Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore has admitted that the regie needs to continue its late-season run of success if it is to prevent Fernando Alonso moving on - even before the end of his new two-year contract.

Renault's encouraging end to 2008, in which Alonso won two races and out-scored everyone from Belgium onwards, prompted the Spaniard to confirm that he would remain on board until the end of 2010, but rumours continue to suggest that he remains a target for Ferrari. Again, the Scuderia has both of its drivers apparently sewn up for another two years, but the arrival of Santander at Maranello at the end of 2009 may see a shake-up earlier than that - and Briatore knows that his team needs to show Alonso that it can maintain its front-running form.

"We must give him nothing less than a winning car," he told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, "It is our goal of becoming champion again with Fernando in 2009, and I believe we have a good chance of that, but, if you have a bad car, you can't hold on to any driver."

Briatore admitted that the same pressure had existed for much of 2008, before Alonso was finally confirmed alongside Nelson Piquet Jr for 2009 on the back of victories in Singapore and Japan, and a podium in the season finale at Interlagos.

"We always wanted to do that at the end of the season," the Italian said of the announcement about Alonso's future, "The speculation that Fernando might go to Ferrari, BMW or Honda began to circulate in Melbourne, but we always kept silent on the subject."

Indeed, the rumour mill was in top gear for much of the year, heightened by Kimi Raikkonen's failure to live up to his world champion status at Ferrari and fuelled by Renault's battle to escape a midfield battle that gradually encompassed Toyota, Williams, Red Bull and Toro Rosso. Despite a tough start to the year, however, Briatore insists that the regie was never as bad as people made out.

"I do not believe that we were so bad," he claimed, "At the start of the season, we paid for 2007 when the car was really bad, but the first version of the 2008 car was already better than the last of 2007.

"We were very late starting the development of the 2008 car because we first wanted to understand what had been wrong with the previous one. It cost us five months until we had an answer. What the wind tunnel recommended to us had not worked. After so many years with reliable numbers, it suddenly failed us. That also had something to do with the change to Bridgestone as the tyre model no longer fitted but, after the reconstruction of the wind tunnel, each new development made the car faster.

"If one is as far away [from the front] as we were [in 2007], it does not take a big step to improve, but Alonso's experience accelerated the positive development. He clearly told us where we stood."

Through the first two-thirds of the season, however, neither Alonso or Renault appeared to have race-winning potential, and the finger was quickly pointed at an engine which, in relation to some of its rivals, had received very little attention since the cost-saving development 'freeze' had come into effect.

"When the FIA decided to freeze engine development, all engines were within one per cent - plus or minus - of equality," Briatore explained, "Then some teams had concerns about the idling reliability of their engines, so the FIA opened the development window again for another four months. Because idling reliability was of no concern to us, we made no changes, but some others exploited the situation and worked not only on reliability, but also on improvement. That was against the spirit of the regulations and eventually meant that we were losing around four-tenths per lap to the likes of McLaren Mercedes and Ferrari."

The situation is being addressed for 2009, with selected teams being able to bring the performance of their engines up to the level of the most powerful - something Briatore feels is only fair - an important to help keep Alonso at the front.

"We followed only the rules and, for that, we were going to be punished for the next five years," he pointed out, "If the development freeze goes on so long, we could never make up such a deficit. When the FIA announced that development had to stop, we laid off 90 colleagues at Viry-Chatillon - that was the actual purpose of the decision [to freeze development] - but others retained the same personnel."

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