Lotus Renault GP has narrowed it down to a shortlist of just three drivers with a view to finding a replacement for the injured Robert Kubica in F1 2011, it seems – although BBC F1
pit-lane reporter Ted Kravitz reckons there is one overwhelming favourite to snare the seat.
Kubica broke his arm and leg and did serious damage to his hand in an accident on the Ronde di Andora Rally in Italy last weekend, with a piece of Armco barrier penetrating straight through the Skoda Fabia RS the Pole was sharing with co-driver Jakub Gerber, who emerged from the wreckage unscathed.
Judging by photographs of the crash, Kubica was indeed lucky to escape with his life, but as the former Canadian Grand Prix-winner begins what is expected to be a long period of convalescence – with some doubting whether he will even be able to return to F1 at all – focus is already shifting to the identity of the driver who will likely take his place in a car that on initial evidence at least, is set to be the season's dark horse.
Lotus Renault GP managing director Eric Boullier hinted earlier this week that the selection process has now been reduced to just three men – reserve driver Bruno Senna, out-of-work BMW-Sauber refugee Nick Heidfeld and Vitantonio Liuzzi, who has similarly been linked to buying his way into the vacant Hispania Racing (HRT) berth using his pay-off settlement from Force India F1.
Boullier did stress that there are two additional candidates who are 'in perfect condition to drive the car' – widely-assumed to be Senna's fellow reserve Romain Grosjean and Pedro de la Rosa – but the former has been displaced from this week's Jerez test to make way for Heidfeld, and the latter has perhaps too much of a 'journeyman' image inside the paddock. Former F1 World Champion-turned-rallying convert Kimi Raikkonen has also been mooted, but Kravitz reckons the decision is now all-but made.
“I would suspect that Heidfeld will get the nod,” he opined during a special pre-season BBC F1
'Meet the Team' session. “Eric Boullier has said 'we're looking at three drivers – Bruno Senna, Tonio Liuzzi and Nick Heidfeld'. Heidfeld is out-of-contract, so it's easy contractually; he has experience of making tyres last and looking after them; he's committed, experienced and he can score points for fun – he's an established points-scorer.
“He also has KERS experience, and the only other people amongst the top six drivers who have long-term KERS experience are Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa, and even Felipe didn't do the whole of the  season because of his accident.
“Kimi Raikkonen I don't think is going to happen – he's not exactly friends with Renault at the moment because they used his name in vain in the middle of last season, and the last I heard, he was telling Eric Boullier that he doesn't know how to go about doing business correctly. I don't think Kimi will even pick up his 'phone if Eric Boullier rings him up. I don't think the other ones are going to happen, either.
“I would say Nick Heidfeld is the man to score some points – which is what they need. He is a safe pair of hands, although he'll rattle around a bit in that Renault cockpit, won't he – they're tall boys, Kubica and Petrov...