2009 was nothing short of a disaster for Renault. Despite Fernando Alonso remaining with the team for that year, team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr was consistently awful, failing to score a single point until he was replaced by Romain Grosjean, who was similarly off the pace. the Singapore 2008 “Crash-gate” scandal shook the team to its core, leading to the exit of team bosses Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds. On top of all this, the R29 was lacking in pace, although Alonso dragged it to a solitary podium in Singapore. With all of this combined, Renault’s future was in doubt for this season. But, thanks to a buyout from Genii Capital, and the hiring of Robert Kubica, the French outfit are back and firing on all cylinders.
Robert Kubica has done a fantastic job leading the Renault team back up the grid
Alongside Kubica is Russian rookie Vitaly Petrov, the “Vyborg Rocket” who came 2nd in the GP2 Series last year. Bahrain was a disappointment for the team, but in Australia Kubica snatched an unexpected podium finish, after making a great strategy call early on. Petrov retired in the first 3 races, but in his first race finish in China, he took 7th place, while Kubica was 5th.
From Australia to Valencia, Kubica has finished every single of these races in the points, and took another podium in Monaco, after very nearly taking pole position. Robert is the only driver on the gird who has been racing every single lap so far this year. He has become the driving force of the team, and has performed so well that Ferrari were rumoured to be looking at hiring him for next year. Petrov has not got a points finish since China, but had a terrific battle with Fernando Alonso in Turkey, although a later collision ruled out any points for him.
Depsite this, I would say that Petrov is one of the most impressive rookies this year, and Kubica is certainly punching well above his weight. The Renault car, while unable to challenge for wins, has been near-bulletproof in its reliability, with only 1 mechanical retirement this year. The Renault engine gives better fuel consumption, giving the team an advantage in the first 20 laps of every Grand Prix, as they can carry much less fuel. Their straight line speed is impressive, even without the F-duct. The only chink in Renault’s armour is the lack of grip compared to the top teams, but constant development in this area – most notably in the front wing area – is solving this issue.
With 83 points, Kubica has single-handedly pulled Renault back up the order, currently in 5th place, but well poised to overtake Mercedes soon. Hopefully, Vitaly can improve to get a few more points-scoring positions this year, which is all we can expect from his first year in Formula 1. However, in his defence, here’s an interesting fact for you – Petrov got a fastest lap in Turkey before Kubica got one in his entire career. With this in mind, Renault’s line-up appears to be solid.
The question is: Can they catch up to the top 3? Mercedes are already in their clutches, and hopefully after a few races can be overtaken in the standings. However, catching Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull will be much trickier. If Petrov improves next year, and the R31 is on the pace, then it could well be a possibility.