Eric Boullier came under fire this morning on his decision to replace Nick Heidfeld with reserve driver Bruno Senna.
The Lotus Renault GP Team Principal felt that a ‘shake-up’ was necessary to motivate the team back to the front as the Formula One season restarts after the mandatory three week August break.
The decision came as a complete surprise to Heidfeld, and he has since launched legal action against the team. A hearing is scheduled on 19 September at the London High Courts. Speaking to media earlier in the week, he remained hopeful that he will regain his post with the team within three weeks time.
Heidfeld has taken his pleas to remain with the team to social media. Earlier this morning he posted this on his Twitter account:
"I was surprised by the Team’s intention to replace me and regret that things have developed this way. I just wanted to be in the cockpit to get the best result for the team and me. I still have a clear contract and I want to drive."
Heidfeld’s argument is that he was under contract to be ‘a main driver’ with the team. But often times than not, driver contracts can easily be nullified and re-negotiated in this day and age. Teams are also very savvy to include a number of clauses pertaining from fitness, sponsorship obligations, and above all on-track performance. A driver is expected to fulfill those clauses if he wishes to remain with the team.
Boullier argued that when Heidfeld was brought in to replace the injured Robert Kubica at the beginning of the 2011 season, he was expected to match the Polish driver’s pace, if not exceed it. To that measure Heidfeld has failed to meet those expectations.
Taking a look at the statistics, Heidfeld currently sits 8th place in the driver championship, just before teammate Vitaly Petrov. Both drivers had a chance to visit the podium earlier in the season, with Petrov finishing 3rd in Australia and Heidfeld 3rd in Malaysia. The problem lied in Heidfeld’s attrition rate. With his consecutive retirements at the German and Hungarian Grands Prix, the team has lost valuable momentum. In comparison, Petrov consistently outdrove Heidfeld during qualifying, and while Petrov often fell out of points contention, he finished his races.
Boullier’s frustrations were clearly evident when he spoke with Adam Cooper on the matter, and held nothing back on his criticisms towards Heidfeld.
"Every session, every weekend, the media jumped on me asking why Vitaly is faster than Nick? Every time. You need to guess by yourself, I was not very happy with let’s say the pure speed of Nick, and his global performance as an experienced driver. That’s it."
Boullier also hinted that Petrov may take over the role as lead driver in lieu of Heidfeld’s presence.
Formula One hasn’t had a high profile driver firing since Scott Speed in 2007, when the American beached his Toro Rosso in the gravel trap during a rained out race at the Nurburgring. He subsequently got into a heated argument with team principal Franz Tost on camera and was soon replaced by Sebastien Vettel.
Meanwhile, Lotus Renault struggled to find pace at a drenched Spa on Friday during Free Practice, with Bruno Senna and Petrov charting at P17 and P24 respectively.