taking by going there, because no one [from Formula 1] is actually there.
I’m sure that the decision that the FIA and FOM make will be the best for everybody. They will be assessing the situation properly before making any decisions.
My role here is as the third driver, and in that role I can do a lot inside the team to improve my image and my relationship in the team. There is some testing that I can do, and also some work outside the track, which will all work to improve my options. It’s very difficult to say exactly when and where this may lead, but I hope to be coming back to the grid. But for the moment, I’m focused on working very hard here, and if I can get a chance in this team for next year, it would be great.
Our sincerest thanks to the Lotus Renault GP team for making this interview possible.
To read our first interview with Bruno, click here.
Our entire ensemble of exclusive interviews – which include interviews with the likes of Mario Andretti, Alan Jones, Stefan Johansson, Thierry Boutsen, Karun Chandhok, Christian Klien, Sebastien Buemi and many more! – can be accessed here.