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Exclusive Briatore Q&A: Renault will score more podiums this year 10 Sep 2008

Flavio Briatore (ITA) Renault F1 Managing Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Valencia, Spain, Saturday, 23 August 2008 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Saturday, 6 September 2008 Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R28.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 7 September 2008 (L to R): Flavio Briatore (ITA) Renault F1 Managing Director with Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, European Grand Prix, Race Day, Valencia, Spain, Sunday, 24 August 2008 Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R28.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Saturday, 6 September 2008

With only five races to go, the fact that former world champion Fernando Alonso is eighth in the driver standings, will satisfy neither the Spaniard nor Renault team principal Flavio Briatore. Both highfliers are imbued with a strong will to succeed, and their current midfield status must be hard to swallow.

Nevertheless, Briatore is confident that the remainder of the season will see the French team improve enough to secure fourth in the championship, despite tough competition from Toyota and Red Bull. But in terms of his own future, the brash Italian is a little less candid…

Q: Flavio, the last time we spoke it was two races into the season and you said that you were in the middle of a promising development run. Did it meet your expectations?
Flavio Briatore:
Yes, I think so. The car is improving. You saw that on Sunday. It is getting stronger with every race. The fact that Fernando did not score points in Valencia was due to the accident with Nakajima, which had nothing to do with the performance of the car.

Q: Fernando has indicated that there is still an issue with the tyres…
FB:
But this is not only us, it is also a little bit of an issue for everybody. Sometimes the tyres are working better - sometimes not - it depends on the circuit. I strongly believe that other people have the same problem. It’s true we were facing a tyre issue at the beginning, when we switched to Bridgestone, but that has been solved and the tyres are no more an issue for us than they are for everybody else.

Q: So far the best result of your season has been the podium scored by your rookie driver Nelson Piquet - that cannot possibly satisfy you…
FB:
Ah, well, we are in the middle of the season so I am convinced that from now until the end of the season, we will have at least two more podium finishes - that should be within our reach. Which driver will that be? That should be the same for me because the points are the same - there is no category for rookie points or veteran points. But I would say that Fernando deserves to be on the podium.

Q: Even an exceptional driver like Fernando Alonso has not been able to turn around the performance level of the team…
FB:
At the beginning of the season our car was a bit away from the front, but as I just said, we have been able to close the gap step by step and the last five races will see us performing much better. In Spa our objective was to finish in P4 - and that was exactly what Fernando delivered.

Q: But Renault is already focused on 2009…
FB:
Wrong. It is on ’08. We want to finish fourth in the constructors’ championship!

Q: You are an objector to the introduction of KERS. Williams - an independent team - admitted that KERS will make up ten percent of their budget for aerodynamics and composite parts, so the financial side can't really be an issue for you. What is?
FB:
My opinion is that if we develop KERS we should develop it all together in Formula One. At the moment everybody is developing in isolation from the others and that is pushing the cost into lofty heights - and in the end everybody wants the same. It’s a situation where we could close a window for cost and at the same time open a door. And KERS could mean a really wide-open door. But it is not only the economical side that I see - it is also the security issue. We need to make sure that every time we introduce a new technology that it is safe for everybody - for the spectators, the drivers and the mechanics. And the first tests with KERS have shown there is the potential for danger. We saw accidents at BMW and at Red Bull Racing. BMW is pushing the most for KERS and that is difficult to understand. Apart from the safety, I believe again that it would have been possible to develop KERS together to ensure safety and cost were in control. But as usual, with the freedom in Formula One, the costs go through the roof - and with the safety we don’t know where we are as it is a completely new technology.

Q: It seems then that it is going against the efforts to cap budgets…
FB:
This is the cap from the bottom. We supply engines to Red Bull Racing. With KERS, next year’s price will be double. I’ll promise you something else, now we have KERS. In one year, everybody will have the same system and we’ll have thrown away a massive amount of money.

Q: You have always been an advocate of slowing down technical development, as most nuances are hardly visible to the fans. Is Formula One racing going in the right direction?
FB:
For the moment I think we are going in the wrong direction. No fans are interested in our suspension or gearbox. They want to see a good race. We give too much power and too much money to the engineers - but that is our fault. And this is the result that we have. And people who spend someone else’s money tend to use it very generously. We need to understand that Formula One is part of the economic environment - it’s not something we do by ourselves. We need to anticipate the problem - if you are a good manager - and not be forced by the market. For ten years I have urged us to cut costs and I believe that if we had done it six or seven years ago we would be in better shape. Sometimes what I miss is the fact that we are here for racing. We are not here to discover new technology for the future - we are too small for that. Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport but we also should look for a sound budget.

Q: How enthusiastic are Renault about Formula One racing?
FB:
Renault is not thinking about cutting costs in Formula One because it’s the most important and exciting marketing tool for Renault. And as we work very hard on the market, much of the budget is contributed by the sponsors.

Q: Coming back to your drivers - Nelson had a rough ride at the beginning of the season. Has his podium made up for his weak start?
FB:
Indeed it was a difficult start for him, but we also saw that with Kovalainen last year. The first season is always very difficult for young drivers. But as we have seen with Heikki last year, he really improved over the course of the season and we have also seen that with Nelson. He had a fantastic race in Germany where he showed us a glimpse of his talent.

Q: And Fernando - a double world champion doomed to drive behind the frontrunners. Does he remind the team of their responsibility to give him a competitive car?
FB:
Yes, it’s our responsibility to give him a competitive car - and we are doing our best. What we have seen so far this year is that sometimes we have missed opportunities because of the car - and sometimes because of the driver. We had podium opportunities in Monaco and Canada and we missed them. We are winning together and we are losing together - it’s not just one part. It’s true that if you don’t have a good car you are going nowhere, so firstly you need a good car. Then it is the performance of the driver that makes the difference. So we hope to supply him for Monza with an even better car than in Spa.

Q: Most of the teams have already confirmed their driver line-ups for next season. What is state of affairs at Renault?
FB:
Be assured that we will announce our 2009 drivers between the end of this season and the start of next.

Q: And what about your own future in Formula One racing? You have a contract until the end of the season. What then? Will we see you here next year?
FB:
Ah, my future is pink. Will I be here next year? I don’t know. But this is the least of my problems. If it is possible to cut costs and get everything under control, then maybe I’ll be excited to stay. But if it goes on like now, I might not interested.