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Briatore: Alonso can Equal Schumacher

Fernando Alonso has the potential to equal Michael Schumacher's achievements in Formula One, according to Flavio Briatore

The Renault team chief believes Alonso, who has become the sport's youngest champion at 24, has a stronger mind than seven-time World Champion Schumacher.

"I think Fernando can be as great even if Michael already has seven championships - a crazy number," Briatore said in an interview with The Guardian. "Fernando has the potential to do that because he is made to be a champion.

"He is also much calmer than Schumacher. Forget what you see in public - where Alonso is smiling and Schumacher is concentrated. I know them both very well and I promise you Fernando has the ice in his blood - more than Michael, who is boiling inside with feeling."

Briatore, who snapped up Schumacher in 1991 and struck gold again when he signed Alonso, said he knew the Spanish driver had a special quality the moment he saw him.

"It is a feeling - to know which driver has the unique quality. You cannot learn this. You either have it or you don't. I have it," he added. "When I first see Schumacher I know he will become champion. Same with Alonso. Even if no one else think this, I see he is unique.

"When Renault ask me to come back to Formula One I have [Jenson] Button there. He was the star. And Jenson did a good job in an uncompetitive car. But I feel Alonso is right. I choose him over Button. Everybody criticise but, to me, it is obvious. Jenson is a good driver, very solid, but Fernando is special.

"So I go with Alonso even if 90% of people inside Formula One, even my own team, think I'm wrong. But this is also why I am a successful manager. I know the right decision."

Alonso has a contract with Renault until the end of the 2006 season, and Briatore believes the World Champion will stay at the team as long as they are competitive.

"Fernando is at Renault another year," Briatore said. "In 2007 he would want to stay - as long as Renault are competitive. But if by then, or 2008, Ferrari are above our level then anything is possible.

"This year the tyre was a big factor for Ferrari. But there was a lot else wrong with their car. They need a lot of work to catch up."

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