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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
2011 F1 season review
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- 2011 F1 statistics part one: car performance
- New 2011 rules produced best racing of last four years
- What F1 Fanatics really thought of the 2011 season
- Sebastian Vettel voted F1 Fanatic Driver of the Year
- F1 Fanatic’s article highlights of 2011
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Images © Renault/LAT