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Eric Boullier Q&A: Heidfeld could secure Renault seat at Jerez 11 Feb 2011

(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 with the new Lotus Renault GP R31. Formula One Testing, Preparations, Valencia, Spain, Monday 31 January 2011. Eric Boullier (FRA) Renault F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Korean Grand Prix, Practice Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Friday, 22 October 2010 Robert Kubica (POL) Lotus Renault GP R31.
Formula One Testing, Day 3, Valencia, Spain, Thursday, 3 February 2011 Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Lotus Renault GP R31 running a measuring device.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Jerez, Spain,  Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Renault team’s new black livery had meant to be a new look for a new era, but following Robert Kubica’s rally crash last weekend, it also fits their sombre mood perfectly. The team - and car - were built around Kubica, but with the Polish driver stuck in hospital recovering from his injuries, the team are now desperately looking for a suitable replacement. Team principal Eric Boullier discusses Kubica’s accident and the potential stand-ins…

Q: Eric, what do you know about Kubica’s condition? How is he doing?
Eric Boullier:
Let’s say that Robert is in the best condition you can expect under these circumstances. He has already started with his recovery, even though he will undergo another operation. His elbow and shoulder will be fixed and that is an operation that will very likely last another five hours.

Q: There have been different reports about his injuries. You hear the arm is broken, the hand is broken, the forearm is damaged and the upper arm is hurt. What exactly is wrong?
EB:
Everything! Hand, arm, elbow, foot - everything...

Q: When do you expect to get information on when he will be able to race again?
EB:
When they can give me a good medical update I am happy to hear it. I am in daily contact with them and the really good news is that he is recovering well and is out of danger. The recovery is actually going quickly because he is a sportsman and they tend to recover faster than anybody else. He was already able to feed himself. Now it is paramount to stick all the bones together again and educate the muscles and the nerves. What I know for sure is that in the next three months he will not be back, but then you also could say four, or five or six months.

Q: When will you visit him again?
EB:
Well, I am doing an update on the test because he is already asking questions about what we are doing. So on Monday I will send him a full report of the test and what we have finished. That will be read to him by his manager Daniel Morelli and right after the Barcelona test I will be back to see him.

Q: How did you find him when you visited him the first time?
EB:
I wanted to wait a bit before I went to see him because he was in a reanimation room with 12 other guys so that was not the best place to see him. Then when he saw me it was a bit emotional - and then we had a normal chat about racing! We ended up joking as I wanted to see him smiling.

Q: So you don’t think that he will suffer psychologically from this accident?
EB:
Robert’s life is racing so being in a bed in a hospital is rather depressing. Not motivating. But I can say that his mind has not suffered. He is still the same.

Q: In the last few years the teams have grown a bit more liberal in terms of what drivers do outside their Formula One commitments - they go skiing, they go rallying. Do you think that after this accident all the teams will have to rethink what their drivers do outside the sport?
EB:
I stick to my point of view. I am a racing guy and I know that Robert is a racer. He is like a wild animal - if you put him in a cage he’s going to go mad. Sure, after such an accident everybody has an opinion on that, but in the end we do what we believe is best for the team and for the drivers. What happened to Robert is very unfortunate and sad. He is in hospital, but before that crucial corner he was doing what he loved - racing.

Q: Kubica was pretty much the team’s key element. He helped to rebuild it last year and you obviously expected a lot from him this season. How will his accident impact the team?
EB:
I don’t know. We have built this team around him. It definitely is a big blow and now it is up to us to find a good solution to hurt the team in the least way possible.

Q: Now you have to look for a replacement. What are you looking for?
EB:
Let me say one thing - If we were in the middle of the season the car would have been developed so we could have taken the choice to go for a young driver, give him the necessary mileage and train and educate him. But the accident, unfortunately, arrived just after the first shake-down - after the first test. So the obvious choice is an experienced driver. I have drawn up a profile with my engineers. Basically we need a driver with experience that can drive the team and with his feedback can develop the car, but one who can also cope with the new tyres and with all the new parts on the car like the moveable rear wing, where we have decided to go a little bit aggressive or let’s say used a bit of a brave design. So we need a driver with speed and experience to clearly help the team in this development. Once you have ticked all the boxes there are no more than three drivers in the paddock - Nick Heidfeld, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Pedro de la Rosa.

Q: When do you expect to make a decision?
EB:
That’s very easy to answer. Nick is here - and without sounding arrogant - to be evaluated. Once we have finished the assessment of Nick we will keep him or look for another driver in Barcelona.

Q: So if you are happy with him at the end of this test he will be confirmed?
EB:
There will be discussions before that, but as a general line, yes.

Q: You never thought about asking Kimi Raikkonen to come back? He would give you a lot media attention?
EB:
No. He has set up his own rally team so why should he come back? He said he wanted to do rallying so let’s not start the Kimi discussion again.

Q: How is the mood in the team?
EB:
The mood is still a bit shocked because there is a huge part of the team missing. If you see all the reactions of the other teams and drivers you see that Robert was an important part of Formula One, not just for our team. We will need a couple of days more to recover and it is good that we are back for testing because that occupies everybody and if we can fix the driver discussion soon, we will be able to go back to developing the car again. Of course we’ll keep Robert in our thoughts.

Q: So your deadline for the replacement is Barcelona?
EB:
Yes, and if I don’t find a replacement, Barcelona would be the last decent time to decide.

Q: If Heidfeld doesn’t convince you here in Jerez does that mean that one of the other two guys will drive in Barcelona?
EB:
Obviously, yes.

Q: Have you ever thought about any of the third drivers at other teams?
EB:
As I said, we have developed a profile for the kind of driver that we need and we have to choose the one that fits that profile best, so the answer is no.

Q: How much will this tragic episode set the team back in terms of development?
EB:
Robert not being with us is obviously a huge loss for the team, especially with only 15 days of testing, so our development will slow down.

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