Q&A with Renaults Flavio Briatore 15 Oct 2007
With Heikki Kovalainens podium in Japan Renaults first of the year, this season has clearly been tough for the 2005 and 2006 champions. Team principal Flavio Briatore reflects on the squads struggles, evaluates the performance of his drivers and responds to recent speculation concerning both Fernando Alonso and Prodrive
Q: Flavio, what's your verdict on Renault's 2007 season?
Flavio Briatore: It has been a disappointment, but it has been a lesson for next season, when we will come back even stronger. In many ways, our lack of performance was the result of the year we had in 2006 - we had to push even harder in 2006 when the mass damper was banned, we started late with our 2007 car and we had trouble adjusting to the Bridgestone tyres. That left us on the back foot, and we haven't caught up during the season.
Q: Were you surprised that the team didn't catch BMW Sauber during the season?
FB: Honestly, not really. From early on, we knew it would be a big challenge to catch them in the championship. We had to take time and understand our problems before moving forward. In the meantime, they were doing an excellent job - improving the car at every race, and taking steps forward each week. We should congratulate them on their season. Once we knew the championship position was gone, we put all our resources into 2008. That has been our focus for two months now.
Q: What has been the reaction of Renault President Carlos Ghosn to this year's results?
FB: Mr Ghosn understands Formula One, he understands that you cannot win every year and the team has his total support. He wants to see Renault fighting at the front again, like all of us, and we are working to achieve that.
Q: Can the 2008 Renault be a winning car again?
FB: There is no point making big claims at this stage, five months before the first race. But I see no logical reason why not. We know how to make a car for these tyres now, which we didn't a year ago. The wind tunnel results for the R28 look very promising. And the team is the same - they haven't forgotten how to make a quick car. I have a good feeling that we can climb back to our normal position next year.
Q: Talk about the performance of your drivers this season, Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen
FB: Giancarlo has done a very solid, very good job for us this year. His asset is his experience, and that was very important to us in the early races when the car was not performing well. Look at races like Monaco: he took everything from the package there. He knows what a title-winning car is like to drive, and he helped guide our development. I am very pleased with him. As for Heikki, it was a difficult start - but since the middle of the year, people have seen the talent we knew was there all along. As a rookie, it is difficult to shine if you are not in a top car, but for me he has been one of the revelations of the season. He is getting better with every race.
Q: About the team's drivers for 2008, when will you be making an announcement?
FB: There is no rush to make an announcement at this stage. When we are ready and we have made our decision, we will announce it. But we are in a strong position with good options.
Q: Is Fernando Alonso among those options?
FB: There has been a lot of talk but Fernando has a contract with another team for 2008. At the moment, he is focused on the championship battle, trying to win a third consecutive title. I have said before that if he was free we would be happy to have him back at Renault.
Q: The team has been supplying engines to Red Bull Racing during 2007. Has it been a success?
FB: I believe so, yes. Our engine is reliable and competitive, and our approach has been open and fair. We have given Red Bull Racing the same equipment and support as the works team has received, and that is a unique situation in the paddock. Their performances have been further proof of the quality of Renault's technology.
Q: Rumours have surfaced that Renault might be talking to Prodrive about supplying cars for 2008?
FB: I don't know where this has come from. We have had zero contact with Prodrive, and we are not in a position to supply another team at this point.
Q: This time last year, the Renault team was involved in a championship decider. Twelve months on, who do you think will take the crown?
FB: This is the big pressure moment for all three drivers, and the guy at the front has the most pressure of all. For me, the favourite is still Fernando. He has the experience, he has been there before and he has always been fast in Brazil, which is a difficult and unusual circuit. I think he will be given fair treatment, and he has the mental strength to do the job. But many factors can still intervene and play a role: the weather, Massa, even some other teams as well. It will be a dramatic weekend, and a fantastic showcase for Formula One.
Q: Finally, Renault put on its own show in Mexico City last weekend. Tell us about that
FB: We held one of our biggest ever Roadshow events on Saturday and Sunday in Mexico City. Everybody knows how strong the passion for racing is in Mexico, and Renault was proud to be able to bring F1 to the streets of the capital. It was a spectacular show, and this is just the kind of thing the sport should be doing to attract new fans: it is free for the people, they can get close to the team and drivers, and it is a big celebration of everything that is good about our sport. I am very proud that Renault leads the way in these events.