Briatore Downplays Renault's Gains

Renault team principal Flavio Briatore has denied that his team is the de facto top team in Formula One ahead of Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

Briatore Downplays Renault's Gains

Renault team principal Flavio Briatore has denied that his team is the de facto top team in Formula One ahead of Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

When asked by Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport if the Franco-British team were the favourites to take this year's championship, or at least the best challenger, Briatore replied: "The comparison is an exaggeration - it's not acceptable. Ferrari are a war machine, they're lethal.

"They haven't changed anything for ten years; they are consistent to the maximum. We are David versus Goliath. We'll be satisfied with winning more races than last year, and then we'll see where we are." Asked for his tips for the podium, however, he replied: "Renault, McLaren and Ferrari."

Briatore pointed to their recent past to back up his hopes for a higher win total this year, claiming decisions made last year will assist with the team's challenge in 2005. "We have worked well - the R25 is very competitive, and I'm confident," Briatore noted. "The Renault doesn't have the potential of Ferrari, Toyota, McLaren or Williams: we came back to F1 in 2001 and since then, even though we tried our best to make up the ground, we've always been late [launching the car].

"That's why at the end of last year we started concentrating on 2005. It might have cost us second place, but it let us work well during the winter, with no hitches. And now here we are, ready to go."

This belief in the car is backed up by his support for the team's drivers â€" Briatore sees his current pairing, Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso, as the perfect combination to promote Renault's fortunes, although he won't be drawn on any differences between the pair: "Comparisons are always difficult. For sure this year Giancarlo has at his disposal a car to reach true goals. With a teammate like Alonso the two of them will always push each other. As performance goes we're fine, and the atmosphere in the team is excellent, like it was with Trulli."

Many observers expect the pair to be close, with some prepared to tip Alonso for more glory given his longer spell with the team. When asked if the Spaniard would be ready to run for the title if he had a chance, Briatore advised: "I can't see any problem. In my opinion he did an excellent 2004, even though the critics said he wasn't at his best. But the R24 was really difficult to drive.

"Now Fernando knows he's got a good car; from a psychological point of view that is worth between three and six tenths per lap."

Alonso will be hoping for an impressive season â€" his contract with Renault expires at the end of the season, and there has been much made of the interest expressed by Luca di Montezemolo, the president of Ferrari who now also runs parent company Fiat. So what could happen to Alonso at the end of the year?

"In my opinion nothing," Briatore stated. "I often hear the name Ferrari, but while Schumacher is there he won't go, as Michael is the first one not wanting him as teammate. After Ferrari the second best team is Renault - Fernando is well integrated here, the team loves him, he knows everyone works for him. Why leave?"

On the subject of leaving, Briatore's own contract expires at the end of the year as well. When does he see himself leaving the sport for good? "When I grow up? I don't know. My job was to take Renault to the top three. I managed it, even if few would have bet on it. It's a difficult decision. This is an exacting job - it's complex, it demands a lot - if you don't leave it on time, you're still here at 70..."

Given that, does he see himself witnessing Renault take the ultimate prize under his control? "The year of Renault will be 2006," Briatore smiled, "when the new, real challenge in F1 will start. With the introduction of the eight-cylinder engine every team will start with a clean sheet, with no advantages. But we are aware we have an excellent chassis-engine-tyres-drivers package, so..."

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