Exclusive interview - Renaults Eric Boullier 19 May 2011
Everybody in the paddock gives kudos to Eric Boullier for turning an ailing team into a frontrunner. Now the Renault team principal has set his sites on at least P4 in the constructors championship - and hopefully taking on the big guns to go even higher. But its not only his team Boullier is focusing on - he also has strong opinions on how Formula One should develop in the coming years and how to secure the strong position that Bernie Ecclestone has built for the sport
Q: Eric, right here right now Renault have worked their way up to fourth place in the constructors championship - one place ahead of where you finished the 2010 season. Does that give a comforting feeling under the current circumstances?
Eric Boullier: If it were the last race of the championship and I knew that the fifth team could not catch me, then yes, but Formula One is not that easy. It is obviously good to be in a better position than last year - plainly spoken I am happy to be fourth - and we definitely will fight to keep this position, or improve!
Q: Improving would mean that you take on the big three. Do you see that happening?
EB: Ah, you never know. We dont need to have a crazy ambition - we need to have a realistic one. But sometimes it is good to smile and dream!
Q: Dreaming of the front is one thing, but how convinced are you that you can fend off the team behind?
EB: It is too early in the season to say. The war for development is huge. At every race teams bring new upgrades and you never know if the one that you bring is good enough to keep you ahead of the others. Lets put it this way: at this early stage of the season I have enough confidence to say we should never be over-confident.
Q: Both your drivers have delivered 21 points. How would you rate how they achieved these points?
EB: In terms of Nick I would say that he did a good job. He had a bit of bad luck, but I think he could have more points. In terms of Vitaly I am very happy. It is a good result in terms of his consistency, and now he is scoring points every time. He also could have scored more points, but I think he is in a good shape and hes constantly improving. We see his form going up all the time.
Q: When people speak about Renaults situation there is always a slight undertone suggesting how much Robert is being missed. Is that so?
EB: No. Or let me put it differently: Robert had his place in the team and he is missing us obviously, and the fans miss him. But I cant say yes. Based on last year, Robert was in front of Vitaly most of the time and if you just apply copy and paste you would come to the conclusion that Robert would have been better. But Vitaly has improved a lot compared to last year. He is faster, but now he is also consistent all the time, so there is a big difference. But, honestly, I dont want to think about all that too much. We have to deal with what we have - with the best of what we have.
Q: In terms of performance relative to potential - so taking into account size and funding - Renault are arguably the highest achievers of the season so far. Will that last until the end of the season and what is up your sleeve to counter the Mercedes attack for P4?
EB: I think we can keep up that high-achiever status, even if that means that we have to use our resources more cleverly or probably think twice before you make a decision. I think that the group of people that we have are good - and good enough to keep delivering to keep it up. Then it is up to me and Genii capital to find more sponsors to give this team the financial resources to deliver even more - and eventually to catch the frontrunners.
Q: So are you using your resources more cleverly - or more boldly - than you rivals?
EB: I dont think that we can say that we are cleverer than the other ones, but yes, probably more bold - or more straightforward. Maybe we have a much leaner hierarchy than others - so decisions are driven faster than with other teams, meaning that the bigger you get the more corporate you become and the more difficult it gets to change course. I think we probably have a leaner and more direct system and we encourage our people to be creative, to build what they think is good.
Q: FIA President Jean Todt has talked about a possible return of in-season testing - something that was rejected by the teams. What were the main reasons for that? Money? Young drivers would have welcomed the move
EB: Not only money, but yes, costs were the first issue. The second issue is human resources. Before, we had a race team and a test team. Now we have one team to do everything and the workload of the ten months - including the four February test sessions - is so immense that it is simply impossible to ask more from our crews. We are already on the limit. I am definitely in favour of developing young drivers - actually I was the first to complain last year saying, hey guys, I have Vitaly and he has never driven Formula One before and you all know that it is an investment to put a young driver into a cockpit nowadays. I can see Williams now facing the same problems with Maldonado that we had with Vitaly last season. The bigger teams dont have these kinds of problems because they rely on experienced drivers, so it is down to the other teams to nurture talents and I say that we need a system where you can develop them. The schedule is very tight, so I suggested to the sporting group that we could run some rookie sessions on European tracks - only for rookies. That would not cost any money, would not raise the workload, but probably would raise the show for the fans on Fridays. Why not?
Q: Again there has been whispered talk of a breakaway series, surely a rumour that has been heard too many times before to be taken seriously? You would still need somebody to run the whole show and in the past the teams never came up with any suggestions. What is Renaults stance?
EB: My opinion on this is: Formula One in the Nineties was exploding. Bernie did an amazing job and we all have to respect what he did, as he created something huge - huge enough to attract manufacturers. When they came, they came into the paddock with big money and big motorhomes. I dont blame them for that - it was their philosophy. But I have spent much time lately looking to understand other hugely successful sports, also looking back for about 15 years. They - football, NBA, NFL, rugby - have all developed a more professional and mature marketing and business approach to their sport. And they have attacked sponsors based on that - something that Formula One has to face now with the departure of the majority of manufacturers. We are now again in the position of the Nineties, but the world has changed around us. The bottom line for me is that (the idea of) a breakaway series is out of date because teams will not survive without TV money. But as I just said, the world has changed and other sports have managed to attract a lot of sponsors to secure their survival. We have to reach out to the young generation, as we will find in the next few years that our fan base will drop down. It is our core business to have fans, as this is what will attract sponsors. A breakaway is nonsense, but Formula One has to change - and not stupidly. Our little fights in the paddock make the media people happy, but that doesnt drive the change. If we dont want to lose the lead of Formula One that Bernie has built we have to change the way we are thinking.
Q: The 2013, 1.6 litre engine formula: nobody seems to like it, so who needs it?
EB: This is more complicated. The question is can we afford such a change? Formula One must stop thinking of ego wars or securing influence. We should think more about how to improve Formula One. If we have to stick to the V8 because in the end we cant afford the change, because we cannot reproduce the sound that the fans want, then we should stick with the V8 - or at least wait a little bit before moving to something new. But I also see the truth in the debate that Formula One was always seen as a technological frontrunner, which could be used as some kind of laboratory for manufacturers. I dont want to stick too much into this debate because, as I said, the world has changed and the manufacturers have a different position now than they used to have. All in all it is important that we dont take the wrong decision in terms of the sports fans and its future.
Q: Coming back to the immediate future, what do you expect from this weekend?
EB: I dont know yet. I would be satisfied if we could break into the top six. If we want to keep P4 in the constructors, both my cars have to be in the top eight - simple as that.
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