If you need soap-opera drama, look no rather than Formula One’s Team Lotus-Renault. First it was the signing of Bruno Senna, the nephew of Formula One great Ayrton Senna, at the beginning of the season. Senna had raced for perennial back marker HRT in 2010, managing no better than a 14th place finish during the season. Senna was brought on, to much fanfare, to be a test and development driver for the team; in other words, he was being groomed to take the driver’s seat at some point in Lotus Renault’s future.
Then came Lotus-Renault driver Robert Kubica’s horrific crash in a rally event during the off-season. Even the most optimistic of projections had Kubica missing the bulk of the 2011 season, while the worst-case scenario said that Kubica’s racing days were over. Clearly a backup driver was needed, and the list of experienced, talented and unemployed Formula One drivers is indeed a short one.
Enter Nick Heidfeld, a driver with ten years worth of F1 experience and numerous podium finishes, but no race wins. In February, Lotus Renault hired Heidfeld to take Kubica’s seat for the 2011 season, driving with teammate Vitaly Petrov. Heidfeld did well in the early part of the season, scoring a podium finish in Malaysia. Since Turkey, he’s managed to place no higher than 8th, and he’s racked up three DNFs in the last five races. When he finishes, he’s consistently doing better than Petrov, but that’s apparently not good enough for Lotus Renault.
Whether due to politics or strategy, Heidfeld has been benched by the team for at least the next two races, replaced by Bruno Senna. Heidfeld has sued the team, alleging breach of contract, but no resolution is expected prior to the conclusion of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The best case has Heidfeld out for two races, returning to a team he just filed suit against. The worst case has Heidfeld’s season, and possibly his F1 career, ending with a DNF in the 2011 Hungarian Grand Prix.
For a driver of Heidfeld’s talent, that’s one hell of a way to hang up your Nomex.