2011 Season: Renault preview

Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld

Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld

Mar.19 (Daniel Chalmers) Looking ahead at the  2011 Formula 1 World Championship, which gets underway with the Australian Grand Prix weekend, at Albert Park in Melbourne with Free Practice 1 on Friday 25 March.

Race Debut: Great Britain 1977
Base: Enstone
Team chairman: Gerard Lopez
Team Principal: Eric Boullier
Technical Director: James Allison
Chief Designer: Tim Densham
Race starts: 281
Championships: 4
Race victories: 35
Pole Positions: 51
Fastest laps: 31
Points: 1245
Podiums: 98
Races led: 88

Strength: The team’s new developments appear to work exactly as they should as soon as they are put on the car.

Weakness: With Robert Kubica injured the strength of the driver line-up has to be a huge worry.

Lotus-Renault are a completely different team to the one that was at rock bottom in the aftermath of the crash-gate scandal.

In 2010 the team made great progress, and had their most positive season since their championship victories in 2005 and 2006.

It needs to be remembered that many of the people currently employed by the team were there when those championships were won. So the capability is there.

The Lotus-Renault name is rather confusing for the fans. There is nothing Renault about the team anymore (apart from the engine) since they sold their remaining shares to Gerard Lopez’s Genni Capital group. Furthermore we have to remember that Lotus is currently only a team sponsor.

The R31 is certainly an stunner. It’s a very aggressive car, and shows signs of a team who are very high on confidence.

The most interesting feature is the forward exhausts. The idea is to get exhaust gases flowing under the car to energise the diffuser. This is a feature other teams are already trying to copy.

The R31 is also the first car to benefit from the new windtunnel and upgraded CFD facility back at the factory in Enstone.

One of Renault’s strengths last season was how quickly they were able to develop the car. Out of the all the teams last year Renault were right up there in terms of their development rate.

Not only that but everything new which Renault put on the car worked immediately. With the new facilities the team now have the R31’s development rate and efficiency is only likely to get stronger still.

It’s hard to read how fast exactly the car is. Apart from at the first test in Valencia, the team hasn’t really shown its hand. Based on the lap times we have seen from them it’s likely that they are at the front of the midfield, with the likes of Sauber and Williams just behind them.

Until the last Barcelona test they were ahead of Mercedes too, but Mercedes now have a firm grip on that third spot.

However there is clearly plenty of performance potential in this car. Team boss Eric Boullier has always said that there are two very big steps to come in the first part of the season.

Despite all the positive noises coming out of the team Robert Kubica’s accident is a massive blow.

If Renault had a car which was in range of the front runners, the theory was that Kubica could out-drive it and then compete with the top teams for race victories. Let’s remember that Kubica competed for the title for BMW Sauber in 2008 with only the third quickest car at his disposal.

Whilst Nick Heidfeld is a more than capable replacement he simply isn’t at Kubica’s high level. He will be consistent and score a bucket-load of points for the team. On the other hand he isn’t one of those drivers who can out-perform the car’s capabilities like Kubica.

2011 could represent the team’s best chance to at least challenge for the title since the mid 2000s. Although with the team’s leading star injured that now seems less likely.

Team ratings:
Engine: 8
Drivers: 6.5
Aerodynamics: 7
Mechanical grip: 7
Reliability: 8
Pit Wall: 8
Total 44.5/60

Verdict: I can see the team taking another step forward in 2011 and getting more podiums. However I just don’t see them winning races and challenging for the title. No Kubica reinforces that prediction.

Constructors Championship Position: 5th

Compiled by Daniel Chalmers