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What’s Wrong With Renault?

The world champions are in trouble so far this season, their car apparently not as good as they had hoped, their drivers unconvincing and team boss Briatore already talking about next year’s car. Things could be worse, as demonstrated by McLaren and Williams last year, but not much; when you’ve been used to winning, it hurts to know that you are no longer in the running.


Giancarlo Fisichella

All this was fairly predictable (in fact, I did so in November last year), although we may not have expected the car to be as poor as it has turned out. Much of that drop in performance can be attributed to the change to Bridgestone tires, Renault having experienced more problems in this area than most teams, but there seem to be design weaknesses too. Otherwise Briatore would not be mumbling about next year’s car already.

The big question is how much Alonso’s departure has contributed to Renault’s fall from grace. That it has had some effect is undoubted – Alonso is so strong a driver that he would have hauled the car into higher positions than Fisichella has managed to; but it is doubtful that even he could have turned it into a race winner.

I think that little blame can be heaped on the shoulders of the Renault drivers. Fisichella is doing his best with the machinery he has been given and Kovalainen has made the usual rookie mistakes but should get better with experience. Unfortunately for Fisichella, the failings of the car will be blamed on him to some extent at least; this is his make-or-break year and it grows ever more likely that he will find himself out of a job at the end of the season. No doubt Briatore is already looking for a replacement.

And he will want a proven driver to lead the team although, with the sudden influx of new talent, there aren’t that many of the old guard left to choose from. I have seen Webber suggested but the Australian will have learned the lesson of patience from his time at Williams; Red Bull’s RB3 may not be as competitive as Webber had hoped but it does show that the team are heading in the right direction, perhaps to make a big breakthrough next year. Mark will stay with them, I think.

So who else is there? Raikkonen is pretty securely contracted to Ferrari and Alonso to McLaren – not much hope there. Heidfeld will stick with BMW if he has any sense at all, Ralf and Trulli are in their make-or-break years too and will probably break. Of the experienced drivers, there is just one possibility left and, although it may seem utterly ridiculous, it may be forced upon both parties.

Jenson Button could be the one that Briatore’s eye alights upon. He is contracted to Honda but, as we have seen in the past, neither Button nor Flavio take much notice of contracts. The Briton’s talent is doubted now but he has never had a decent opportunity to prove himself; he is quick and just might come good in the right car. It’s a chance that Briatore might be prepared to take.

As for Button himself, he must have realized by now that he made a bad mistake in going to Honda. The fact that they have had persistent problems with the front of their cars and been unable to solve them is worrying, to say the least. He could be open to an approach, despite recent assertions to the contrary.

All speculation, of course, and things may happen this season that make such an eventuality impossible. It is very early in the season still and one cannot discount the possibility of Renault solving their problems and returning to competitiveness in the coming races. It just doesn’t look likely, with Briatore becoming so desperate that his public pronouncements get wilder and wilder…

17 Responses to “What’s Wrong With Renault?”

  1. Well, this is an interesting read and my friend Clive is just about spot-on, he re-asigned most all the drivers to new seats but curiously missed the most intriging driver……..Mr. Felippe Massa! I am not a big Ferrari or Massa fan but I think he is somewhat under-rated and a driver that deserves more respect than most will give. His poor starting position at Australia was hardly his fault and his drive through the field was nothing less than the great schoomi, his error at Sepang should be forgiven, after all he was one of the few drivers to actually try a RACING pass, Kimi and his ilk just choose to maintain position and then redemption at Bahrain. I think the “problem” with Massa is not his driving skills but rather his public perception, most still see him as a Jordan/Sauber junior class driver.
    This article asks “what’s wrong with Renault?”, I can’t answer that but I know what’s NOT wrong with Renault…….Fisi, another ‘Massa-like’ driver,
    under-rated and clearly demeaned by the media for things beyond his control, I don’t know if Ferrari and McLaren leaped AHEAD in performance
    or if Renault fell BEHIND in development but it’s clearly the car that’s at fault, some wish to blame the change to Bridgestone tyres, it could be, it more than likey is. Drivers skill level rarely go backwards but car development often does, I reference Honda (this year) to make my case. It’s odd Fisi is earning points and so many are ready to throw him overboard but Button and Barrichello haven’t a point between them and I hear no such ticophony about them.
    If Clive is re-asigning seats for next season I’d suggest some changes right now! Kimi back to McLaren, that would give us a REAL comparison of he and Alonso; Hamilton to Renault, if Hammy is that good he should be able to please old Flav and save Renault; and Fisichella to Ferrari, to prove he’s not the villian and he and Massa would probably win another Championship for Ferrari! Now we’ll see who’s who! There………that ought to provoke some response.

  2. Hah, if that doesn’t get response, nothing will, #38! Let’s see, what do I think?

    Massa: I was impressed by his improvement last year when he was learning from MS and making good use of it; towards the end of the season, he was looking very good indeed. Then came the off season and his speed in testing – all good so far. I didn’t like his public statements about fighting with Kimi for number one spot, however – felt that maybe he was beginning to believe his newly-enthusiastic press. It’s better to keep quiet on that score and let results prove your ability, I think. Then came his attempts to pass Hamilton in Malaysia – they looked impatient and poorly-judged to me, something he has suffered from in the past. So my judgement at the moment is that he can win from the front (he’s proved that often enough) but may have difficulty in passing lesser cars (witness Australia and Malaysia). It’s academic in the context of Briatore’s choices, anyway, since this year will prove his ability one way or another and might rule him out completely. Given the chance, he’ll stay with Ferrari, whatever Flavio offers him.

    I think you’re wrong about Kimi being prepared to sit behind the car in front. Over the last few days I’ve been re-running races in VisionF1 and have been surprised how often Raikkonen moved through the field to become a threat late in the race. The guy knows how to pass cars that are almost as quick as his and Malaysia was not representative of his talent since he was nursing a suspect engine at the time. I confidently expect him to put Massa in his place in due course.

    If anyone has been guilty of sitting behind the car in front and then overtaking during the pitstops, it was M Schumacher – he was a master of the art. Just one more reason why I never liked the guy. ;)

    As for Fisi, I agree with you completely. In fact, he has done more than we expected, collecting points in each race while his teammate has had difficulty in even finishing in that dog of a car.

    Regarding your reassignment of seats, it would be very interesting but isn’t going to happen – Hamilton will stay at McLaren for the foreseeable future (in fact, both McLaren drivers will stay, whatever happens this season – Ron must be very pleased with his choice considering results so far); which would leave no seat for a returning Raikkonen – if he gets fed up with Ferrari and leaves, his best option would be Renault, and I don’t think Ferrari would make Fisi an offer – this really is his last chance in a top team and it looks as if he’ll suffer the penalty of never being in the right place at the right time.

  3. I think both the ferrari and mclaren are pretty much locked with their drivers. You could not have asked for more from hamilton and alonso is already feeling like the full team is n0t behind him. So there is no way he will agree to kimi coming back. sure it wont be told in the glare of press lenses but he will resist it at much as he can or if ron fights to bring kimi back alonso can always go back to renault! however i dont see this happening as i believe that kimi and massa will be too busy taking points off each other to gift the title to alonso this year!![ah....what a bad thought for a ferrari fan! :) ]

    Likewise in ferrari whatever happens, kimi will assert his position as team leader due to his shear pace. But massa will be retained as the number 2 driver as he is still strong and also due to his connections with the todt’s. In fact if he doesn’t win this year or loose it at end so closely, i see him developing in the DC mould, with all the ‘this year is my year” statements, then a very good no.2 but never a WDC material.

    Now to the Renault….a very interesting point you have made clive about button! i never thought on those lines that it may be forced on both the parties involved! i thought if button jumped ship again his credibility will be severely undermined and he will never get a top 4 team drive. he will have to be a journeyman for the rest of his career. but what you have suggested is an interesting probability although i don’t necessarily see it as a possibility.

    Flav, as stupid as he looks in front of a camera, is a very astute man and not without a reason has he placed webbo in redbull on one year contract with option on second. As soon as the winter testing started i knew that Fisi would be the fall guy one way or the other. What Flav would do is put the all too impatient to race nelsinho in redbull or may be toro rosso for a year and bring webber to partner kovalainen. I think flav is perfectly building up kovy as the next alonso although i am beginning to doubt if he is.
    None of us know if webber can do the job yet but he might be a good try. better than fisi i would like to think. If he is ever offered a renault drive i think he wont pass it off as he did before. He was all to keen to go to renault this year but flav could not put him there because of fisi’s one year extension and kovy’s contract clause stating he be offered a drive if one of the driver’s chose to leave the team. I still have my doubts about webber being wdc but i think he can win a couple of races for renault something like trulli.

    and for the button doubters….sure enough his maiden win was fortuitous, but to finish first, first you have to finish!! His best drive according to me was not hungary but brazil. alas among all the hype and hoopla of alonso’s second title, massa’s victory and the great one’s storming drive, jenson’s podium finish from 14 on the grid in a DRY race did not get the recognition it ought to have. remember kimi couldnt finish on podium starting fifth in a similar paced car!! and if that is not reason enough to convince about a driver’s abilities, i would like to hear what is.

  4. I had forgotten about Flavio’s involvement with Webber, Uppili – thanks for reminding me. Even so, I think Webber will want to stay at Red Bull next year if he can. The car is improving with every race and the likelihood is that the next Newey design will be even better.

    The Button connection struck me as I was writing the post – before that I thought Button would have to stay at Honda whatever happens. But, when you realize that Flavio has got to have an experienced driver in the car next year and then start looking for one, it soon becomes apparent that there are very few practical choices available – and Button stands out as the best chance, especially if Webber won’t budge. It struck me as an unlikely combination at first but, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes…

  5. another thought….are we missing barrichello out of the equation? his contract is coming to an end at honda. Hmmm….

  6. Barrichello’s problem is that he needs to prove that he’s quicker than Button – and that hasn’t happened so far, with any consistency, at least. He is an option but looks like a second best choice unless he can really outperform Button this year. But I suppose Briatore would take him if there’s no-one else available.

  7. What about Sebastien?…

  8. Interesting thought, Haplo, but I think Toro Rosso will put him in one of their cars next year. Everyone else will be watching closely and, if Bourdais proves to be any good there, he’ll be poached by one of the big teams for 2009.

  9. I’m not completely sure Flavio has much choice over his driver line-up next year. If Nelson Piquet Jr’s manager has any sense, he’d've negotiated a reserve-driver position for his charge; this would prevent Flavio from replacing any departing drivers with anyone other than him. It’s not in Flavio’s style to give race drivers one-year contracts (he prefers mid-contract dismissals for underperformers), so I’m sure Kovalainen will be staying another year, assuming he does actually improve a bit. And even Flavio has to admit that Kovalainen-Piquet Jr. would not be a combination helpful to Renault’s aspirations. So I think we’ll be seeing the current line-up next year, major problems permitting. For 2009, though, all bets are off…

  10. That’s true, Alianora, but the fact that Flavio will happily ignore contracts when he wants to shows that his hands are not completely tied. I agree that a Kovalainen/Piquet line-up would be taking too much of a chance, even if the Finn gets his act together this year – Renault badly need a driver with experience of setting up the car and identifying weaknesses. Fisichella is doing his best but looks unconvincing when it comes to sorting out the car’s problems; in fact, the whole team seem puzzled by the R27′s difficulties. What Flavio needs is a Wurz who can tell them exactly what the car is doing and how to improve it (and he is another option, I suppose). Button said from the start about this year’s Honda that there was something fundamentally wrong with the front end and the consensus of opinion now agrees with him – which means he can identify the source of a problem at least. So he has to be on Flavio’s wish list, I think.

    If Piquet’s manager has negotiated a reserve driver contract, Flav’s in trouble, there’s no doubt. But would he have agreed to that, knowing that he was losing Alonso and had no real replacement in sight? I’m not sure.

    Piquet is an interesting prospect, incidentally. He has looked very quick in testing (although that’s not necessarily an indication of race pace) and his father was very good at setting up a car. If Jr. has inherited that engineering interest and ability, he could do very well. Perhaps Flavio should try a “Theissen test” later in the season – rest Heikki or Giancarlo for a few races and let Piquet have a go to see what he’s made of.

  11. nelsinho is actually managed by flav!! these days it seems like, no driver gets an entry to renault unless managed by flav!!

  12. That’s true, uppili – I might add that apart from Fisichella (who used to be managed by Flavio) and Villnueve (who was a temporary stand-in to please Bernie) no driver without a current Flavio Briatore management contract has raced a Renault since Jenson Button in 2002.

  13. Is there anyone who isn’t managed by Flavio? Oh yes, there was that Schumacher guy – he had some German managing him, I think (not that he needed one but someone had to feed us the rumours). But he’s gone, hasn’t he? ;)

  14. is fisi not managed by flav now? hmmm…..interesting…because if fisi is not managed by flav, then i think whoever his manager is, he must be the shrewdest manager this side of wili weber!! ;) To get an under performing driver three years in a top team or a hefty pay check for a “top three” talentless wannabe driver is no mean feat!!
    somehow i am left to believe that fisi is still managed by flav with his contract extension and not being fired yet (if you compare to trulli’s time in renault) and also his team entry in flavio owned Gp2 series because i cant see any other sensible reason!!

  15. All I know is that Fisi was managed by Flavio when he first came into F1 and, to some extent, his career was ruined by Flav preventing him taking up some offers of good drives. He might have changed manager in recent years but, if so, it slipped by me.

  16. Come on Clive, not grabbing two or three good drives does not makes you a bad driver. Fisi simply lacks the killer edge. We’ve seen it time and time after time, and now we can even listen to Flav yell on the radio “You’re faster, PASS HIM”

    I’m not saying he’s bad, just not so good.

    For instance, De La Rosa has been testing for McLaren for ages, and last time we saw him on the track, he put up some bloody good show!

  17. All I’m saying is that Fisi might have had a better career if he had been allowed to take the best offers that came his way in the early years. I’ve never doubted his ability but I think you’re right when you say he lacks the edge that the best drivers have. Perhaps he has spent too long in cars that were never capable of passing others. I was hoping we’d see some of the old fire from him this year but, although he’s been competent in a poor car, one can’t help but feel that Alonso would have done more.

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