There has been lots of speculation about who might replace Robert Kubica – and I have been responsible for some of it. But there are limits to what can be taken seriously. One can not discount Nick Heidfeld, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Bruno Senna because Eric Boullier mentioned their names. Kimi Raikkonen is worth a mention, but frankly I see now way that Lotus Renault GP can afford to pay the rallying Finn. It makes very little sense to buy Nico Hulkenberg out of his Force India contract as he has the same level of experience as Bruno Senna and while he is obviously a decent talent, one pole position on changeable day when he was helped out with tyre choices might have given him a rather more high-faluting reputation than he deserves. If he was so damned good, surely Williams would have kept him…
Pedro de la Rosa got a chance last year with Sauber and was replaced mid-season so one cannot really imagine him being a serious candidate for the Renault, particularly now that testing is so limited.
The suggestion that Williams F1 is going to sell Rubens Barrichello to Lotus Renault GP is one that I find simply astonishing. Why would a team that is still hungry for success sell its major asset in order to put itself in the uncomfortable position in which Lotus Renault GP currently finds itself? The suggestion is that Williams needs money because there are not many stickers on the car. Don’t be misled by that. The PDVSA stickers are not that big but from what I hear the deal is a monster, with the firm paying $36 million a year for five years. With TV rights money and the other sponsors, Williams has a full budget for the year ahead. One can always have a bigger budget, of course, but selling your primary assets to add to the kitty would be nothing short of desperation. And ignore all ill-informed reports that money from the flotation is going into the team, this is very clearly not the case at all.
One of the joys of public companies is that all the major details have to be published…
Does Rubens want to leave Williams? I don’t suppose he does. I have not heard that the new car is a complete pig and Rubens is always very positive about a car with potential. Would the Renault be better? Right now, it is hard to say, but one might suppose given recent years that this really ought to be the case. However, Rubens likes Williams and they like him. He is comfortable with the team, he has a team-mate who will not cause him too much trouble. It all sounds like a good idea to stay where he is, unless there is a winning car available – and we have to see whether the Renault is THAT good. Yes, it went well in the first test, but what does that prove?
Could Lotus Renault GP afford him? That is another interesting question. There are lots of rumours kicking around about the team’s budget, since Renault decided to grab a parachute at the end of 2009 and leap.
I don’t know the answer, but I do know that the piecemeal sponsorships at the end of last year looked suspiciously like a team that was scrambling to find the money. In addition the bank sponsorships on the sidepods last year looked more like loan arrangements than sponsorships and the Renault sidepods this year have been handed over to Genii Business Exchange, which is team owner Gérard Lopez’s Big Idea. I absolutely sure that Genii is not paying for the space and the cynics in F1 are saying that the name is there because it is better than having nothing at all. And one must not forget that despite the Lotus branding there is a legal action going on about who has the right to use the Lotus name in F1.
What happens if Group Lotus loses? Will the car company give Genii money without any branding? Given that Lotus has been throwing money around so that the likes of Kevin Kalkhoven in Indycar and Nicolas Todt in GP2 will paint their cars up in Lotus colours, the idea of Lotus handing over a big cheque without getting any branding is not really logical.
Unless, of course, the organisation did the obvious thing and gave the money to Team Lotus…
I am happy to hear differently, but my feeling is that there is no money to be wasted on buying driver contracts.
So, all in all, the idea of Barrichello to Lotus Renault GP does not make an awful lot of sense.