Exclusive interview with world champions' team principal
Renault boss Flavio Briatore had grown accustomed to heading to the podium after a race. This season he has had to readjust - not easy when you find losing as hard to accept as Briatore does. However, never one to lack self confidence, the Italian is sure that the team will bounce back and engage once more in the fight for the championship - even if it might not be this season
Q: We are now three races into the season and it has been a rather thorny start for the Renault team. You cannot possibly be satisfied. Or is it just the usual boom-and-bust cycle of Formula One racing?
Flavio Briatore: Of course we are not satisfied! When you lead a team of competitive people who are capable of winning in F1 then any other result is going to be difficult to accept. But we are honest with ourselves, we know where we stand - and we are working hard to resolve the problems. It is a fact that every top team dominates for a time, then drops away a little bit, and perhaps that is the case here too to some extent. But even as we work hard to fix the situation in the present, we are building foundations for the future that will ensure we have the people to continue winning in the years ahead.
Q: You had to work very hard to win last years championship. To what degree are the teams current problems related?
FB: I think it is a factor - we had two very demanding, tough years where we had to push the team to the maximum until the end of each season to take the world championship, and that puts a big strain on your people. But it cannot be an excuse for us. The car was ready on time, so our timings were in place. And in the end, the same factors that brought us the championships - talent, determination and character - will be what help us get back to the front.
Q: Rumour has it that there was a crisis meeting at Enstone after Bahrain and that the decision was taken to bring forward some developments for the 2008 car and apply them to the current R27
FB: To have a crisis meeting you first need a crisis, and we dont have one. There is a gap in our performance compared to the top teams, and we need to make that up. We will do it by working hard and trusting in our engineers to find the solutions, not by panicking. We have plans for our development and for solving the problems, and we will follow them. As always, we have to balance that against designing and developing next years car, and perhaps we will find some concepts that are relevant for this year. But finding the right compromise is always one of the challenges in F1, and we have not given up on 2007.
Q: Many people were predicting great things from Kovalainen. So far, however, it has been steady improvement at every race, rather than anything stunning. How satisfied are you with his performance?
FB: I think he is doing a good job. Melbourne was bad - Heikki admitted so - but since then he has focused, worked hard and improved. For a rookie, though, its very hard to do the job when you dont have the right car underneath you. Look at Hamilton - he is driving very well, but it is happening because he has confidence in the car. Even Alonso, at Renault in 2003, had a car he could really trust. Heikki doesnt have that at the moment, and it makes it much harder for him to make a big impression. But he has shown he is tough, that he can bounce back from adversity, and that he can be quick. He is learning a lot at the moment - that will really help him in the future.
Q: To some degree a car can only be as good as the feedback the driver gives to the engineers. Are you missing Alonso in that respect?
FB: No, I dont think so. A cars speed is dictated in the wind tunnel and design office, not by a drivers feedback. We have the tools we need to analyse the problems and get back to the front, and we are using them. Fisico and Heikki are both in agreement on what the car needs, and now we need to provide it. There is nothing lacking from our drivers.
Q: You have always advocated a revamp of Formula One racing to increase its popularity, especially as its presence continues to spread across the globe. Can you share your thoughts on that?
FB: I have always said that Formula One needs to think and put its audience at the heart of the show. The sport is too closed, and too far away from the public. We demand a lot from our spectators - not only high prices, but a lot of time and understanding to follow the sport closely. My opinion has always been that we need to think more about the show, about the entertainment on track. Look at GP2, or MotoGP - what people want to see is drivers racing each other closely. And we dont have enough of that.
Q: Could 20 races per year be a viable? Reduce testing and instead develop the cars during the Grand Prix weekend? Arguably a win-win situation, as the teams save money and their sponsors get more exposure
FB: Yes, why not? The simple fact is that during testing we run in front of empty grandstands, but we are in a business that is supposed to try and fill the stands. We need to test at the start of the season and at the end. We could make those tests into proper events and then during the season do our work at the race weekends - in front of the fans. There is still the concern that we must not have too many races and dilute Formula One, but we have coped with 19 races before, so why not 20?
Q: Which driver would you say is favourite for the 2007 title, based on what you have seen so far?
FB: I think it will be a fantastic season for F1, the way things are shaping up. At the moment the two favourites are being beaten by their team mates and that could make the situation very interesting. But in the championship, Alonso and Raikkonen are both leading. I think everybody is looking forward to seeing how the pressure affects each team and driver, and the person who handles it best will come out on top. At the moment, though, its too close to call.