Renault still targeting Mercedes for 4th; and about that Kimi guy…

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Renault boss Eric Bouiller still has his eyes on fourth place in the constructors race, meaning he believes the team can leapfrog Mercedes GP during the next four races.

He also wants to look in Kimi Raikkonen’s eyes before any final decision is made about hiring the former world champ.

Those are among the topics of a Q&A up at the official Formula 1 site.

Bouiller on Renault’s prospects for the rest of the season:

Q: Eric, Renault lie fifth the constructors’ championship. Four races into the season – when you were also fifth – you said that fourth was the goal for the end of the season. With four races to go, can you do it?
Eric Boullier: Ah, we are close to it. Our car has improved hugely since the start of the season and with all due respect to our competitors, I am optimistic that we can pull it off.

Q: Your rivals for P4 are Mercedes GP. Is there a bit of extra motivation knowing that seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher is part of the rival team?
EB: No, not at all. We want to be world champion one day and we don’t care against whom we succeed. Mercedes is one of the last manufacturers left in Formula One – that probably spices up the situation. On top of that they are the reigning world champions.

Q: At the start of the season did you really believe that you could be so successful in 2010? The team underwent a dramatic reshuffle over the winter…
EB: Somehow I did. I knew what the technical capacity of the team is and that we have good people that co-operate excellently together.

As a reminder, Renault is 35 points adrift of Mercedes, sitting at 133 to Merc’s 168. And that means if Renault is going to give it a go, Robert Kubica is going to need some help from rookie Vitaly Petrov. Bouiller at the least suggests as much in his comments on the Russian:

Q: What role do your current drivers Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov play in that?
EB: Robert’s role is beyond any doubt. Vitaly has to show us in the four remaining races that he is the man we can hand over our second cockpit to in 2011 to follow our self-defined goal. If he fails to convince us he will not drive our car. If he satisfies us we will keep him. But we don’t put pressure on ourselves when it comes to our full driver line-up for 2011. Only one hint: we definitely will not wait until January.

Q: Is it only a question of performance? It is no secret that having a Russian on the grid is good for Formula One, and the Russian market must also be very interesting for Renault…
EB: I know that a Russian driver would be appreciated and Russia holds a huge potential for all companies present in Formula One. However, for us the performance of a driver is still the first criteria – and then the passport. Performance clearly wins over marketing potential because if a driver doesn’t deliver then the marketing potential is also limited. You must never put the cart before the horse, or at least we don’t. For a French driver the nationality would similarly not smooth his way into the cockpit if he was lacking performance.

Credit to Bouiller. He is keeping to the script when it comes to Petrov’s needing to prove himself, and that that is the first and key part of any decision about next year’s second seat at Renault.

So… if Petrov doesn’t wow the team? Who might it be? Before we get to the big name, here’s two others:

Q: The rumour mill has suggested you could also be considering German drivers Nick Heidfeld and Adrian Sutil as potential Petrov replacements…
EB: Now I have to choose my words very carefully. Let’s put it this way: we don’t have a direct contact right now and the door is not open yet, but we have signalled that it could open under certain circumstances.

Sounds like you can chalk those two up as definite possibilities. I wonder what Kubica would have to say about re-teaming with Nick?

OK, well, I’m about as slow to get to Kimi as Kimi was to get out of the mud during this past weekend’s Rally of France. Here it is:

Q: And there is still former world champion Kimi Raikkonen in the picture…
EB: He contacted us. But once again, our main issue at the moment is whether we should keep Petrov. Only if this question is negated we will look for replacement. Regarding Kimi, I would have to speak personally with him first, look him in the eyes to see if I see enough motivation there for him to return to Formula One. It doesn’t make sense to hire somebody – even a former world champion – if you cannot be sure that his motivation is still one hundred percent. Why should you invest in somebody who leaves you guessing?

I’m a bit worried Bouiller is setting himself up here. He’s pulled some form of the “looking Kimi in the eye” line a few times now. If the team were to hire Kimi, and Kimi goes all “this is boring” on them, it could be a big problem for the team boss. (As could skipping over Kimi, having Kimi end up at some other team — which does seem unlikely given the Finn’s desire for a top car — and exceeding expectations. The Kimi game, while good press right now, isn’t one without any danger.)

Bouiller has a few other interesting points:

Q: Does Robert Kubica have any influence on who will be his future team mate?
EB: It is important that there is good vibe in the team, because that is part of a successful package. I will ask Robert his opinion, but we will decide. We will choose a driver that the team needs and not Robert Kubica.

Q: Have you already considered the new tyre supplier Pirelli in the development of your 2011 car…
EB: …and that Nick Heidfeld who has done the initial tests for Pirelli should be first choice? Because he sits on important information and would without doubt give them to his new team? I think that Pirelli will inform all the teams in due course.

Q: What about the rumour that Renault is thinking of buying back a majority stake in the team?
EB: There is nothing to it.

You catch the meaning of the ellipses in that second answer, right? That he finishes up the thought, one that I know Todd and the F1B gang have touched on during podcasts. What extra knowledge might Nick bring with him? Even if Pirelli does “inform all the teams” that still is missing the feedback and understanding that Nick, as the driver, has.

You got to figure Nick will get a seat somewhere in 2011. Turns out that decision to go test for Pirelli might be the one that sees his career last a few extra seasons.

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