Renault has been through some fairly troubled times in recent years, and it is the task of new team principal Eric Boullier to turn things around for the French car manufacturer.
Such a responsibility may have left many overwhelmed, but Boullier has grasped the opportunity and set about doing the hard work he knows is needed to make a success of the Enstone-based outfit.
This is what Boullier had to say when he met the press during the launch of Renault's new R30 at Valencia on Sunday.
Q. You've had your feet under the desk at Enstone for several weeks now. How does it feel, and what have you done in that time frame?
Eric Boullier - Renault's team principal: I feel better! Or should I say more comfortable. Definitely the task is huge. It is a lot to learn, to read, to understand, to see, or do whatever, in a very short time. I fixed myself the objective to be ready for Bahrain so the schedule is a bit crazy and hectic, but it is fine.
Q. Are the challenges and hurdles you have to overcome, the same kind of thing you experienced in Formula 3000 and GP2?
EB: Yes, it is the same but on a different scale. You definitely feel that this is a race team, which is not new to me. You just have more to concentrate in terms of reactivity, because it is just bigger -- so you have more processes to go through. But it is OK.
Q. When we spoke on the day you were appointed, you said one of your key targets was to lift everyone's chins up again and make them feel a bit happier after the troubles of last year. Do you feel you are making progress on that front?
EB: Yes. You definitely feel it. It is not just a question of having words -- you have to have facts. And definitely, everybody was a bit concerned having three years not very good in terms of results, after working like hell. They are definitely racers there.
The new package, with Genii and Renault, everybody was wondering who they were and what was the strategy for Renault. I think we needed some time to pass along the message inside the team, as well as outside. I think the puzzle is coming together -- first the Renault colors show that Renault is here, and clearly that Renault is here to stay for the long term. Now people start to understand the strategy for Renault and Genii to work together -- and thanks to this cooperation you can open up massively the business contacts. If you are Genii alone it is difficult, if you are Renault alone it is also difficult because of the past story of being a manufacture, but I think the combination is good.
Now people understand we are here for the best of the team. We are here to win on track and winning on track will help a lot the team.
Q. Do you plan some changes with the structure of the team?
EB: So far we don't plan anything. We are just in the process inside the company, but we don't plan to change anything drastic within the team. This team won four times the F1 world championship with the same people, so we just need to make sure the people are working together like they worked before.
Q. Renault struggled over the past few years. What do you have to do to change the situation and come back?
EB: There are lots of things we have found out that we could bring that will help to bring back a successful combination within the team. First, it is daily management ready to focus on racing -- which I think will help a lot. It will allow people to touch base where they want to be, and know what they have to do.
Q. When it came to choosing a second driver, what were the criteria that you were asked to look at, and how important was money to your choice?
EB: Not really a big factor! We just put it simply: either we go for an experienced driver which, on paper, may help to bring back some points for the championship, which is very crucial. Or we go for a young driver.
One of the things that we wanted was to have a driver with strong sporting results. This is why [Vitaly] Petrov was on the list. Obviously going through every criteria that we wanted, we had to decide at one stage, and quite late, honestly, experience or gambling on youth? The choice for Vitaly was clearly because he has the speed, we believe he has the speed and can do well. Definitely there is a risk because he is a young driver, but we had also to think in this process about the team for the future.
Strategically, he is Russian, which can open up a lot of new perspectives for Formula 1, and not just Renault, for the future. That is part of the process to bring back the team to be head down and successful.
Q. How equipped do you feel you are to lead Renault into this new era?
EB: As I said, the people in the team are competent. You just need to go through the last years to understand, by also discussing with the people what went wrong and why it went wrong. We have a complex solution to put in place. The first is serenity - being close to the team as well so that everybody is working and understands what we want, and what we expect. We had as well some technical issues, like the upgrading of the wind tunnel which was missing.
We also have the new FOTA [resource] restriction coming up, to make sure that we have the best resources we had to work on the politics. There are plenty of things to work on, there is clearly not just one problem. There are a couple of things that we need to put back.
Q. It doesn't sound like you are too worried about the personal responsibilities that you find yourself having?
EB: Should I? If not I should walk away! The challenge is big, but if me, or Genii, or Gerard [Lopez] are determined for success, then we have to make change. We know where we want to go.
Q. Do you have any minimum targets in your own mind about what Renault should be achieving this year?
EB: Definitely. We have an idea of where our car will be in Bahrain. But how it compares with the others I cannot tell you.
The only thing I can control from now, because of my late appointment, the upgrade of the wind tunnel and the late process, is that there will some aggressive development right after [that race]. That will give us a clear idea about our capabilities. From that point, we will also define the 2011 strategy for the car. I would aim to fight for podiums before the end of the season, which would clearly show that the choices we have made are good.
Q. So your development program kicks in after Bahrain rather than from now to the first race?
EB: It is already on, because we had all our technical capability ready after Christmas. But there is of course a delay in building up.
Q. When did you upgrade the wind tunnel?
EB: It was done before Christmas.
Q. When you look at teams like McLaren, who are very well organized, do you take aspects from their structure?
EB: It is not good to copy. It is good to use, let's say, some successful management ways. McLaren is McLaren, Renault F1 is Renault F1. We don't have the same way to work, the same facilities, although I am very fine with what we have. We definitely still need to improve our one, and maybe to be so organized like McLaren could even be a problem for them in the future, I don't know.
Q. How will you balance out the need to give Robert as much mileage as possible to push on the new car, with giving Petrov enough mileage to learn about F1 cars?
EB: Definitely it is not ideal to have this restriction in testing. We will try to do our best, depending how the car is and following our development plan or not, we will maybe change our plans. Definitely Vitaly needs the mileage so we have to balance it.
Q. What are the plans for these three days at Valencia?
EB: The first two days with Robert, and the last day with Vitaly.
Q. Ho-Pin Tung is your third driver. Is there a chance that he could do a Friday session in Shanghai for example?
EB: If it is from a commercial point of view, I would say no. But like before, it is just a question of balance. Depending on where we are standing on the grid, we can then perhaps have a bit more flexibility with our third drivers or not.
Q. Red Bull Racing is still pushing for an engine equalisation move with the other manufacturers. Is that something the Renault works team is involved with as well?
EB: We want definitely to have the best. I think the question is now to make sure that everything we can get within the regulations, can be done.
Q. So are you in active dialogue with the FIA about what you can and cannot do?
EB: We have the regulations, so we don't need to ask if he can or if we cannot. But there are definitely some questions. The best is to work closely with the FIA to know how we can do it.
Q. Last year Renault was one of the teams caught out by the double diffuser issue. Do you have any concerns it could cause more controversy this year?
EB: I don't think so. Clearly last year, some teams did do the double diffuser and this is the kind of surprise you can get when you change the regulation. From last year, to this year, except for the fuel tank there is no surprise to come.
Q. How hands-on will Gerard Lopez be?
EB: We have an executive committee every week, Genii, Renault and Renault F1. This is like a sort of board meeting where we take a decision all together.
Q. Is it a help to you not having to worry about the finances and the sponsorship?
EB: Yes, of course. If I had to worry about this as well, then maybe I would be even more stressed. But definitely it is a big help that job is to focus purely on racing, and the performance of the team as a company. Definitely, it is my experience as well, racing, so it is good to focus on this.
Q. Where does Bob Bell fit in the new structure, does he have a new job title?
EB: Yes, we could say he is managing director. He is in charge of the technical plus facilities.
Q. How do you find F1's politics?
EB: For me it is too early because I am new and inexperienced with F1. The big, big chance, is that Gerard is very involved in politics as well, so it is good pairing. I can focus on my racing job. He can sort out the politics. It is splitting the responsibilities.
Q. What are the early impressions of Robert Kubica, in terms of dealing with him on a day-by-day basis?
EB: Very, very positive. I know him from the junior categories, but definitely his presence in the team is like a breath of fresh air. It is like having a new kid, asking for everything, very demanding as well in terms of input and understanding from the team. And also he brings some extra experience from the other teams, which is very good.
Q. As BMW discovered, the fact that he is so demanding of people can lead to conflict. Is that something that could actually be a benefit to push you forward?
EB: I am definitely in favour of this. Even if sometimes it is maybe a bit stressing to have people repeating their demands, it also shows you that maybe something is wrong.
Q. Has he explained to you why things didn't work at BMW?
EB: That is in the past. It is not our problem.
Q. Is it important this season that Renault starts a new chapter in its F1 history?
EB: I think it is. The last three years, if you just take the result sheets, it is just worse and worse and worse. So it is a new chapter and we have to move forward with new ideas and a new process. We have to reconsider and make something new.
Q. The last couple of rookie drivers that Renault has employed have struggled for various reasons. How confident are you that Petrov will be more competitive?
EB: I think the approach will be a bit different. First we are not putting Vitaly in during the middle of the season. Even though there is only a short time, he will have enough time to get prepared. And he has the confidence of the team. He knows that he does not have to win the first race, so we have to build up something with him as well. The context is radically different. Clearly it is a risk because he is a young driver, but we share the risk with him.