Farewell to Renault name after poor season

2011 F1 season review

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Renault faded rapidly in 2011

Having finished on the podium in the first two races, Renault scored just one point in the final four rounds.

How did their 2011 campaign go so disastrously wrong?

And would they have done better had Robert Kubica not been injured before the season started?

It’s tempting to look at the results of that last test session in Valencia, when Kubica was quickest in the R31, and conclude that great things would have come Renault’s way had he not been severely injured in a rally accident three days later.

But we should not read that much into the results of a test session. As the 2011 season unfolded, it was the car as much as the drivers that let the team down.

Once the grave extent of Kubica’s injuries was learned, team principal Eric Boullier ran Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna in the next test and initially gave Kubica’s seat to Heidfeld.

Renault team stats 2011

Best race result (number)3rd (2)
Best grid position (number) 6th (3)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 6 (1/5)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,025 (89.36%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2010) 5th (5th)
Championship points (2010) 73 (163)
Pit stop performance ranking6th

It was something of a fairytale result for the team when Vitaly Petrov brought the car home on the podium in the first race at Melbourne. Heidfeld repeated the feat in the following round at Sepang.

But their season went downhill after that.

Heidfeld’s indifferent qualifying performances frustrated Boullier, who urged his driver to raise his game. He did so in Canada, only to crash out while racing for position with Kamui Kobayashi.

After the European Grand Prix Boullier again said the team hadn’t done well enough as both Heidfeld and Petrov slipped back from their starting positions during the race.

The team struggled to develop the R31, with its radical front exit exhausts, as the season went on. A more conventional system was briefly tried but rejected.

Hungary was Heidfeld's last appearance

Boullier’s patience with Heidfeld eventually ran out and he put Senna in the car from Spa onwards. Senna out-qualified Petrov first time out and kept his team mate honest over the remaining races. But by now the team were scrapping in the lower reaches of the top ten.

Their season reached its nadir in Singapore. The R31s arrived home 15th and 17th – Petrov behind a Lotus – in a result Boullier described as “painful”.

Senna was displeased by Petrov’s aggressive tactics at the start in Suzuka – much as Heidfeld had been when the pair disputed the same piece of track in Turkey.

Petrov’s second F1 season was mixed at best. Following his strong start in Melbourne he crashed badly in Monaco, fortunately escaping injury. He was ragged in India and seemed to have a magnetic attraction to Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes: he was blameless in their collisions in Turkey and Valencia, but not so in Singapore where he ploughed into the Mercedes, earning a penalty.

In the final race it was Senna who collided with Schumacher, also receiving a penalty.

This almost compromised Renault’s chances of holding onto fifth in the constructors’ championship. Had it not been for Toro Rosso’s late-season resurgence, taking points off Force India in Korea and India, it’s very likely Renault would have fallen to sixth.

Grosjean drove in practice ahead of his 2012 return

The team have opted for wholesale change in its driver line-up for 2012, bringing in Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean while cutting Petrov’s contract short by a year.

But the driver line-up wasn’t the sole source of the team’s problems in 2011. The R31’s reliability was as much a cause for concern as its performance.

Heidfeld suffered two major fires in the exhaust system, including one that ended his final race. Senna had KERS failures in consecutive races and Petrov’s DRS malfunctioned in Abu Dhabi.

The team will be hoping for a change in from to accompany its new identity – Lotus – in 2012. However the name ‘Renault’ will remain as an engine supplier, in which role it has enjoyed conspicuously greater success in powering Red Bull to their world championships.

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Images © Renault/LAT

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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52 comments on “Farewell to Renault name after poor season”

  1. Following his strong start in Melbourne he crashed badly in Monaco, fortunately escaping injury.

    This sentence implies Petrov managed to find the wall on his own. As I recall, he was one of the last cars – if not the last car – taken out in the pile-up. I believe Jaime Alguersuari was the one who hit him.

    1. @prisoner-monkeys I did not imply anyone in particular was to blame for the crash, that is just how you have chosen to read it.

      The vast majority of people who read this will have seen the race anyway and know what happened.

      1. It’s the English teacher in me. It’s my blessing, and my curse.

        1. I think you’re actually right though. Taken in isolation, the paragraph begins

          Petrov’s second F1 season was mixed at best. Following his strong start in Melbourne he crashed badly in Monaco, fortunately escaping injury.

          “he crashed badly” does not have the same neutral meaning as “he was involved in a bad crash”, and it’s the structure of “he crashed” (being an action deliberately performed (when I say deliberate I mean so in a grammatical sense, in that there is a subject and an action performed by that subject described by the verb “crashed”)) that creates an implication of this being a self contained, personal event, rather than the explicit naming or otherwise of the person involved.

          But it wouldn’t do to nitpick.

          1. Thats some fairly extreme nitpicking

        2. I must admit that I got it as meaning that as well, before ditching that view as being nonsense!

  2. And so Enstone’s evolution goes on. May their first season as Lotus proper be one of success.

    1. @ScuderiaVincero What a confusing lineage they now have.

      This is the team that started out as Toleman, racing against Renault and Lotus. They subsequently became Renault and again raced against Lotus, and are now going to become Lotus.

      So I’d expect them to go back to being Toleman before the end of the decade.

      1. I’m still waiting on a team to take up my option on the name “Argle Bargle McFluffypants F1”. I think that’s got “winner” written all over it.

        1. I would support that team. Even if it was just Ferrari in disguise.

      2. @KeithCollantine I’ve always thought Benetton would beat the Toleman family to the punch :) Casual fans will find Enstone’s history absolutely confusing here.

        1. I guess the casual fans just won’t get that this is still the same team in its core, but it really is quite a mess for team lineage!

  3. What’s in a name? I’ve lost a bit of love for Renault of late with how they’ve treated their drivers but I’ve always had a massive soft spot for them and even though it’s just a name change I’m really going to miss seeing the Renault team name.

    1. @Steph I don’t know, they spent all year trying to get everyone to call them Lotus and pretending that’s who they were. The “Lotus Renault GP” stuff and the juvenile tiff with ‘real’ Lotus really got my back up.

      I liked their identity best last year with proper Renault colours. Without the jarring clash of Mild Seven blue or the truly disgusting ING orange.

      Of course by then Renault proper were already halfway out the door. It’s a pity, but at least they’re still around as an engine supplier, and a very good one at that.

      1. or the truly disgusting ING orange

        This is where we will always disagree. The R29 was one of the most beautiful cars ever I thought although admittedly, it was better once ING left.

        The name battle really annoyed me too.

        The good thing about Renault though is that they seem to have this love affair with F1; one minute it’s wild and passionate and the next they’re cold and distant but they never really leave.

        1. Hopefully your eyes will adjust during your 22nd year and you’ll see that colour scheme for what it was. An awful mess!

          1. @Ajokay The R29 was actually a great looking car. It’s just taste! I think @Ned-Flanders is a fan of the livery too.

      2. @KeithCollantine @Steph

        I liked their identity best last year with proper Renault colours.

        I agree completely. Everything was perfect in 2010 for Renault. They were on the way up, had a new management team, a fresh image (new livery, new drivers) and were wiping the image of Piquet backing it into the wall in Singapore out of everyone’s minds. Even if it was just a few people at the top responsible, it made me look at the team in a different way. But they did do a great job of making amends in 2010 and I went from being completely ambivalent in 2009, to being almost a fan.

        This year they annoyed me more than ever though. They should never have even got into the Lotus mess and then there was the way they treated their drivers. I don’t feel much towards Grosjean or Raikkonen, but I had a soft spot for Bruno, Robert, Vitaly, and Nick and I hated the way they were treated. For Romain and Kimi’s sakes, I hope they’re treated a little better.

      3. Personally, for me, the Mild Seven blue was a key part of the Enstone identity. In particular, they won all 4 WDCs and 3 WCCs in that shade of blue.

        And whenever I think of Team Enstone (whatever their name is), I will always remember Benetton and its blue-liveried success.

        1. I also loved how the Mild Seven livery complemented with the colours of Fernando Alonso’s hometown, Oviedo. Like a match made in heaven.

      4. @keithcollantine I’d love to have the R30 livery back. It was stunning.

    2. Good for them to have won the battle in the end, but I hated them for calling themselves Lotus when in fact they were just a sponsor.

  4. Good livery, poor performance. Should Kimi and Grojean expect it would be different next year? I don’t know…

    1. With regard to the livery, I find it a bit odd to paint your car in the colours of a sponsor that has been gone from the sport for almost 25 years. In my view, a team’s livery should be a combination of the team’s identity with the colours of the sponsors.

      I found LRGP’s nostalgic livery a bit irksome, though I find it hard to eloquently express why.

      1. The last “Renault” livery that I liked was 2006.

        1. @PJ I liked that too, sort of a cool combination of the blue I’d expect to find on French racing cars (i.e. Bugatti, Prost, Ligier) and the yellow I’d immediately associate with Renault.

      2. they have no choice actually, not just for nostalgic reasons, they would have preferred Green/Yellow but that’s already being used by Fernandes’ team (FIA wont permit similar livery) hence the choice of Black/Gold..
        read somewhere that Dany Bahar said all Group Lotus-linked motorsport outfits would be using Black/Gold livery starting 2012 (I believe the agreement with Fernandes)

  5. The 2011 campaign was a failure, in my opinion, resulting from wrong strategic decisions and general approach at the very top of the team. Of course it’s ease to point out mistakes with the benefit of hindsight, but I feel these were avoidable. The first one was giving Kubica too much freedom. I don’t say he should have been forced contractually to abandon his dangerous hobbies at all, but some kind of restriction during testing and in immediate proximity of the season should have been implemented. Robert already had been forbidden to do rallying at BMW, and he would have accepted such restrictions again. The other cause of bad results was a gamble on very innovative exhaust. Whether it was a wrong decision to go very adventurous with the car is hard to say. Red Bull’s innovations gave them superiority, Ferrari’s conservative designs gave them certain level of stability. In my opinion LRGP’s tech team is still too weak to risk such ideas as FEE. If you want to go aggressive, you need to have a team which is capable to revert quickly to conservative or already proven ideas if the innovations fail. LRGP abandoned their FEE much too late, and the system itself did not allow easy changes.

    Also, void left by Kubica was far greater than pure speed and skills on track. The team lacked motivation, leadership and proper feedback. I’ll risk saying that LRGP would have abandoned FEE earlier had Kubica been there. When something was working wrong, he was always the guy to tell it first. Other than that, missing the star driver had probably discouraged sponsors. The uncertainty whether he’ll be back also didn’t help.

    All in all, a bad season which in fact put them 2 years back. Now as Lotus they face similar restructuring problems as they faced in 2009.

  6. I hated the way they shafted real lotus and wished them nothing but ill. Taking the jps black and gold was sacrilege for anyone who remembers the 70’s icons first time round. Taken to its stupidith degree why not change your drivers name to Mario Andretti and say he’s American. Its got about as much credibility. Be yourself and you’ll find alot more friends.

    1. @antonyob I don’t understand the logic behind this comment. Lotus Renault GP had every right to use Lotus branding on their cars as they were sponsored by Group Lotus, an entity founded by Colin Chapman that has been in continuous existence since then. It’s like saying Ford have no right to badge their cars as Fords now Henry’s dead.

      The 2011 ‘Team Lotus’ had no Chapman DNA whatsoever – Fernandes simply owned a piece of paper that said he could use the name. How were they “real Lotus”?

      1. What I don’t like is them claiming the Lotus F1 heritage under the Group Lotus Banner.

        They didn’t and still are not the Team Lotus.

        1. “We don’t claim to be Team Lotus, and we don’t want to be. It has a glorious past, but Team Lotus should be kept where it was – it should rest in peace. We do not want to become a second Team Lotus…” – Dany Bahar

        2. its messy at the very least and i dont think the newly named Caterham team had much hold on the Lotus name either. But they were first. Having 2 names running as Lotus should never have been allowed.

          Black and gold is nothing to do with Lotus, its a sponsor colour as im sure you are aware. the sponsor wasnt involved anymore so why were the colours. It was cheap, it had no credibility and it showed no confidence in who they think they are.

          And in fact i dislike greatly all this badge engineering. FOrd as Ford fine, but Ford deciding to use Jaguar was an awful decision. You put lipstick on a pig its still a pig. If you badge a Minardi as a Maserati is it a Maserati? no it isnt.

          1. I agree with your 1st 2 paragraphs. The last one I do not. Ford were completly within their rights to name the team Jaguar. Jaguar were a ford brand, Jaguar road cars used ford parts, the x-type was a rebranded Ford Mondeo. That is what Jaguar was at that time, an upmarket Ford, a Ford with lipstick on. Anyway its not like the Stewart GP car had anything to do with the ford road cars either.

        3. a lot of people were saying that Fernandes’ team has rights to Team Lotus name and history since they owned the name
          it puzzles me people are saying Group Lotus can’t claim the Team Lotus history now even when they own Team Lotus at the moment. I believe they have every right to it, and I believe Classic Team Lotus (the real Team Lotus) will not have any objections to Group Lotus using their history.

  7. but not so in Singapore where he ploughed into the Mercedes, earning a penalty.


  8. I think that although they’ve changed their drivers (and there was an argument that the drivers were one of the sources of their problems) this is not going to solve Renault’s fundamental problems.

    In 2008 Briatore started laying off aero staff due to the supposedly less aero dependent 2009 regulations. The 09 car suffered a lot as a result. Rebuilding that department took time. This year, they started out with a potentially good but tricky idea with the exhausts, which in the end didn’t work out. Calling it an awful idea doesn’t necessarily wash however as you have to explain the two podiums at the start of the year. The idea had some merit, but as the team has stated in interviews it was very difficult to develop. It was lack of technical development during the year, rather than anything else, that killed off their season.

    In light of that, the very public shuffling of the technical department, the highly (for F1) outspoken disgruntlement of a well respected technical lead, the loss of Bob Bell before the start of the year and the embarrassing John Wickham saga seem far more significant. After a dipterous 2009, Bob Bell managed to get the team stabilised, and secure during 2010, and they started to perform again. Boullier then ousted him, and things seem to have become unstable and unreliable again.

    Having a team principal who is also a driver manager hasn’t worked in Renault’s favour in the past and I suspect it is not doing so again.

    1. @Hairs That’s basically how I feel about it. They won everyone over after crashgate with a strong 2010 and a nice livery, and threw it all away in 2011 just so they could be called Lotus.

      1. Same goes for me @damonsmedely, @hairs, they really were looking good to regain respect and a fun factor in 2010 only to squander a lot of that in 2011.

  9. Heidfeld was probably the best of the three drivers, in general (of course) and even in the 2011 campaign (although one might dispute that).
    Renault’s problems were average drivers in a good car, and then the car not evolving in the season, maybe at least to a small part due to the average driving…

  10. Let’s not forget that Petrov did almost twice as many races as Heidfeld, and still only finished 3 points ahead.

    1. Let’s not forget Heidfeld out-scored him only 34 to 32. The car was so poor in the end that Petrov only managed 5 points.

      1. As Heidfeld is a much better racer than qualifier I reckon he would have scored quite a few more points. But that is a moot point as he was sacked due to his lack of leadership qualities, which means LRGP probably felt at that point in the season they were so far ahead of the rest below them.

      2. I’d put forward that one of the reasons the car was so bad in the second half of the season was that Heidfeld’s contributions to car set up were missed. It seems a bit coincidental that the car really starts to suffer in performance the minute he leaves.

  11. You can say it’s bad luck that their concept didn’t worked out; nobody can take a look into the future and predict if a concept can effectively be further evolved. Everybody started the tests with their blown diffusers with at that time it being on its best; exploiting further potential always cames later, and if there is none you can call it bad luck.

    What really disturbs me though, and this counts for every team, is that by far the biggest part of speed gain came from maximizing the exhausts, maybe a sign there is not much to evolve anymore?

  12. Ok I didn’t know where to post this comment. But since its a suspicion of mine that has to do with senna then maybe this renu article is best lol. Jus read a tweet from jake humphery that there wil be potential chamges at ferrari red bull and mercedes, but I have a sneaky suspicion that senna might sign as a ferrari 3rd driver. Maybe its just me lol..but then again without much fp1 opportunities at ferrari then maybe I’m wrong as bruno stated he is lookin at a 3rd driver possiblity only if he get fp1 seat time. Would be cool seeing a senna in a ferrari though. May even pro long his career.

  13. but not so in Singapore where he ploughed into the Mercedes, earning a penalty.

    I think you mean Korea there Keith.

  14. i dont think because something is legally correct it is necessarily proper that it is done pope. Not quite morally, but close…morally it is an anathma to those who idolised the black and gold lotuses that were winning championships when i was a boy in the late 70’s. I dont care if some middle management saloon was rebadged im talking about thoroughbred racing cars

  15. To those who think the ridiculous paint job on the HRT is cool just look at this car….a striking racecar that uses it sponsor names and paint scheme to the utmost. Modern yet classic in how it appears. Next to the Ferrari perhaps the best appearing car of the year. We can only hope that the bottom dwellers will take note of how this car looks and develope paint and livery that doesn’t look like it came from the local carnval….Hint, hint.

    1. To be honest, I don’t love this livery. Looked at from above, for example, the thick gold bars make it looks somewhat fat. Also, they should either have found a way to integrate the red, or have it gone (yes, I know, Total).

      But the thing mainly is: for me, comparing it to the inspiration, the gold is too thick and, well, bling, and lacks crispness, instead of providing a classy accent to the black. And don’t mention the logo on the front, you’d almost think the designers asked for the nose to be wider so they could fit a bigger one.

  16. Easily the most disappointing effort of the season. I was really happy for Petrov when he took his podium. If the car had been up to it, who knows, we may have seen him up there again. He strikes me as a pretty decent defensive driver (need I mention Abu Dhabi 2010?!) so i’m sure he could hold his own, until DRS got the better of him.

    I did love the radical approach to the car. I remember when we spent hours looking at obscure pictures of when the car launched, trying to figure out just what was going on at the front. However, unfortunately it didn’t deliver. It’s always nice to see a bit of radical design but next year I think they ought to go a little more conventional, if only to suit two drivers who have been out of the sport for two years.

    A shame we never got to see Kubica in the R31 but not that big a shame, I doubt he could have done much with it either.

    I’m not particularly keen on Boullier but i’ll give him another season I guess, he’s not the only decision maker in Enstone.

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