Renault ready to pay for a top-line driver
|By Jonathan Noble||Sunday, May 14th 2006, 12:41 GMT|
Renault have openly admitted that they are ready to pay out 'whatever is necessary' in the bid to land a top-line driver to replace Fernando Alonso next year.
With a new commercial agreement now almost in place that will boost the French car manufacturers' budget for 2007, Renault F1 president Alain Dassas has made it clear that the way is now clear for them to open their chequebook to secure a top driver.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday about his thoughts on who should replace Alonso, who is moving to McLaren, Dassas said: "Of course I have some thoughts about what can be done...but that is Flavio Briatore's responsibility and he will make proposals, make selections, and we will see.
"We are ready, as Renault is a shareholder of this, to do what is necessary to have a good driver."
Although Renault have previously held the stance that they would rather groom their own talent than pay out for big name stars elsewhere, Dassas admitted that the team also had the necessity to be competitive. Renault test driver Heikki Kovalainen remains favourite to be promoted to a race seat in 2007.
"It is true that we like to grow our own talent from within, but it is also true that we are there to have top performances," continued Dassas. "We need a top driver to do that. Alonso is not replaced easily, so we need to a top driver. We need a young talent and we need a top driver."
Dassas' comments would appear to suggest that Giancarlo Fisichella is not being considered to lead the Renault team in 2007.
When asked whether he considered Fisichella the 'top driver' that he was earlier referring to, Dassas hesitated before responding: "I cannot answer this question. He is a top driver..."
The most obvious target for Renault is Kimi Raikkonen, whose contact with McLaren expires at the end of this season.
It is understood that Raikkonen held a meeting with Renault boss Flavio Briatore at last weekend's European Grand Prix and the team's current competitiveness, allied to the possibility of a high pay packet, would be attractive to the Finn.
The news of Renault's push to land a big name star next year has come on the same day that McLaren boss Ron Dennis indicated that his team were moving towards making a final decision on drivers.
In a response to a question about the latest situation on the driver front, amid the Raikkonen rumours, Dennis said: "First of all, we have a very firm plan now, we know exactly what we are doing as a team.
"We will start to implement the plan, and it provides for all contingencies. We think now we are in a phase with the team that we will start to take decisions, and they will unfold over the next two or three weeks."
When asked if there were any further details, Dennis said: "No. We are a Grand Prix team. Norbert [Haug, Mercedes director] and I are people who have to make recommendations to people who support the programme.
"Sometimes you are following the necessity to be courteous to sponsors, etc; sometimes there are other shareholders or board members, and they have to be supportive of your plans, and we have a firm plan on how we will move forward, and this will unfold over the next two or three weeks."
Dennis's remarks would tend to suggest that he now knows one way or another whether Raikkonen will be staying with his team or not.
McLaren have previously made no secret of the fact that Raikkonen was their preferred candidate to drive alongside Alonso next year, and only last week the team's F1 CEO Martin Whitmarsh said they would wait as long as they could for the Finn to make up his mind.