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Exclusive Q&A with Renault's Eric Boullier 04 Feb 2011

Eric Boullier (FRA) Renault F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Valencia Spain, Saturday, 26 June 2010 (L to R): Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Lotus Renault GP; Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus Renault GP Team Principal; Gerard Lopez (FRA) Genii Capital and Robert Kubica (POL) Lotus Renault GP at the Lotus Renault GP R31 unveiling. Formula One Testing, Preparations, Valencia, Spain, Monday 31 January 2011. Robert Kubica (POL) Lotus Renault GP R31.
Formula One Testing, Day 2, Valencia, Spain, Wednesday, 2 February 2011 (L to R): Robert Kubica (POL) Lotus Renault GP; Jan Charouz (CZE) Lotus Renault GP Test Driver; Bruno Senna (BRA) Lotus Renault GP Test Driver; James Allison (GBR) Renault F1 Team Technical Director; Gerard Lopez (FRA) Genii Capital; Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus Renault GP Team Principal; Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus Renault GP Test Driver; Ho-Ping Tung (CHN) Lotus Renault GP Test Driver and Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Lotus Renault GP with the new Lotus Renault GP R31. Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Lotus Renault GP R31.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Valencia, Spain, Tuesday, 1 February 2011

In 2010, Renault team principal Eric Boullier was the new kid on the block. Following a very steep learning curve, Boullier is again at the helm for 2011. With a new title sponsor, a new (although some might say retro) livery and ambitious new aims, the Frenchman already knows this season would be tough...

Q: Eric, at the opening test it looked like the car could be one of the dark horses this season. You must have left Valencia feeling quite satisfied…
Eric Boullier:
It was the first test so the times are not a final benchmark, but yes, from how it worked for us we are quite satisfied. But when you are aiming for race wins you can never be satisfied and always have to look to raise your game because your competitors will do the same.

Q: It seems pretty hard to ascertain which outfit is the real ‘Lotus team’. How does it feel to be dragged into this dispute?
We are not very involved to be honest because it is not our business. Lotus Cars, who manufacture road cars, have decided to change their strategy to become our title sponsor for this year so we have all the right to be called Lotus Renault because Lotus is our sponsor. So the dispute is not our business at all. What I understand is that there is obviously a concern on the other side because they’ve lost the licence from Group Proton to be allowed to be called Lotus so they have tried to find a way to stick to the name Lotus by using this little difference because in the past there have been two companies called Lotus - one the car manufacturer and the other the Formula One team. The fact is that we are not claiming the heritage. Lotus is our title sponsor so there is no issue for us. Unfortunately the situation is confusing for everybody and is creating confusion for Formula One as well and is damaging the Lotus image, F1 - everybody. I see in it a lack of respect for the fans because nobody can claim the heritage and there is only one car manufacturer called Lotus, period.

Q: Can you demystify Renault's current management and ownership structure?
That is very easy. There has been a lot of talk and rumours over the winter, which has created a lot of confusion. Lotus is a title sponsor, and as a sponsor they have some privileges to be at the track and to have some rights in the activities of the team, like Total, or other sponsors that we have. The team is owned, 100 percent, by Genii Capital, as Renault has sold their minority shares in the team to focus completely on being engine suppliers. Renault wanted to stay close to this team because it was their team in the past so we have a sponsor agreement with them and have a technical partnership with them, as we have built some parts of the car together like the KERS. Lotus is just a sponsor and has no influence on the team’s internal decisions. It is as easy as this.

Q: You opted for the iconic black and gold livery. What are you trying to say with that?
Me personally? I am too young for any profound memory. I like it because it is distinctively different from all the other liveries. I like it because it is black, which is my favourite colour. Beyond that it doesn’t mean much. I know what it meant in the past - every F1 fan knows that - and I know that livery touches a lot of fans. Sure, there is some thought about the past, but we use it basically because we want to build up a new Formula One team based on the black and gold livery under the Renault name. What influenced our decision was definitely its outstanding visibility on television. We had a very visible livery last year with the yellow, so the aim was not to fall behind that high level of recognition and, if possible, to top it. I guess that black and gold livery does the trick. If you have a new team, by changing ownership and having a new title sponsor - Lotus - coming in, then you want to change the livery of the car radically. We had the option of going green and yellow - the Lotus colours. We could have gone red for Total and we could have done something very different. But it was common sense to go for black and gold.

Q: The team will run this season under a British licence, but some have argued that it has a pretty strong Russian flavour right now and that some people might feel a bit overshadowed…
I don’t see that. We are multicultural team. We are an English-based team owned 100 percent by a Luxemburg company. We have a French team principal and a French engine supplier with a British title sponsor, so the strong Russian flavour is hard to see. But what is special is that we are running the first Russian driver in the history of Formula One and that in itself is special. Formula One is hugely interested in Russia and there is also a lot of interest from the Russian side to understand Formula One. That might trigger the impression of us having a strong Russian flavour.

Q: Last season P4 would have been your dream result, but you missed out by 51 points. This year you want to raise the bar to P3, which would mean that two teams in front of you would have to drop back. Who do you have in mind?
Everybody is asking me about our target and frankly nobody knows. After only a few days of running everybody is so busy fixing the glitches on the car, so nobody knows who is hot and who is not. We know that this year’s car will be much better than the 2010 car and this allows us to have some positive ambitions, but as I say, any actual verdict is much too early.

Q: How is the 2011 car better than last year’s?
From what we have seen in Valencia the car works very well and compared to last year’s car should deliver more downforce and is much more evolved.

Q: Aiming for P3 in the standings means both your drivers need to finish the points. Do you believe that Petrov has reached that level…
This aiming for P3 was put into my mouth by the media, so for once and for all I never said that we are aiming for P3! Who can say at this stage of our preparations who is fighting for what position? What I said is that we know that the car is better than last year’s car. That’s it. Ferrari ended last season in P3 with Fernando Alonso fighting for the championship until the very last race so I don’t underestimate the toughness of conquering P3. You definitely need two strong drivers. We expect Vitaly to deliver strong results this year. Obviously it was a debate for all of us during the winter - that’s why it also took so long to announce our driver line-up - but I needed to discuss it with him as I needed to be sure that he understands what we expect from him as a driver. He must have a solid weekend every race weekend with the clear aim to be in the points. We are confident, because if we weren’t he would not be with us again.

Q: You are heading into your second year of Formula One racing. What did you learn in 2010 about money, politics, technical gadgetry and driver personalities?
Well, let’s start with the easiest - driver personalities. They are not much different to what I was used to before, except that probably I have to deal with higher profiles and egos. But in the end if you are in the garage it’s still racing. I have definitely learnt a lot about politics and how tough and frustrating it can be. Money definitely is a core ingredient because you have to run your show. About technical gadgetry I was very amused and amazed how Formula One can be creative and innovative and how Formula One can build something new in a very short time. Overall I had a very good 2010 campaign. It was character building.

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