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."