Renault team principal Eric Boullier has confessed that it has been 'flattering' that a driver of the calibre of 2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen has expressed an interest in competing for the Enstone-based outfit next year – as stories begin to spread that should the Finn indeed come on-board, present incumbent Vitaly Petrov could find a new home at Lotus Racing.
It was confirmed by Raikkonen's manager Steve Robertson last week that the 18-time grand prix-winner turned World Rally Championship (WRC) convert – who achieved his breakthrough rally victory for the Citroën Junior Team last weekend, on the Rallye Vosgien which forms part of the French national series – has approached Renault about the possibility of making a return to the grid in the cockpit alongside Robert Kubica in F1 2011 [see separate story – click here
That, Boullier contends, is a measure of just how much progress the team has made after looking to be down-and-out following the damaging 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal last year and subsequent loss of double world champion Fernando Alonso, key sponsors ING and Mutua Madrileña and disgraced figureheads Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds. The Frenchman argues that now under new management following the majority buy-out by Gérard Lopez's Luxembourg-based investment firm Genii Capital, Renault is firmly back on the road to rediscovering its former glories.
“It's flattering,” he told AFP
, “because it shows that our team is again attractive to an F1 World Champion. Our simulations show that our car has improved by about one-and-three-quarter seconds between the first test [of 2010] and now. We have been one of the teams with the greatest progressions. That is a true source of satisfaction – we have proved the team has the qualities to operate at the highest level.”
Whilst it likely remains a long shot that Raikkonen will sign up for a comeback, should the 30-year-old elect to do so, it would leave F1 2010 rookie Petrov out in the cold, with Boullier having been non-committal about the young Russian's future in the light of a string of frustratingly inconsistent showings to-date.
Lopez confessed in the wake of a scrappy performance over the weekend of the Italian Grand Prix last time out that he 'doubts Monza is the place where [Petrov] has done enough to justify his seat next year' [see separate story – click here
], and with Lotus widely expected to firm up a technical and engine-supply partnership with Renault for 2011, the Anglo/Malaysian newcomer has been mooted as a potential safety net for the 26-year-old, ostensibly in-place of Heikki Kovalainen.
Italy and the upcoming Singapore Grand Prix this weekend are understood to be key races for the 'Vyborg Rocket' to convince Renault management of his potential, but the man himself remains adamant that he is not worried, insisting: “I will be in F1 in 2011. Hopefully, when I come [to the tracks] next year, I won't need to learn anything.”