Renault Driver Development scheme set for relaunch
Formula 1 Renault team boss Eric Boullier is poised to relaunch the Renault Driver Development programme, Autosport has revealed. The programme, originally founded in
2002, has cultivated the talents of Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen, Lucas di Grassi and Romain Grosjean.
Boullier commented, “It would be a way for them to spend some time in the team so they can understand the way it works and the complexity of F1. Obviously they would need
to race in GP2 or World Series alongside it, but there could also be properly-run F1 testing.”
Drivers would use an older model of the F1 Renault machine, and would hone their skills in various competitions such as the GP2, Formula Renault 3.5, F3 Euroseries, and
World Series by Nissan, among many others. The move would come as an ambitious revamping on the part of Renault, who have struggled to find form in the past few years, primarily because of lacking in the cutting edge technology which has given the Red Bulls,
Ferraris and McLarens such a high advantage.
Renault finished their 2010 Formula 1 season with163 points, leaving them in fifth place. Despite the high craftsmanship of Polish driver Robert Kubica, Renault struggled
to contend with the “big three,” save for successes in Australia, Monaco, and Belgium, finding himself on the outside of the podium for the remaining races. As for rookie Vitaly Petrov, the Russian had difficulty in keeping up to the challenge of his experienced
colleague, and his improvement proved to be slower than his team would have liked. However, amidst rumours that Kimi Raikkonen was seeking a return to F1 through Renault, Boullier and the team denied that Petrov would be cast away easily, preferring to nourish
the youngster’s talents rather than invest their finances in another big star. Yet Petrov’s future remains uncertain, having no official renewal of his contract to date.
But if Renault is to make any noticeable progress, breeding rookies could be just what the team needs. With the technical aspects of the car still in progress, taking
a young talent under their wing and tuning the skills alongside the development of the vehicle would produce a hopeful prospect, such as Hamilton with McLaren, and Vettel with Red Bull. But young driver programmes are a fairly recent phenomenon. Like soccer
academies for youths, it hasn’t been until the past decade or so where teams and sponsors have given a serious amount of thought to snatching up rising talents and conditioning them for the big time. It takes money, patience, persistence, good judgement, and
most especially, faith. But the payoff is huge.
Take Lucas di Grassi, for instance. The 25-year-old Brazilian has shown his prowess on the GP2 circuit, finishing third in 2008-09, and earned a place with Virgin Racing
in the 2010 season. Other notable achievements include his second place victories in the Formula Renault 2.0 championship in 2002 and the Formula Sudamericana in 2003. Di Grassi is currently a frequent test driver for Honda and Renault.
As for prodigy Robert Kubica, there is no denying the immense potential that the impressive veteran has to offer. Coming first in the 2005 Formula Renault 3.5 series,
the Pole has enjoyed a prestigious record, finishing fourth in F1 in 2008 with Sauber and eighth with Renault this past year. Kubica’s progress is consistently improving, and at a fresh 25 years of age, it is only a matter of time before he becomes a serious
contender. And given his experience, no doubt he will be a valuable mentor to inspire another generation of youngsters to rise up through the ranks of Renault’s promising programme.