2011 Season Preview – Renault

Team Name : Renault F1 Team

Location : Enstone, UK

Team Principal : Eric Boullier

Technical Director : James Allison

Drivers : Nick Heidfeld, Vitaly Petrov

Chassis : R31

Engine : Renault

First Season : 1977

Races Entered : 285

Pole Positions : 51

Race wins : 35

Points scored in 2010 : 163

World Championships : 2

Renault have enjoyed massive success as an engine supplier in F1. The French manufacturer was the dominant force in the nineties, helping Williams and Benetton take all the constructors’ championships from 1992 to 1997. Although Renault made its debut as an F1 constructor way back in 1977, they tasted championship success only in 2005 and 2006, having taken over the Benetton team at Enstone. With a talented and clever team of engineers, a charismatic leader in Flavio Briatore, a legendary strategist in Pat Symonds and an able Technical Chief in Bob Bell, the team should’ve consolidated their position at the top.

Instead, they went into a period of disarray when Fernando Alonso left the team in 2007 and Bridgestone became the sole tyre supplier. Just how important Fernando and Michelin had been to the team was revealed that year as the team fell way behind Ferrari and Mclaren without the champion Spaniard to stretch their car to the limit. And even though Alonso returned the following year, the damage had been done. The rear-biased weight distribution that lent the Michelin-shod Renaults unbeatable traction was a thing of the past.  Instead the team was struggling to get the Bridgestones to work, and to make matters worse the Renault engine was reportedly about 30 bhp down on power.

But never underestimate the Enstone squad. A tightly knit, efficient lot possessed with a truckload of ingenuity can never be kept down for long. They secured two race wins in a difficult 2008 campaign. The team was poised to improve further in 2009, but instead, their veteran leaders – Briatore and Symonds were embroiled in the infamous crash-gate controversy for ordering Nelson Piquet Jr, their second driver to crash and help Alonso win the race. Renault subsequently lost face, chose to lower their profile in the sport, and sold the team to Genii Capital. A great pity, for Flavio and Pat have made a tremendous impact on the sport over the years. And once again, Renault are on the road to recovery.

This time, a complete reshuffle meant that the team began 2010 as the best of the rest behind the big four, and in Robert Kubica they found a worthy successor to Alonso. Vitaly Petrov brought solid sponsorship and decent driving skills to the table and Renault left the rest of the midfield far behind. Their development program was truly exceptional – the team went berserk with new front wings appearing at almost every race. Robert Kubica justified every penny of his salary, making it to Q3 on all occasions but one.  This year, with Genii Capital taking full control over the team, and Lotus coming on-board as title sponsor, the team is financially secure, and looks set to challenge the top teams.

Unfortunately for the team, Robert Kubica has now been sidelined with that horrific rally crash, and although his replacement, the experienced Nick Heidfeld is no slouch, the team really need Robert to lead the way. Heidfeld, with his less aggressive driving style, may yet make a case for himself as the season goes by – for all signs indicate that Pirelli’s tyres are rather less durable than the Bridgestones of last year. Fortunately, the team have an ace up their sleeve – their front blowing exhaust is the cynosure of all eyes and may turn out to be the must-have innovation of this year. Just like last year’s F-duct and the double diffuser the year before. The Lotus-Renault naming controversy has been an unwanted distraction – so too is the black-gold Lotus livery of yesteryear, though it must be said that it looks rather magnificent.

This year will be critical for Renault – or Lotus-Renault as they prefer – they need to beat atleast one of the top four teams, and to do that their drivers will have to really pull up their game. At the moment, McLaren seems to be a likely target, as they seem to be struggling with downforce and reliability issues. The team is fully capable of returning to championship winning ways within the next couple of years. Renault may reclaim their place among the big guns this season – making it a little crowded at the top. Just what F1 needs.


One Response to “2011 Season Preview – Renault”

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