After Robert Kubica’s horrifying accident while rallying at the weekend, Renault have been forced to look for a new driver for at least the first few races of the season. Team boss Eric Boullier announced earlier in the week that the choice was between current Renault test driver Bruno Senna, former BMW Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld, and Force India refugee Vitantonio Liuzzi. Each has the arguments for getting the seat, but each also has their reasons why they don’t deserve it. Here I look at the pros and cons of each contender’s chances
In theory, it should be Senna who is given the job. After a full season racing for HRT in 2010, he was chosen by Renault to be their test and first reserve driver. However, it is understandable to see why they are looking elsewhere. Although Senna didn’t do much wrong in his first and so far only season in F1, he didn’t stand out either, being matched for pace by Chandhok, Yamamoto and Klien throughout the year. With only 19 races under his belt, it is questionable that he has the experience and know-how to help the team return to race-winning ways. If Kubica was only to miss a couple of races then Senna would have got the drive, but with it being a longer absence, I believe the chances of Senna getting the drive are low.
With 11 season of F1 under his belt, Heidfeld is undoubtedly the most experienced of the three drivers in contention, and is the only one to have driven for a top line team in F1. He matched and often beat Kubica during their 3 ½ years as team-mates at BMW Sauber, so there is a chance that he could achieve what the Pole could have achieved this season were it not for his injury. He has shown over the years that he is a steady driver who will bring the car home (he holds the record for the most consecutive race finishes), but hasn’t really shown the raw speed that won him the F3000 title the season before he graduated to F1. And also, after over 160 races without a race win, can he finally win one this season if given the Renault drive?
Liuzzi’s F1 career so far has been mixed to say the least. The most successful champion ever in F3000 graduated to F1 with Red Bull in 2005, and was tipped as a future Ferrari driver. Since his debut he has shown glimpses of speed, and out-performed Scott Speed during their year and a half together at Toro Rosso. But unfortunately for Tonio, these have only been glimpses and have been inconsistent, and last year he was outperformed by Adrian Sutil. Renault will be wanting a driver who can be more consistent with their speed and regularly challenge at the front – something Tonio may struggle to achieve. And after Piquet, Grosjean and, to a point, Petrov last season, do Renault want another driver who can sometimes have a magnetic attraction to accidents?
It is a tough choice for Renault to make. Kubica is a massive loss to the team, and without a doubt his absence will have a major impact on team morale and possibly development through the season. His replacement has to be someone who can keep the team moving forward and bring home the results. If I had to choose who they will go for, I think my money would be on Nick Heidfeld, based on the fact that he is an experienced driver, and whom has already got a test for Renault at Jerez. I expect to see ‘Quick Nick’ in the car for the first race of the season at least.