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Renault finalise 2007 driver line-up 06 Sep 2006

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault R26 Formula 1 Testing, Day Two, Jerez, Spain. 20th July 2006. World ©  Patching/Sutton. Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault Third Driver. Formula One Testing, Day One, Jerez, Spain, 4 July 2006. World ©  Hartley/Sutton. (L to R): Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault Third Driver with Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Budapest, Hungary, 4 August 2006 Nelson Piquet (BRA) with Flavio Briatore (ITA) Renault F1 Managing Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Turkish Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, 26 August 2006 Ricardo Zonta (BRA) Toyota Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, German Grand Prix, Practice Day, Hockenheim, Germany, 28 July 2006

With Briatore staying on until the end of 2008

Heikki Kovalainen will race for Renault next year, with Ricardo Zonta and Nelson Piquet Jr joining the team as test drivers. Kovalainen will step up to become Giancarlo Fisichella’s team mate when Fernando Alonso leaves for McLaren at the end of the season.

Kovalainen, runner-up in last year’s GP2 series, joined Renault as an official tester in 2004 and has since completed over 28,000km for the team, playing a key role in the development of last year’s championship-winning R25 car, and this year’s R26.

“I am thrilled to get the opportunity to race with a world champion team like Renault,” said the Finn. “I have been a member of the Renault Driver Development programme since 2002, when I had the distant ambition of one day becoming an F1 driver. It is a fantastic feeling to have finally achieved that.

“My two seasons testing for the team, as well as my time in GP2, have allowed me to build my technical knowledge and to understand what it takes to win in Formula One. I have also had the opportunity to show the team what I can do, and it is a great motivation to know that they believe in me. It will be a fantastic feeling to line up on the grid in Melbourne, but that is still a long way off. At the moment, I am totally focused on helping Renault win the 2006 championship.”

Zonta will join Renault after four seasons at Toyota. The 30-year old Brazilian possesses eight seasons of Formula One experience, both as a race and test driver. Renault believe his proven track record, combined with extensive technical knowledge, will be major assets in the development of their 2007 challenger. His work with Toyota tyre suppliers Bridgestone should be especially useful when all the teams switch to the Japanese company’s rubber next year.

Meanwhile, Piquet, 21, has marked himself out as man of the future during this year’s GP2 series. Son of three-time world champion Nelson Piquet, Nelsinho has shown both speed and guile, taking four race wins and five pole positions so far to put him second in the championship, with two races remaining.

Team boss Flavio Briatore, who has just renewed his contract with the team for another two years, commented: “Everybody at Renault is very optimistic about our driver line-up for 2007 and beyond. We have taken the conscious decision to build for the future, without compromising the stability of the team in the short term. Giancarlo is a proven force in Formula One and Heikki is already fully integrated into the team. After seeing performances in testing this season, we have very high hopes for him.

“It is also a pleasure to welcome Ricardo and Nelsinho, who each bring different qualities to the team: Ricardo will have a key role to play in preparing for 2007, while Nelsinho has shown this year that he deserves his place in Formula One. 2007 is the start of something new for Renault, and we believe it will be an exciting season.”