Renault seeking road to recovery
Fernando Alonso returns to the fold hopeful of taking team back to winning ways1 February 2008
MADRID - Speaking at the launch of Renault's new Formula 1 car yesterday, Spain's Fernando Alonso said he was "happy" and "comfortable" to be back at the French team - not surprising, since his time at McLaren in 2007 could best be described as "unhappy" and "uncomfortable."
The double world champion has returned to the team where he won those two titles - in 2005 and 2006 - having abandoned a three-year contract with the British team McLaren after his relationship with boss Ron Dennis broke down, mostly over the team's unwillingness to treat Alonso as the number one driver over the rookie Briton Lewis Hamilton.
But, safely back at the French team, Alonso is hoping to help Renault make its mark once more on the drivers and constructors championships, after 2007 failed to yield it strong results.
While he remains cautious about the new R28, the Asturian made it clear he was hoping for a return to his winning ways. "At the moment it is a very open championship because nobody knows," he said at the Paris unveiling yesterday. "Everyone is talking about Ferrari and McLaren, which is good for us. As long as they talk about them we can work a bit more relaxed. We did some tests with the new car and in February it's time to find performance."
As for slotting back into the team he left, Alonso said he has had no trouble there. "I think for me it was very easy because I knew the team already and it was very easy to work with the test team," he said. "The first day I was in the factory, doing the seat fitting, it was like time had not moved on."
One man who is glad that time has moved on, however, is Renault president Carlos Ghosn, who did not mince his words when talking about Renault's 2007 season. "I am going to quote [team boss] Flavio [Briatore] who qualified 2007 as a disaster," the Brazilian joked. "He said it, and we ended up in third position. So if number three is a disaster, you are left with two choices, and, obviously, I have a slight preference for one of them."
Briatore himself was also optimistic about the team's chances in the upcoming season, which is likely to be anything but predictable, with Ferrari, McLaren, BMW, Williams and Renault all looking strong in testing so far.
"I believe that Renault needs to be fighting for podiums and fighting for winning races - we need to be protagonists of the show," the Italian said at the presentation. "There is only one winner of the championship, so it is not easy, but we need to be there fighting for the podiums and a 50 percent chance each time we start, to be in the top four."
To help Alonso along the way will be rookie driver Nelsinho Piquet, son of three-time world champion Nelson. "My aim this year is to get the maximum out of the package," he said yesterday, "and to do a good job for the team. There will be a lot to learn and I am not underestimating the challenge of Formula 1."
Not least among those challenges will be supporting Alonso, who reportedly made it part of his contract that he is to be the number one driver in the team, no doubt so as to avoid the intense rivalry that developed with Lewis Hamilton when he drove at McLaren last year. Hamilton eventually finished second in the championship, above Alonso in third. Kimi Raikkonen took the title for Ferrari in a thrilling final race in Brazil.
With such highly competitive drivers lining up for the upcoming season, which gets going on 16 March in Melbourne, 2008 looks set to be as exciting as the last season.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / SIMON HUNTER 2008]
Subject: Spanish news