Exclusive Q&A - Renaults Flavio Briatore 15 Mar 2007
On the surface Renault seem virtually unrecognizable in 2007 as the team that won the championship last year. Number-one driver Fernando Alonso has gone, the livery has changed thanks to new sponsor ING, and tester Heikki Kovalainen has been promoted to a race seat. One constant, however, is team boss Flavio Briatore, who remains as confident as ever about the French teams future
Q: There have been so many changes this year it looks like it will be a thrilling season. Do you agree?
Flavio Briatore: Yes, absolutely. Formula One lost a legend when Michael (Schumacher) retired, but I think the sport is more healthy than ever before. There are a number of drivers who can win and fight for the title this year. Everybody is expecting the competition to be more open than ever, and I hope they are right. We have had a great show in the past two seasons, and I hope it will continue.
Q: As world champions, Renault have the most to lose this year. Are you satisfied with the pre-season preparations?
FB: Actually, I dont think we have anything to lose this year. We have shown the world for two years running that Renault can win races and championships. I see 2007 as a fantastic opportunity for the team, to show people that we can carry on winning with different drivers. We have made good preparations, we have done more miles than our rivals, although some of them look a bit faster. But the verdict will come in Melbourne. Lets wait and see
Q: Your number-two driver from last year, Giancarlo Fisichella, will lead the team this season, at least at first, until rookie Heikki Kovalainen proves himself. This is probably not a perfect scenario for a team which is defending the championship. Where do you see Renaults strength?
FB: Everybody talks about number one and number two, but when you know our team, you know that the drivers have equal equipment, and equal opportunities. We are confident Giancarlo can be very strong for the team, even more than the past two years. Heikki is a driver we have confidence in, and he has come into Formula One the Renault way - not too much attention, and a lot of experience. They are both at home in the team, and that is our real strength - the fact we are a true team, where everybody contributes to the effort. That is what we have seen in the past two years, and what we will show again this year.
Q: Knowing that you are superstitious when it comes to predicting your own teams future, lets try the others - where do you see the strongest competition and why?
FB: Ferrari first of all. They know the tyres, and that is definitely an advantage, so they will be strong. McLaren will be fast, and they seem quite reliable. Maybe BMW Sauber can be a surprise as well, they have done some good times this winter.
Q: You have always been a strong advocate of cost-cutting in Formula One racing. Now we see test sessions in Bahrain and Kuala Lumpur. Would it make more sense to have more races instead of those flyaway tests?
FB: I have been saying for a long time that we need less testing, and we are getting there, slowly. For this year, we have a 40 percent reduction in testing, and a more efficient system. The tests in Malaysia are part of that - they are not a big extra cost, because we already have the people, the cars and the equipment in that part of the world. We will only do eight tests this season, and it is a step forward, but I still think there is plenty of progress to be made.
Q: This year Renault are supplying engines to Red Bull Racing. With the liberalisation of the customer team regulations in 2008, are Renault thinking in that direction?
FB: The engine supply deal with Red Bull Racing came at the right time for us. Under the homologation rules, it meant that we had an opportunity to do something good to keep our people working on F1, without over-stretching our resources. Renault has a long tradition of supplying customer engines, and this is a continuation of that.
Q: At the Tribute to the Champions ball in Abu Dhabi in February, McLarens Ron Dennis said that for years he has been stunned that someone who knows so little about race cars has become as successful as you are in Formula One racing. How you do it? Instinct? Luck?
FB: A Formula One team is like any other company. You need to make sure you have the right structure, and the right product. That product is the car and the engine together. But I dont think the product makes any difference if you are managing the company well. A good manager can translate and adapt his abilities to any business.