What Renault does next...

By on Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Photo credit: Lotus Renault GP

Following Robert Kubica’s perhaps unsurprising news that he will not be fit for the start of the 2012 season, attention turns to who will replace him.

One aspect of Kubica’s news that is interesting is the timing of his statement. After several months of uncertainty, Kubica chose today – four days before the end of the season – to announce his news. Seeing as the statement was a joint Kubica-Bouiller one and posted on Lotus Renault’s official website, it seems likely that the timing of the statement was decided by Renault’s management. Kubica’s decision on 2012 won’t have been made overnight and has probably been planned for several weeks.

Of course, a seat in a top 5 team (albeit one that has been woeful since the middle of the season) is now up for grabs. Kubica’s progress since his injury has been inspiring, but it could be another year until he is ready for a return to racing. Now back to the timing of the statement…

Formula One turns up to the last race of the season in Brazil with several 2012 seats up for grabs. Two men looking for seats are Rubens Barrichello and Bruno Senna. Both men will need sponsors in order to secure a seat. Now any potential backers suddenly see that there is a seat open and not hanging on a chance that Kubica will return. Because he won’t, not until the middle of 2012 anyway.

Another spanner has been thrown into the works by the recent furore surrounding Vitaly Petrov. The Russian’s comments after Abu Dhabi were largely blown out of proportion, although they will not have been well received by Renault’s management. The size of Petrov’s chequebook may well ease that burden, but Petrov’s manager has hinted that Brazil could be his final race for the team.

That potentially leaves two seats open, with several other candidates lurking around as well. GP2 champion Romain Grosjean deserves another chance after the shambolic nature of his 2009 effort. The Frenchman is well supported by his team principal, which can only be an advantage.

Bruno Senna’s initial performances were promising, but he has been on the receiving end of some less-than-complimentary comments from Bouiller, as has Petrov. There’s no doubt that there has been some tension in the team recently.

There are a few outsiders as well. Adrian Sutil could find himself evicted from Force India, although his relationship with Renault management could be sketchy considering his alleged actions in a nightclub in China. Giedo van der Garde says he is talking to several teams (although he seemingly always is), whilst Jerome d’Ambrosio is managed by Gravity, although he is a long shot for the seat. However, it is unlikely to be Nick Heidfeld...

With two Brazilian drivers looking for a ride, the timing of Kubica’s announcement could be key, so don’t be surprised to see one of Senna or Barrichello in Kubica’s place at the start of 2012. Whatever decision is taken by Renault will likely be announced fairly soon, in order to bring some certainty to a beleaguered squad. However, their morphing into Lotus will only bring about more questions as Kubica continues to recover. The driver situation could yet become even more intriguing.

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