It was such a promising start to the 2011 season for Lotus Renault.
Vitaly Petrov drove a fine race to finish on the podium in Australia, beating world-class veterans such as Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Jenson Button. Two weeks later in Malaysia, it was Nick Heidfeld’s turn to take to the podium with a third place finish in Sepang. It did seem that life could go on without the injured Robert Kubica.
However, it’s fair to say the team has slumped in previous races. There have been no podiums since the opening two rounds of the season and it is clear the team has fallen behind in terms of performance. At one stage they appeared to have a car with potential to challenge the leading three teams of Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren. But now the realistic battle is in the midfield with Mercedes, Sauber and Force India.
Petrov has improved greatly this year and Heidfeld does bring experience. But the team really is missing the world-class touch of Kubica. When he's on, Kubica can beat anyone, or at least mix-in with the best—as shown numerous times last season (such as his fantastic qualifying in Monaco where he split the Red Bulls and his second place in Australia).
The Pole has the ability to lead a team with passion and enthusiasm—a factor missing from the Renault team this season ever since Kubica’s huge accident back at the start of the year.
In terms of Kubica’s injury, it seems he won’t be returning to action this season, but instead is aiming for a 2012 return. Speaking to the Renault website, Kubica said: “It is still too early to have a clear picture for the timing of my return, but the important thing is the final outcome, not the hurry.”
Most importantly, Kubica is well on his way to recovery. Whilst it was thought after his accident that he might not ever race again, it seems he should be okay in time for next season. For now though, Renault must stick with Petrov and Heidfeld. Petrov’s fifth in Canada and some consistent points from Heidfeld show promise to a decent end to the season for the Enstone team.
Renault say they have upgrades planned in the upcoming races, so there should be a performance increase. But the real shame about Kubica’s injury is that we will never see what he could have done with this year's car. Formula One has sorely missed Kubica this season, so let's hope he is back to his best in 2012.
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