Exclusive interview - Flavio Briatore 15 Nov 2006
The dust has settled on a fantastic season for Renault and the many celebrations are now over. As was the case last year, team boss Flavio Briatore can look back on 2006 with a well-deserved dose of satisfaction. But he is also looking ahead to next season - one that will see many changes within the team, but one in which the aim is very much the same: to fight for the double double
Q: Four weeks have passed since the title showdown in Brazil and the results have had time to sink in - how do you feel?
Flavio Briatore: Fantastic. It has been a special time for the entire team, and for the Renault Group. We have won the double double with the same driver, for only the fourth time in the history of Formula One. That puts this team among the greats, and it has been a time to be proud of what we have done and enjoy the success. But we have been grafting too: there is a new season coming fast, new challenges, and we are working to ensure we start 2007 like we did in 2005 and 2006 - with an advantage.
Q: Winning both titles two years on the trot, with one of the leanest budgets and smallest head counts of the manufacturer teams - this looks like a clear message
FB: The facts are simple: we spent less money than Ferrari, and we won. Luckily, its not just money that makes the cars go fast in Formula One. You need efficiency, innovation, creativity. In simple terms, we got the best return on investment of any team in Formula One.
Q: It was a season of suspense: what looked like a sure title win mid-season turned into a rollercoaster ride, with some technical problems and a difficult FIA decision going against you. Still, from the outside the team looked focused. And from the inside?
FB: It was stressful! You know, when you are fighting Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, it doesnt get much tougher than that. But we kept our focus, we were determined and we did the job. At halfway, everybody said we had won; by Monza, everybody thought a Ferrari win was inevitable. But we looked at the facts, focused on our job, and came out on top.
Q: With your own health issues (Briatore had a kidney tumour successfully removed in August) and the odds apparently against the team, did it ever occur to you to throw in the towel and walk away?
FB: No, never. It changes your perspective on life, but then I looked in our team and found inspiration. Dino Toso, our head of aerodynamics, has fought the same battle for two years and he has done so with amazing courage, and made a vital contribution to our championship success. My problem was another hurdle in a year of challenges, but it made me stronger.
Q: This was your 12th year in Formula One racing, winning seven titles along the way. What was your sweetest success?
FB: Every one is special, but this year meant the most. It was against Ferrari, against Schumacher throwing everything at us, and with a lot of attention and pressure from the outside. Renault was under fire, but we dug deep and responded with even more determination. It was a very proud moment to win the titles with this team.
Q: And during those 12 years, nine drivers championships were won by drivers you nurtured. A satisfying outcome?
FB: That is a nice number, but I am not taking credit for Michaels successes at Ferrari. We enjoyed fantastic years, we have done the same with Fernando, now it is time to do it again
Q: You are known as a man who doesnt waste time on failures. Is Heikki Kovalainen your next star driver in-waiting?
FB: We think so. He is a racer - we saw that in GP2 in 2005. He is intelligent, like a sponge with the engineers. He understands the car, he works well with the team and knows our philosophy. We will see what happens on the track, but all the ingredients are there.
Q: Renault will be a distinctively different team in 2007: a new title sponsor, new livery, new tyres, one new driver. What effect will this have for next season?
FB: There is no point making bets and predictions in November - you can only make yourself look stupid. 2007 will be a fresh start in many ways, and we are very proud to be welcoming a company of the stature of ING to Formula One. But the constant will be the performance: we want to stay at the top, and fight at the front. We are the only top-three team with technical stability, and we know our drivers. The team is prepared for the challenge, and looking forward to it.
Q: You are a man of many talents who could obviously turn his hand to many other things. What made you sign up for another two years with Renault - especially with many predicting the teams success wont continue into 2007?
FB: I dont accept that assumption. The people saying we will not continue our success in 2007 are the same ones who said we had won the title in Canada, or that Ferrari had won by Monza. They are people making quick judgments, not looking at the facts. They see unknowns, where we see people we know and logical decisions. For me, there is a great motivation in beginning a new era without Fernando, and proving that the strength of Renault is about more than one person. The secret to our success was written on the cars in 2006: team spirit. And more than anything, leading this amazing group of people is what motivates me to continue, and tackle the new challenges ahead.