Author: Berthold Bouman
Renault confirms Heidfeld will replace Kubica
Today Lotus Renault GP confirmed Nick Heidfeld will replace his former BMW-Sauber colleague Robert Kubica. Kubica sustained serious injuries during a rally ten days ago, and it is expected the Pole will be at least several months out of the running before he is fit enough to race again. The 33-year old Heidfeld has tested the Renault R31 at the Circuito de Jerez last Saturday and made a big impression after he topped the time sheets in a car he was not familiar with. Other candidates for the vacancy were Brazilian Bruno Senna, Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi and Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa.
Last Saturday during the test at Jerez Heidfeld described "feeling funny' when asked about his possible return to Formula One. "You know very well that someone's bad luck might turn out well for you and obviously I'd like to come back in different circumstances." he said after driving the R31. Senna, Renault's test and reserve driver, has also been testing the R31 on Sunday, but team principal Eric Boullier has admitted he never considered Senna to replace Kubica. "Senna's day of testing was not to evaluate him, but rather to give him some mileage to prepare him in his role as the third driver," he said after testing at Jerez had been concluded.
Heidfeld, with Kubica's accident still in mind, today commented on his new position: "I would have liked to come back to Formula 1 in different circumstances, but I'm proud to have been given this chance." He was also impressed by his new employer, "Everything has happened so quickly, but I've been very impressed by what I have seen so far in terms of the facilities and the dedication of the people at Enstone. I really enjoyed the test last week in Jerez and I've already settled in well with the guys at the track." And he is looking forward to the third pre-season test session in Barcelona next week, "I have a good feeling for the car, which is quite innovative. I'm extremely motivated and can't wait for the season to begin."
Team principal Eric Boullier told it has been an emotional two weeks for Renault, "The team has been through a very difficult couple of weeks and we had to react quickly." He was impressed with the German, and thinks Heidfeld was a logical choice," We gave Nick a chance in Jerez last week and he really impressed us. He's quick, experienced and is very strong technically with his feedback and understanding of the car."
And the Frenchman admitted Renault really needed an experienced driver to replace Kubica, "We always said the priority was to have an experienced driver in the car and we feel he is the ideal man for the job. We are pleased to welcome Nick to the team and look forward to a strong start to the season with him and Vitaly in Bahrain." Although rumors emerged this week that the injured Kubica preferred his friend Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi to replace him, Renault has ultimately opted for 'Quick Nick'.
Heidfeld is a very experienced driver, he not only has participated in 174 Grands Prix, but also scored 12 podium finishes and scored 225 world championship points. He drove for Prost, Sauber, Jordan, Williams and BMW- Sauber, and last year was Mercedes' test and reserve driver. He has also been Pirelli test driver this winter, which according to insiders had also increased his value as a regular driver for this season. Because Heidfeld wasn't counting on a return and even had considered to switch to DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) he forgot to renew his FIA Super License. "that was the last thing on my mind," Heidfeld said last week.
Heidfeld's schedule for next week during the last test on European soil has also been announced. This Friday, February 18, Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov will be practicing pit stops in the morning, and in the afternoon Petrov will resume his testing duties. On Saturday Heidfeld will be behind the wheel of the Renault, on Sunday Petrov, and on Monday Heidfeld again.
How long he will replace Kubica is still unknown, today Kubica underwent his final surgery on his elbow, and it can take several months before the unfortunate Pole will have recovered from his horrific injuries. Kubica and his manager Daniel Morelli have decided he will stay at the Santa Corona hospital in Italy for his long rehabilitation process.
Kubica speaks fluently Italian and Morelli is adamant the Italian hospital is the right place for Kubica's rehabilitation. Morelli, "In light of the situation, it is the most appropriate decision for Robert, also in order to stay in constant contact with the specialists and the medical staff that has operated him, especially at a delicate time such as the beginning of the rehabilitation phase."