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Eric Boullier Q&A: Heidfeld didn’t develop as hoped 26 Aug 2011

Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus Renault GP Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, 30 July 2011 Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP R31. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, 30 July 2011 (L to R): Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus Renault GP Team Principal celebrates with third placed Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 10 April 2011 Bruno Senna (BRA) Lotus Renault GP R31.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Belgian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Friday, 26 August 2011 (L to R): Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Lotus Renault GP with Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus Renault GP Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 10 April 2011 Bruno Senna (BRA) Lotus Renault GP R31.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Belgian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Friday, 26 August 2011 Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Lotus Renault GP R31 runs wide.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 31 July 2011 (L to R): Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus Renault GP Team Principal with Gerard Lopez (FRA) Genii Capital. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, Saturday, 11 June 2011 Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Lotus Renault GP R31. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, German Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 23 July 2011

It had been looming on the horizon for a while, but in Spa it became reality: Renault dropped Robert Kubica stand-in Nick Heidfeld from his race seat with the team. It is an unfortunate situation for both sides, but team principal Eric Boullier insists hiring Heidfeld was the right decision - just one that didn’t work out as hoped, as he explained exclusively to Formula1.com…

Q: Eric, Nick Heidfeld and Renault have parted ways for this weekend, but the team have been talking for some time about a lack of leadership qualities. What exactly is it that you’ve been missing?
Eric Boullier:
I would not say that he hasn’t got qualities - he unfortunately couldn’t develop them, mainly because he’s been outperformed and out-qualified by Vitaly (Petrov) and that didn’t help him develop these qualities. I respect his pace and his experience, but in the end as a team principal I had to see the bigger picture with the team. Our team didn’t develop properly - there is a technical reason but also some other reasons within the team - so as a consequence of this I had to shake up my driver line-up.

Q: So the idea for hiring him was that a driver with so many years of Formula One experience would be able to integrate easily into the team and act as a driving force for the development of the car…
EB:
…of course it was. But he didn’t get the car fast enough, so it didn’t work for us.

Q: Knowing what you know now, would you make the same driver decision again?
EB:
Yes, absolutely. No regret at all. It was an experience that didn’t work out.

Q: What about Vitaly? Weeks ago you were full of praise, but since then things have dipped slightly. Is the tension in the team getting to him?
EB:
I don’t think so. We keep him away from all the troubles. I think he’s got some technical issues on the car but I don’t believe he is affected by all the human developments lately. He is in a totally different department.

Q: You just said that Vitaly outperformed Nick most of the time. Have you been surprised by that?
EB:
Yes, to be honest. I understand that Vitaly is more comfortable and has clearly stepped up a notch. What I can say is that we - and I clearly say we as a team and not him - have missed some opportunities with Nick, and that didn’t help to create a positive loop to get him back on track.

Q: Let’s speak about the car. It seems to have been a case of one step forward, two steps back. Why is that?
EB:
I think that the original idea that we had with the front forward exhaust was very good . The pace during the pre-season tests was very good and the first couple of races were very good. The issues started with the first big upgrade that we brought in April. That didn’t work out. Everything was working fine in CFD and in the wind tunnel, but the moment it was on the car, it didn’t. And, even worse, it degraded the performance of the car. It took us some time to understand why - we understand now that the temperature of the exhaust on the car cannot be properly modelled in a wind tunnel. The other reason was that we had to upgrade the wind tunnel in May so we had to close it for three weeks - three crucial weeks. Then, of course, the mapping issue didn’t help either: it was an unnecessary back and forth. We put some resources into developing a standard exhaust and then we were told that it can stay as it is, so all in all we didn’t manage these different issues properly, so we lacked enough development on the car.

Q: You just said that your April upgrade looked perfect on CFD and in the wind tunnel, but the reality proved otherwise. Not so long ago there was the belief that you could develop F1 cars entirely on a computer and in the wind tunnel. Has what you’ve experienced eliminated that belief?
EB:
Yes, completely. Nothing can replace track reality. We are now using Fridays for testing, so the idea to bring back some in-season testing is welcomed.

Q: Renault’s livery suggests charisma, so do you also need charismatic drivers, guys like Vettel, Hamilton, Schumacher and Alonso, who fill the cockpit with personality and performance?
EB:
Hmm, well, I think that Vitaly can be charismatic - and Bruno is definitely wearing an iconic name. And honestly I am not basing our driver line-up only on charisma. And probably there are not so many charismatic guys out there anymore.

Q: So what about Bruno Senna? Why did you put him in the car and how long will he stay there?
EB:
Bruno was our third driver and we’ve tested him several times. His dedication is really good and he is a nice character. And first thing you do if you change your driver line-up unexpectedly is to lean back on your third driver.

Q: Your current driver line-up looks somewhat temporary - what are you looking at for the future?
EB:
I think 2012 is next season, so we will see. We have to consider many scenarios. Robert Kubica obviously is our number-one scenario; Romain Grosjean is doing a good job; and let’s wait and see what Bruno is doing and delivering for the next eight races

Q: Will things improve in the second half of the season? Fifth place in the table looks secure, but is that good enough?
EB:
We need to keep P5 of course- and we have to manage to bring back some energy to the team to fight back for some points.

Q: How can the team satisfy your investors Genii Capital?
EB:
I think that they are reasonably satisfied, even if they are frustrated with the team’s results this year. Regarding their business plan, it is not working as planned - it is working better. Genii is in F1 to do business and this business platform is working amazingly well: in one year they have created a lot of companies, synergies and opportunities. It is working amazingly nicely. The only weak point right now is the team, but we are working on that issue.

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