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Renault needs to move quickly to replace Kubica

Martin Williamson February 6, 2011

Officially Bruno Senna is set to replace Robert Kubica after it was revealed the Pole's injuries mean he will be unable to drive for Renault this season following his accident in Italy. With five weeks to go before the season opener in Bahrain, Renault will be frantically considering its options for the coming months.

It has two reserve drivers in Senna and Romain Grosjean. At the launch of the 2011 car last Monday, Renault boss Eric Boullier was asked who would be the first choice if either Kubica or Vitaly Petrov were unavailable. "Bruno is currently the most ready," was his brief response.

But while that might be an acceptable option if Kubica had only missed one or two races, the whole situation changes with it being the whole season. To be blunt, neither is good enough to sustain Renault's ambition to main its place as the fifth big team.

Senna was a disappointment in his debut season for HRT, and while he was in a poor car, the way he was outperformed by Christian Klien when he arrived mid-season raised serious concerns as to his ability. Grosjean drove in seven grands prix for Renault in 2009 without ever setting the world alight.

Given the levels of investment in the team, backers will want a name to accompany the inexperienced Petrov as the season progresses, and Boullier will be frantically scouring around for a more substantial replacement.

There are options as several drivers with experience lost their seats at the end of 2010. Lucas di Grassi, Pedro de la Rosa and Nick Heidfeld would all be capable and if they came on board immediately would be ready to start in Bahrain. But Kubica is a special talent and none would be anything but a stopgap solution.

Tonio Liuzzi, assuming his contract dispute with Force India was resolved, might be an option as he drove throughout 2010, has a solid history and has no ties. But, like the other three, he is hardly someone to set the pulse racing.

But this could well be the chance for Nico Hulkenburg, controversially dumped by Williams at the end of 2010, to return to the grid. He is the best young driver without a seat and with Renault not obsessed with how much money he can bring to the table with him, his signing would be justified on merit.

The one obstacle is that he has been signed as a test driver by Force India, but if his manager did not negotiate an escape clause in his contact permitting him to leave if a race seat at another team came along, then Hulkenburg needs to change management.

Failing that, Renault may need to buy out the contract, but whatever the cost, it would be a cheap option and one that would land them a driver fit to fill the unfortunate Kubica's boots.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo