Lotus Renault GP team principal Eric Boullier has installed Bruno Senna in place of Nick Heidfeld in the No. 9 Renault for the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix.
The Brazilian ended the day 17th fastest in free practice at Spa, while the man he replaced confirmed that he is taking the team to the UK's High Court in London in a bid to regain his drive, all the while continuing to wear team gear in the Spa paddock.
At the end of practice, Boullier sat down with the press to explain why Renault had switched drivers, what his assessment of Nick Heidfeld's performance had been in 2011 and what the team hopes to achieve for the rest of the year.
Q. Can you explain why you chose to replace Nick Heidfeld?
Eric Boullier: We reviewed our performance and our level of motivation, a lot of things through the summertime, and I had to take some decision to clearly show some new direction. There was an opportunity as well to assess Bruno as a driver, and this is why we moved on.
Q. Was it to do with a financial situation, and perhaps some sponsorship from Brazil?
EB: No. It is always the same story coming out. It is amazing. Yes there is some relationship with Brazil because Genii has signed a $10 billion deal in Brazil, but it is nothing related to Bruno. Nothing. Bruno is the third driver, so it is logical that if we want to change our driver lineup then we promote our third driver, period.
Q. Don't you think it is a strange situation being in court with one of your drivers?
EB: It is not a strange situation. We have a contract in place and actually I understand that they have a different interpretation to the contract than I have, so we have a difference of opinion. He did not want to speak about any settlement so he decided to go to the [UK] High Court, and the court ruled out everything in our favor, so that is it. End of story.
Q. Would he drive again if he wins his case?
EB: Their lawyers are trying to go to court now. But you never know with justice. The High Court ruled in our favor so everything he is asking was pushed back. I will not comment [more]. This is a legal case, and we have to go back on the Sept. 19. Anything is possible; you give your hand and put your life in the hand of someone who can decide anything. The courts have said no, no, no.
Q. What is your relationship like with Nick?
EB: Very friendly. Obviously.
Q. What did he do wrong?
EB: I am not here to explain everything. But every session, every weekend, the media jump on me asking why Vitaly is faster than Nick. Every time. I was not very happy with the pure speed of Nick and his global performance as an experienced driver, that is it.
Q. But he has more points than Petrov; normally you swap drivers who are behind?
EB: It is my decision, OK? If I am not happy it is not only my decision, it is both decisions for this company. If you are not happy with a driver....I didn't break a contract. The best evidence is the court refused [his action].
Q. Before the Senna situation arrived, there was speculation that Romain Grosjean would maybe get some races once the GP2 season has finished. What is the situation there? Is that going to happen?
EB: No. That is pure speculation again from people.
Q. So Senna is in for the rest of the season?
EB: The decision was to replace Nick with Bruno until the end of the season, yes. Because there is another hearing now, we have to say that we are sure that Bruno will be driving here and Monza because the High Court gave us the right to do it. Then after, everything can happen because we go to the court on the 19th [of September].
Q. Why do you think Senna is better than Heidfeld?
EB: I never said he is better. I said that I was not happy with the global performance of Nick. For many reasons, and not just speed, it would be better for the team to have a different driver lineup.
Q. Do you now regret not taking Senna at the start of the season when you had the chance?
EB: No. I was happy with the decision we took with Nick. Nick is a nice guy, but I think something did not work. His leadership didn't work in the team and when you are sometimes slower than Vitaly, in fact most of the time slower than Vitaly, it is difficult for him to push the team and to settle himself as the team leader.
In the end, if you talk about management, not just speed, when you have the negative spin starting, the negative loop, it is complicated to stop it. I don't say the performance of the team was because of Nick. The car is not good enough, we have not developed the car well enough, we made mistakes as well – but the loop is negative. So I had to change something in the team and I had to change some things with the drivers as well to shake up and wake up everybody. I need to bring this motivation back to make sure that we can shake up everything, and it is not easy.
Q. Can Petrov step up to team leadership if Robert Kubica does not come back?
EB: We will see.
Q. Where are we with Kubica now?
EB: He has another surgery to go through, so we have to wait until he is fully recovered. I know this is the last one, and then he will finally start the full rehabilitation.
Q. But it is still your plan to have him back next year?
EB: Of course. If he is ready, of course.
Q. What do you expect from Senna?
EB: To match Vitaly's pace. As soon as possible. Obviously he needs some time, but by Singapore I would say.
Q. Going back to Kubica, can we now rule him out for this season as there has been talk about the last race being a possibility?
EB: To be honest, I don't know. I don't believe so. He is recovering well, but this last operation will be another pain to go through. He will then have to go through full rehabilitation, as well as the driving one. Because not only will he need to be ready physically, but he will still need to get back his feelings in the car.
Q. Have you scheduled a simulator run for him yet?
EB: If we need it we will do it, yes. It is easy to go into a simulator. The most complicated part is to get some 2009 cars ready to run for him.
Q. Are you happy that Heidfeld is running around in team gear in Belgium?
EB: As long as he keeps promoting the team, I am fine.
Q. Are you surprised that he turned up here?
EB: Yes, a little bit. Obviously I guess he does not want to put himself in a breach situation, this is why. So as long as he keeps putting himself in a position to promote the team, and not telling anything else, then I am fine.
Q. Is he allowed to go into the garage?
EB: Of course. He is still under contract so we have no issue with that.
Q. Don't you think it is a risky situation to replace Heidfeld with a rookie driver in this period of the season?
EB: Yes, it is risky. But if you want to get back to first position you have to take risks. I decided with my board that we should go that way, because we have a third driver who has some experience, not enough, but some. And it is also a good way to assess him in real conditions.