The man who rescued the Renault F1 team from a potential exit from the top flight has hailed the performances of its number one driver, insisting that he has what it takes to be world champion.
Gerard Lopez, whose Genii Capital Investments company bought a major shareholding in the Anglo-French team to preserve its F1 status over the winter, admitted that he has been impressed by Robert Kubica's start to the 2010 campaign, but less so by the Pole's abilities on track - because he was already a fan of those.
“I knew Robert from BMW, even before he was an F1 driver there,” Lopez told SPEEDtv.com
, "and I'm a very strong believer that, on pure speed and character, he's one of the few that deserves a world championship at some time.”
Kubica, who is recovering from a dire 2009 campaign that eventually led to BMW's decision to withdraw from F1, is defying sceptics who suggested that moving to Renault would not help resurrect his reputation, and has registered a string of points finishes in the last three races. Having only missed out on making it four-from-four after being spun on the opening lap in Bahrain, he sits seventh in the championship standings and only ten points from third place.
The Pole, who has again been linked to a possible move to Ferrari, has been helped by some solid raceday performances from a revitalised Renault team but, according to Lopez, hampered slightly by the R30's lack of qualifying pace.
“[China] was a good race for us," the Luxembourg-based businessman confirmed "Again, the team made no mistakes and made the right decisions, and they've been doing that since the beginning of the season.
“In qualifying, Robert is pretty much where we are supposed to be right now, between sixth and eighth probably, but, in the races we're better. The car is where we expected in the races, and we're working very hard to get it up to speed in qualifying."
After producing a dog of a car in 2009, and denying even a talent of Fernando Alonso's magnitude the chance to take more than a single podium, Renault has bounced back with a more attractive - and clearly more competitive - machine in 2010. It will not be resting on its laurels, however, with Lopez insisting that upgrades will keep on coming.
“After we took over the team, we worked extremely hard on development, and we're bringing out a package pretty much every race, so it's a very aggressive development schedule," he revealed, "If you remember, at the last test in Barcelona [in February], we were not brilliant, but we had a major upgrade and the car was different for Bahrain.
"So the car is obviously good but, for Barcelona, we've new bits on the car. Obviously, it's a big grand prix for all the other teams, so there are going to be major updates, but hopefully we'll catch up. It's going to tell us where we stand and then we'll take it from there.”