Race-off between Heidfeld and Senna for Kubica Renault seat
Both drivers will get their chance to impress this week as Renault begin search to replace injured driver
Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna will both get the opportunity to showcase their credentials at Jerez this week as Renault seek a replacement for injured driver Robert Kubica.
Heidfeld, who raced for Sauber towards the end of last season following spells testing with Mercedes and Pirelli, is one of the favourites to replace the Pole, who will be out of action for at least several months of the season after a serious crash in the Ronde di Andora rally on Sunday.
Senna, who made his Formula 1 debut in 2010 with Hispania Racing, is now a reserve driver at Renault but his relative inexperience could count against him, with Vitaly Petrov also in his second season in the sport.
Renault team owner Gerard Lopez had targeted unattached drivers Heidfeld and former Force India driver Vitantonio Liuzzi as a possible replacement. The German will get a chance to show he still has the pace, in the R31, despite being close to a return to Mercedes as reserve driver.
“We all know that Nick is rather good, but we don’t know what level he is at now, we don’t know how he does with our car,” said Lopez.
“Same goes for Vitantonio Liuzzi, same goes-I don’t know-for Bruno Senna, who last year was in a team with a car that could do nothing.”
A Lotus Renault statement read: “Lotus Renault GP has revised its driver line-up for this week’s test session in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.
“Vitaly Petrov will drive the R31 on Thursday and Friday, as originally scheduled. For Saturday and Sunday, the team will give mileage to Bruno Senna and will also evaluate Nick Heidfeld, who is a potential replacement for Robert Kubica as a race driver.”
This season would be Heidfeld’s 11th in F1 since making his debut in 2000. With 172 race starts he would be the clear favourite over Senna, who endured a torrid time with Hispania last season.
It remains to be seen how Senna handles a far superior car to the one he drove in 2010, but if Heidfeld can demonstrate that his pace is comparable to or quicker than Senna, Lopez would have no choice but to opt for the German who would also be able to help the team develop the car and possibly mentor Petrov.
Kubica’s absence is a huge blow to Renault’s championship ambitions for 2011 with some having tipped him to challenge for the title. Early indications suggest the R31 will be a competitive car, as Kubica topped the time sheets in the first test in Valencia last week.
Kubica’s surgeon Mario Igor Rossello believes that it could be a year before he regains full functionality of his right hand, but Renault team boss Eric Boullier is hopeful his driver could be back in two or three months.
Kubica has already undergone a seven-hour operation on his hand but faces further surgery to repair arm and leg fractures, and it is unclear how long the multiple injuries will take to heal.