Renault team principal Eric Boullier is new to the job but not the sport, having been heavily involved in the successful running of DAMS in the lower categories. He has a very challenging job ahead of him in trying to return Renault to the front on a lower budget than was available in the past. He also, as a Frenchman, has to win over a very British team at the Enstone factory and has to do it, what's more, without the help of Pat Symonds who effectively ran the show since Job was a lad.
The two late season victories of 2008 - including the hugely damaging contrived one of Singapore - prevented head office from shutting the factory down that winter. But even so, almost 70 jobs had to be lost. Many of these were in the aerodynamics department and this is seen as a major reason why last year's car wasn't a great one.
On the plus side, a re-allocation of resource has since allowed the rehiring of several key aero people. Another upside is having on board one of the fastest, most aggressive drivers on the grid in Robert Kubica, a guy whose no-nonsense, apolitical character could not be better suited to that of the team. The financial restraints have made the choice of second driver less straightforward. The obvious shoo-in is Nick Heidfeld, decently quick, consistent and very good at pulling points out of the bag. But he will want to be properly remunerated. As things stand, the income flow may have to go in the opposite direction, driver-to-team rather than vice-versa.
Which sort of puts the kibosh on the guy that would probably otherwise be the best choice of all - Anthony Davidson. Here is a guy who can be devastatingly quick, who is technically superb and so underrated he would be cheap. He too is apolitical and alongside Kubica would form one of the strongest driver line-ups on the grid. But he's not even in the frame.
There are other reasons for the team to be optimistic though. The general feeling about car from the numbers in the tunnel is good and although the Renault motor showed last year that it lacked the sheer grunt of the Mercedes, it has something in its favour that's going to be very important under the new rules - frugality. The Renault has long been the most economical engine on the grid and it's expected to be able to arrive there maybe 5-10kg lighter than a Merc or Cosworth-powered car and perhaps 12-15kg lighter than a Ferrari.
This was the case in the past, but under the old regs the weight penalty would be split into increments for each stint. Now, with full tanks at the start, all the lap time penalty of that extra weight will be apparent right from the start and only gradually fade. If the Ferrari was indeed a full 15kg heavier than the Renault (or Renault-powered Red Bull) at the start, that would equate to around 0.45s per lap in the initial stages.
Fuel load will no longer be a significant factor in qualifying - given that we now have low-fuel in Q3 - so it means that cars like the Renault will probably be more competitive early in the race than their grid position suggests, Ferrari vice-versa. The Renault (and Red Bull) should be quick in the early stages but with that advantage shrinking as the race goes on.
It's going to present an extra dimension to the strategy conundrum. Also, once the car pits, the performance of the tyre crew is going to be way more critical than before. Previously, refuelling was the limiting factor and the wheel guys could complete their task in a relatively leisurely 4s and still be finished way before the refuellers. Now, wheel crews are going to be trying to get down to 2s. More errors are a certainty.
The further into this we get, the more it sounds like the team could really use the guidance of a Pat Symonds. If the FIA's appeal against the overturning of his ban is not successful, Boullier could stack the odds significantly in his favour by being brave enough to re-employ him before a rival team does.
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