Flavio Briatore has conceded that for Renault – and any other team aside from runaway F1 World Championship pace-setters Brawn GP, for that matter – the 2009 title chase is already over, admitting that 'we expected much better performance from our car' and suggesting the diffuser row torpedoed the Régie's
only chance to catch up.
Whilst Brawn GP has triumphed in five of the opening six grands prix of the campaign – and is hot favourite to do so again in Istanbul this weekend – Renault has failed to tally so much as a single podium finish with its disappointing R29 challenger, counting a mere 13 points to its Brackley-based rival's 86 just over a third of the way into the season.
Having found its car to be 1.5 seconds off the front-running pace and mired firmly in the midfield in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, the French manufacturer knew its only hope of regaining ground was if the contentious 'double-decker' diffusers employed by Brawn, Toyota and Williams were ruled to be illegal – and when they weren't, Briatore contends, he knew the game was up.
“We are not happy at all,” stressed the Italian, with Renault's best results in 2009 to-date a brace of fifth places courtesy of double world champion Fernando Alonso. “We were expecting a different championship and we were expecting a much better performance from our car. From the beginning when we arrived in Australia, we felt that we had a big difference between us and the Brawn.
“I think everybody felt that. I think you guys knew what was going on. Our team I believe approached the 2009 car from a completely different approach. We expect to improve race-by-race if it is possible, but for me the championship is finished already. Brawn is very, very difficult to beat for anybody – maybe Red Bull has a good possibility to finish second, but I think everybody else is fighting for third or fourth place. This is the honest situation, for sure.”
Renault was actually the first of the 'non-diffuser' seven to introduce its own split-level variant, just two races later in the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, but the development failed to prove the catalyst for the leap up the pecking order that had been hoped for and anticipated.
On that note, at least, Briatore – a man who has been outspoken in his view that as a 'new' team Brawn should be denied commercial revenue for the next three years and that Ross Brawn should be stripped of his role as head of the technical committee within the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA), as well as making rather less than complimentary noises about the talents of drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello – acknowledged that diffuser or no, Brawn had simply done a better job with its 2009 machine than Renault.
“I don't think it is only the diffuser,” the 59-year-old confessed. “It is the concept of the car. Everybody now has the diffuser. I believe Brawn at this moment have another one or two tenths in their pocket. We are trying very hard, but this is the situation. We never give up and the team is improving the car; we have a chance now we are in June and July to really push with this car and see what happens, but everybody is improving the same and the situation is really, really difficult for us.”