Double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso 'will be missed enormously' at Renault, Bob Bell has admitted as the Spaniard's last race with the French manufacturer approaches in Abu Dhabi this weekend – but the incoming Robert Kubica will prove to be 'of the same calibre' as the driver who has delivered the team the lion's share of its success in recent years.
Alonso will depart Renault at the end of the campaign to switch camps to Ferrari following no fewer than two drivers' titles, 17 grand prix victories, 16 pole positions and 41 podium finishes with the Enstone-based outfit since 2003, and the man from Oviedo will be replaced by his good friend and fellow poker player, current BMW-Sauber star and former Canadian Grand Prix-winner Robert Kubica.
Whilst Alonso's absence will naturally be keenly felt, acting Renault F1 team principal and technical director Bell is confident that the Pole will be more than capable of taking up the mantle of de facto
“He (Alonso) has made a huge contribution to the team – especially winning two world championships in 2005 and 2006 – so he will be missed enormously,” confessed the Ulsterman. “It's often said that he is the best driver on the grid and I wouldn't disagree with that, so we're understandably sad to see the end of our very successful relationship.
“We're also looking forward, though, and we're all delighted to be welcoming Robert Kubica to the team as I believe he will quickly show that he is of the same calibre as Fernando. He's a strong team player, a great motivator and incredibly quick – so we have plenty to look forward to as we enter a new era for the team.”
Before that happens, of course, Renault and Alonso have one final race together – the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, to be held around the eagerly-anticipated, all-new, anti-clockwise Yas Marina street circuit – and following a disappointing outing at Interlagos, Bell admits that a strong result, and ideally a podium, will be eagerly-sought as F1 gets set to enter the twilight zone.
“It was very frustrating to lose Fernando from the race through no fault of his own,” the 51-year-old mused of the opening lap Brazilian Grand Prix contretemps
that claimed Alonso as its innocent victim, “although we have to be grateful that he didn't have a bigger accident with the Force India. We also have to be grateful that we didn't get incinerated on the pit wall as we felt the heat from the fireball in the pit-lane!
“Romain [Grosjean] simply didn't have the pace in the early part of the race as he wasn't happy with the grip of the car, which cost him a lot of ground. The weekend didn't meet our expectations, especially as we lost our advantage over BMW [in the constructors' championship], and we now face an uphill struggle to beat them in the final race.
“I think all the teams enjoy visiting a new country, though, and a new track always has a modern infrastructure with so much space available for the mechanics and engineers. It remains to be seen how good the circuit will be in terms of the action it produces, but from what I've seen so far it seems the organisers have done an excellent job. As a team we enjoy the challenge of a new track, and we will be ready to exploit any advantage we can.