Lotus Renault GP is targeting a repeat of its runner-up finish in last year's Australian Grand Prix as the F1 2011 World Championship campaign belatedly roars into life in Melbourne this weekend – only this time, reveals Eric Boullier, the aim and intention is to reach the podium on merit.
For the second winter in succession, Renault has been in the wars, with lead driver Robert Kubica's career-threatening rallying accident last month the major drama this time around, and one that threw the team's plans – which had hitherto looked so encouraging – into utter disarray.
Underlining the new, calmer approach that permeates the corridors at Enstone now in the post-Flavio Briatore period, however, the team has picked itself up again, hired the perfect replacement for the Pole in the shape of experienced Sauber refugee Nick Heidfeld and got back on with the business of refining the aggressive new R31 and preparing itself as best as possible for the hostilities to come.
Despite some early reliability niggles – the product of having pushed the envelope arguably further than any of its rivals in an era of renewed technological upheaval – Lotus Renault GP managing director Boullier affirms that the team is fighting fit and ready to go.
“I feel excited,” the Frenchman enthused. “We had a tough winter with a lot of unfortunate and unexpected news, but we have reacted quickly and we are ready for the season. We usually say that everybody in the team has been working very hard over the winter to prepare for the new season, but it's never been so true.
“We have done an enormous amount of work over the last few weeks to really understand this car and get the performance from it. We have some interesting and promising developments on our car, and what I can say is that we are clearly in better shape in terms of ultimate performance compared to last year, which was our target.
“We had to build and produce lots of new technology for the car, but our resources are not unlimited and there were a couple of issues which reduced our mileage. We have addressed those problems, though, and I'm now feeling more confident than I was three weeks ago. The number one priority given this winter to our engineers [was to] first of all make us a quick car, take risks [and] be innovative. The R31 is very different from anything the team has produced before, and we're very proud of that. Now it's time to go racing!”
Kubica was the architect of an impressive and characteristically gritty performance in inclement and changeable conditions to clinch the runner-up spoils in Australia twelve months ago, but Boullier is convinced that in Heidfeld and team-mate Vitaly Petrov, Renault remains in positive shape arriving Down Under.
“I think Nick has settled in as well as we could have expected,” he confirmed. “The more he works with the team, the easier things become and he has already built a good relationship with everybody. Vitaly now knows the people, the car, the tracks – and obviously that makes a big difference compared to last year. We can expect him to deliver strong races from the start of the season, just like he ended last season in Abu Dhabi.
“Last year we finished second [in Melbourne], with the help of the weather. I would love to do the same this year, without any help!”