Eric Boullier Q & A: Why Renault replaced Heidfeld

Renault team principal Eric Boullier has installed Bruno Senna in place of Nick Heidfeld in the #9 Renault for the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix

Eric Boullier Q & A: Why Renault replaced Heidfeld

The Brazilian ended the day 17th fastest in free practice at Spa, while the man he replaced confirmed that he is taking the team to the High Court in London in a bid to regain his drive - all the while continuing to where team gear in the Spa paddock.

At the end of practice Boullier sat down with the press to explain why Renault had switched drivers, what his assessment of Nick Heidfeld's performance had been in 2011 and what the team hopes to achieve for the rest of the year. AUTOSPORT was there to hear some quite fascinating answers...

Q. Can you explain why you chose to replace Nick Heidfeld?

Eric Boullier: We reviewed our performance and our level of motivation, a lot of things through the summertime, and I had to take some decision to clearly show some new direction. There was an opportunity as well to assess Bruno as a driver, and this is why we moved on.

Q. Was it to do with a financial situation, and perhaps some sponsorship from Brazil?

EB: No. It is always the same story coming out. It is amazing. Yes there is some relationship with Brazil because Genii has signed a $10 billion deal in Brazil, but it is nothing related to Bruno. Nothing. Bruno is the third driver, so it is logical that if we want to change our driver line-up then we promote our third driver, full stop.

Q. Don't you think it is a strange situation being in the High Court with one of your drivers?

EB: It is not a strange situation. We have a contract in place and actually I understand that they have a different interpretation to the contract that I have, so we have a divulgence of opinion. He did not want to speak about any settlement so he decided to go to the High Court, and the court ruled out everything in our favour so that is it. End of story.

Q. Would he drive again if he wins his case?

EB: What happens now is their lawyers are trying to go to court now. But you never know with justice. The High Court ruled in our favour so everything he is asking was pushed back. I will not comment [more]. This is a legal case, and we have to go back on the 19th of September. Anything is possible; you give your hand and put your life in the hand of someone who can decide anything. The courts have said no, no, no

Q. What is your relationship like with Nick?

EB: Very friendly. Obviously.

Q. What did he do wrong?

EB: I am not here to explain everything. But every session, every weekend, the media jump on me asking why Vitaly is faster than Nick. Every time. I was not very happy with the pure speed of Nick and his global performance as an experienced driver, that is it.

Q. But he has more points than Vitaly; normally you swap drivers who are behind?

EB: It is my decision, okay. If I am not happy it is not only my decision, it is both decisions for this company. If you are not happy with a driver....I didn't break a contract. The best evidence is the court refused [his action].

Q. Before the Bruno situation arrived, there was speculation that Romain Grosjean would maybe get some races once the GP2 season has finished. What is the situation there? Is that going to happen?

EB: No. That is pure speculation again from people.

Q. So Bruno is in for the rest of the season?

EB: The decision was to replace Nick with Bruno until the end of the season, yes. Because there is another hearing now, we have to say that we are sure that Bruno will be driving here and Monza because the High Court gave us the right to do it. Then after, everything can happen because we go to the court on the 19th [of September].

Q. Why do you think Bruno is better than Nick?

EB: I never said he is better. I said that I was not happy with the global performance of Nick. For many reasons, and not just speed, it would be better for the team to have a different driver line-up.

Q. Do you now regret not taking Bruno at the start of the season when you had the chance?

EB: No. I was happy with the decision we took with Nick. Nick is a nice guy, but I think something did not work. His leadership didn't work in the team and when you are sometimes slower than Vitaly, in fact most of the time slower than Vitaly, it is difficult for him to push the team and to settle himself as the team leader.

In the end if you talk about management, not just speed, when you have the negative spin starting, the negative loop, it is complicated to stop it. I don't say the performance of the team was because of Nick. The car is not good enough, we have not developed the car well enough, we made mistakes as well - but the loop is negative. So I had to change something in the team and I had to change some things with the drivers as well to shake up and wake up everybody. I need to bring this motivation back to make sure that we can shake up everything, and it is not easy.

Q. Can Vitaly step up to team leadership if Robert Kubica does not come back?

EB: We will see.

Q. Where are we with Robert now?

EB: He has another surgery to go through, so we have to wait until he is fully recovered. I know this is the last one, and then he will finally start the full rehabilitation.

Q. But it is still your plan to have him back next year?

EB: Of course. If he is ready, of course.

Q. What do you expect from Bruno?

EB: To match Vitaly's pace. As soon as possible. Obviously he needs some time, but by Singapore I would say.

Q. Going back to Robert, can we now rule him out for this season as there has been talk about the last race being a possibility?

EB: To be honest, I don't know. I don't believe so. He is recovering well, but this last operation will be another pain to go through. He will then have to go through full rehabilitation, as well as the driving one. Because not only will he need to be ready physically, but he will still need to get back his feelings in the car

Q. Have you scheduled a simulator run for him yet?

EB: If we need it we will do it, yes. It is easy to go into a simulator. The most complicated part is to get some 2009 cars ready to run for him.

Q. Are you happy that Nick is running around in team gear in Belgium?

EB: As long as he keeps promoting the team, I am fine.

Q. Are you surprised that he turned up here?

EB: Yes, a little bit. Obviously I guess he does not want to put himself in a breach situation, this is why. So as long as he keeps putting himself in a position to promote the team, and not telling anything else, then I am fine.

Q. Is he allowed to go into the garage?

EB: Of course. He is still under contract so we have no issue with that.

Q. Don't you think it is a risky situation to replace Nick with a rookie driver in this period of the season?

EB: Yes, it is risky. But if you want to get back to first position you have to take risks. I decided with my board that we should go that way, because we have a third driver who has some experience, not enough, but some. And it is also a good way to assess him in real conditions.

Belgium Friday quotes: McLaren

Previous article

Belgium Friday quotes: McLaren

Next article

Nick Heidfeld didn't deliver speed or leadership, says Renault team principal

Nick Heidfeld didn't deliver speed or leadership, says Renault team principal
Load comments
The key details that boosted Red Bull and held back Hamilton in Verstappen’s USA victory Plus

The key details that boosted Red Bull and held back Hamilton in Verstappen’s USA victory

As the 2021 Formula 1 title battle winds towards its climax, the United States GP added another thrilling act in the Lewis Hamilton-Max Verstappen battle. Although Hamilton aced the start, Verstappen and Red Bull took the initiative with strategy and were richly rewarded, despite Mercedes' best efforts as the race went down to the wire

US Grand Prix Driver Ratings Plus

US Grand Prix Driver Ratings

On a baking hot afternoon at the returning Circuit of the Americas, Formula 1 drivers were tested to their limits. As the pressure on the title contending squads reaches an ever-greater level of intensity, the foremost challengers again showed their class, but were outshone by a standout drive from the upper midfield

Why F1's misunderstood party animal will thrive in retirement Plus

Why F1's misunderstood party animal will thrive in retirement

Three years on from Kimi Raikkonen's last Grand Prix victory at Austin, he is now six races away from ending the longest Formula 1 career in history. His friend and former Ice1 Racing rally team PR man ANTHONY PEACOCK explains why there’s nobody quite like the 2007 world champion and why F1 will miss him (but he won’t miss it)

Formula 1
Oct 24, 2021
The 10 greatest drives of lost legend Jo Siffert Plus

The 10 greatest drives of lost legend Jo Siffert

It's 50 years since Jo Siffert was killed in his prime at Brands Hatch. The Swiss scored just two world championship wins in a Formula 1 career spent largely with privateer teams, but showed on numerous occasions in single-seaters and in sportscars with Porsche that he could beat any of the best drivers of his era given the right equipment

Formula 1
Oct 24, 2021
Verstappen exclusive: How Red Bull’s ace has become F1 champion material Plus

Verstappen exclusive: How Red Bull’s ace has become F1 champion material

As Red Bull and Honda go all-out for victory in the Japanese engine manufacturer’s last season of its latest Formula 1 dalliance, Max Verstappen finds himself thrust into a compelling title fight with Lewis Hamilton. He told OLEG KARPOV about his evolution into a world championship contender and why Red Bull's no compromise ethos suits him down to the ground

Formula 1
Oct 23, 2021
How Mercedes went from Austin practice domination to "very tight at the front" with Red Bull Plus

How Mercedes went from Austin practice domination to "very tight at the front" with Red Bull

Mercedes has been on a roll of late in the ultra-tight fight to win the 2021 Formula 1 world championship. It started off well in practice at Austin for this weekend’s US Grand Prix, but Red Bull got closer as Friday unfolded and even seemed to find an edge in one critical area of what seems set to be another close contest

Formula 1
Oct 23, 2021
The six critical factors that could hand F1 2021 glory to Hamilton or Verstappen Plus

The six critical factors that could hand F1 2021 glory to Hamilton or Verstappen

The 2021 Formula 1 title battle is finely poised with six races remaining, as just six points separate championship leader Max Verstappen from seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. In such a closely-fought season, the outcome could hinge on several small factors playing the way of Red Bull or Mercedes

Formula 1
Oct 22, 2021
Can Whitmarsh appointment help Aston succeed where its F1 rivals failed? Plus

Can Whitmarsh appointment help Aston succeed where its F1 rivals failed?

Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll is determined to make the group a billion-dollar business. MARK GALLAGHER analyses his latest play – bringing former McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh into the fold

Formula 1
Oct 22, 2021