Monday, October 4, 2010

Eric Boullier on Renault’s revival, Räikkönen & more

Renault have been one of the surprises of 2010. From a disappointing eighth place in the 2009 standings, they have bounced back under new management and, with just four races to go, are now vying with Mercedes for P4. Team principal Eric Boullier is convinced they will beat their German rivals. He also believes that Kimi Räikkönen’s interest in a possible F1 return with Renault shows just how seriously the Formula One community is taking their renaissance, as he explained exclusively to…

Q: Eric, Renault lie fifth the constructors’ championship. Four races into the season - when you were also fifth - you said that fourth was the goal for the end of the season. With four races to go, can you do it?
Eric Boullier: Ah, we are close to it. Our car has improved hugely since the start of the season and with all due respect to our competitors, I am optimistic that we can pull it off.

Q: Your rivals for P4 are Mercedes GP. Is there a bit of extra motivation knowing that seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher is part of the rival team?
EB: No, not at all. We want to be world champion one day and we don’t care against whom we succeed. Mercedes is one of the last manufacturers left in Formula One - that probably spices up the situation. On top of that they are the reigning world champions.

Q: At the start of the season did you really believe that you could be so successful in 2010? The team underwent a dramatic reshuffle over the winter…
EB: Somehow I did. I knew what the technical capacity of the team is and that we have good people that co-operate excellently together.

Q: Your predecessor Flavio Briatore never bothered with predictions about fourth places. For him it was winning or nothing. Does that weigh on your shoulders?
EB: I don’t want to comment on that. I only look at what I can achieve and that is very clear: I want to get Renault back on the road to success. That means to be able to fight for wins and be a contender for the championship.

Q: What role do your current drivers Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov play in that?
EB: Robert’s role is beyond any doubt. Vitaly has to show us in the four remaining races that he is the man we can hand over our second cockpit to in 2011 to follow our self-defined goal. If he fails to convince us he will not drive our car. If he satisfies us we will keep him. But we don’t put pressure on ourselves when it comes to our full driver line-up for 2011. Only one hint: we definitely will not wait until January.

Q: Is it only a question of performance? It is no secret that having a Russian on the grid is good for Formula One, and the Russian market must also be very interesting for Renault…
EB: I know that a Russian driver would be appreciated and Russia holds a huge potential for all companies present in Formula One. However, for us the performance of a driver is still the first criteria - and then the passport. Performance clearly wins over marketing potential because if a driver doesn’t deliver then the marketing potential is also limited. You must never put the cart before the horse, or at least we don’t. For a French driver the nationality would similarly not smooth his way into the cockpit if he was lacking performance.

Q: The rumour mill has suggested you could also be considering German drivers Nick Heidfeld and Adrian Sutil as potential Petrov replacements…
EB: Now I have to choose my words very carefully. Let’s put it this way: we don’t have a direct contact right now and the door is not open yet, but we have signalled that it could open under certain circumstances.

Q: And there is still former world champion Kimi Räikkönen in the picture…
EB: He contacted us. But once again, our main issue at the moment is whether we should keep Petrov. Only if this question is negated we will look for replacement. Regarding Kimi, I would have to speak personally with him first, look him in the eyes to see if I see enough motivation there for him to return to Formula One. It doesn’t make sense to hire somebody - even a former world champion - if you cannot be sure that his motivation is still one hundred percent. Why should you invest in somebody who leaves you guessing?

Q: Aren’t you afraid that there will be no more competitive drivers available when you are finally ready to make a decision?
EB: That’s the risk, but that’s part of the game. If a driver thinks that he cannot wait that long - but we are not ready for a decision - then we will not come together. Above all I want the best for my team.

Q: Räikkönen’s interest seems genuine because he believes that he could win races with Renault. Is that flattering?
EB: Yes it is because it shows that the work we’ve done this season is noticed and that we are considered a challenger for the championship in the future.

Q: Does Robert Kubica have any influence on who will be his future team mate?
EB: It is important that there is good vibe in the team, because that is part of a successful package. I will ask Robert his opinion, but we will decide. We will choose a driver that the team needs and not Robert Kubica.

Q: Have you already considered the new tyre supplier Pirelli in the development of your 2011 car…
EB: …and that Nick Heidfeld who has done the initial tests for Pirelli should be first choice? Because he sits on important information and would without doubt give them to his new team? I think that Pirelli will inform all the teams in due course.

Q: What about the rumour that Renault is thinking of buying back a majority stake in the team?
EB: There is nothing to it.

Q: You now have almost a full season as a Formula One team principal under your belt. Has it been what you expected?
EB: Ha, Formula One turned out exactly as I guessed. You have to fight every single day. It’s definitely a full time job! The most important thing is that you are able to create unity in the team so that everybody is able to give the maximum.

Q: How big is the pressure from Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn?
EB: The biggest pressure comes from oneself. There are regular meetings where he is informed about everything concerning the team - and that is a very positive sign.


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