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Heidfeld decision about performance not money - Boullier

Laurence Edmondson at Spa-Francorchamps
August 26, 2011 « Positive first impressions for Massa at Spa | »

Team principal Eric Boullier has revealed that Renault's decision to replace Nick Heidfeld with Bruno Senna was part of a bigger shake-up at the team and says it has nothing to do with money.

On Wednesday Renault confirmed Senna as a driver for the next two weekends after Heidfeld lost a High Court ruling to keep his seat at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza. The team intends to keep Senna for the rest of the season but its ability to do so will depend on a second court ruling on September 19, ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix.

Heidfeld had outscored his team-mate Vitaly Petrov in the first half of the season, but Boullier said the decision was taken as part of a larger plan to break Renault's recent "negative spiral" in performance.

"We have reviewed our performance, our level of motivation and a lot of things through the summer time and I think I had to take a decision to clearly show some new direction," he told reporters on Friday. "It was an opportunity as well to assess Bruno as a driver and this is why we moved him."

Prompted to expand on his reasons and asked whether he regretted giving Heidfeld the drive at the start of the season, Boullier said: "To be honest I was happy with the decision we took with Nick. He's a nice guy, but something didn't work. His leadership did not work in the team, and obviously when you are sometimes slower than Vitaly - actually most of the time slower than Vitaly - it's difficult for him to push the team and set himself up as the team leader.

"At the end if you speak in terms of management, not only speed, when you have the negative spiral starting, the negative loop, it's complicated to stop it. I don't say that difficulties of the team are because of Nick; the car is not good enough, we have not developed the car 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 something in the drivers as well to shake-up and wake-up everybody."

He added: "Every session, every weekend the media jump on me saying why is Vitaly faster than Nick - every time. I was not very happy with the pure speed of Nick and his global performance as an experienced driver."

On Thursday Heidfled's legal representative, Stefan Seitz, said of the change: "This position is disputed by the team for apparently purely financial reasons. We do not intend to rest before Nick's legal position has been fully restored."

But Boullier shot down suggestions the deal was financially driven, even though the team's owner Genii Capital has just merged its operations with Brazilian company World Wide Investments.

"It's always the same story coming up, it's amazing," he said. "Yes it's true, there is some relations with Brazil because Genii has signed a $10 billion deal with a fund in Brazil, but it has nothing related with Renault. Nothing."

Heidfeld's manager, Andre Theuerzeit, said on Thursday: "I certainly am confident that we will be able to enforce a fair solution for Nick in the further proceedings. We all hope that Nick will be back in the cockpit in Singapore."

But Boullier is also confident that Senna will stay: "What's happened now is his lawyer trying to go to court," he said. "You never know with justice, but the High Court has ruled everything in our favour. Everything that's been asked has been pushed back.

"It's obviously a legal case and this not the place [to comment] because we have to go back on the 19th."

Asked what he expects from Senna over the next eight races, assuming he stays, Boullier said: "To match Vitaly's pace. As soon as possible. Obviously he needs some time but by Singapore I would say."