2010 started with uncertainty for the Renault team. Rumours persisted that the French manufacturer would follow the lead of BMW and Toyota at the end of 2009 and leave the sport following the race fixing controversy in 2008 despite having signed Robert Kubica to lead the team following the departure of Fernando Alonso.
A buy-out by the Genii Capital group ensured the team would continue to race in 2010 and beyond and Renault continued to provide support to the team. Robert Kubica was partnered with newcomer Vitaly Petrov, the only Russian to compete in Formula 1.
The season started slowly for Renault, regular points finishes by Kubica were the highs in the year, but these were cancelled out by the early non-finishes by Petrov and regularly being classified outside the top 10.
Over the past couple of seasons, Renault have had one of the highest rates of development during the year, which has enabled them to steadily increase their performance over the course of the season. The problem they have had is initially starting from a lower base which has meant they have to work harder on development during the season.
In 2010, that development meant constant upgrades to the front wing and being one of the first teams to direct their ‘f’-duct onto the main plane of the rear wing, as opposed to the flap.
Despite the engine freeze, the Renault engine has fallen behind on power compared to the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari. This has been something Renault have been keen to address, but the driveability and reported fuel economy of the engine gives it different characteristics than needing peak power.
2011 marks investment from Group Lotus in the form of a sponsorship agreement. The car company is keen to further its involvement in Formula 1 and this sponsorship deal will mark significant investment and security to the team.
Upgrades to their wind tunnel and CFD capability will help to have a better package for the R31. If they can start the year with a strong package, and continue the rate of development during the season as they have for the past few years, Renault has a strong chance of breaking into the teams at the top to challenge for podiums and race wins.
Joining Renault after the withdrawal of BMW at the end of 2009, Robert Kubica was the leader that the team needed after the uncertainty surrounding their future. 2nd place in Australia was followed by strong points finishes.
Always pushing and driving the car to its maximum Robert has established himself as a quick driver, only being outside of the third qualifying session a solitary time at the final race in Abu Dhabi.
2011 will require a big step from the R31 to allow Robert to push for more podiums and ultimately race wins. Constant rumours of a move to Ferrari are testament of his speed, and if he is unable to race at the front in the Renault, he may consider making the move to the Scuderia if that opportunity becomes available.
The Russian started off slowly in his Formula 1 career, three non finishes in the first three races meant a difficult start to the season. These were followed by a points finish in China, but results after this suffered and Petrov only had two further points finishes.
The mid part of the season was full of rumours that he had been pushed harder to pick up his speed with talk of him being replaced. Bringing in sponsorship to the team may have helped him stay in the seat until the end of the season.
Unable to match the speed of his team-mate, Vitaly has found it difficult in his rookie year. However, when his team mate is Robert Kubica, it is understandable that he has been off the pace of the Pole.
The impressive drive at the final race of the season to finish 6th and hold of Fernando Alonso for most of the race was a highlight, but Petrov knows he needs more performances like that to hold on to his drive beyond the 2011 season.