Renault endured probably its most miserable race of an overwhelmingly dispiriting season in the Brazilian Grand Prix, with both drivers in the wars on the opening lap and both ultimately ending their afternoon with severely-damaged cars.

Having struggled during qualifying - with Giancarlo Fisichella twelfth and Heikki Kovalainen managing no better than 17th following an error on his final lap - the signs were already there that this was not going to be the R?gie's weekend, and so it was to prove. The Italian's final outing of the campaign was short-lived, as he was hit from behind at the start before going off-course on lap two, being heavily collected by the unsighted Sakon Yamamoto in the Spyker as he attempted to regain the circuit.

Kovalainen was also tagged in the opening corner just yards into the race, suffering a left-front puncture in the impact and losing a lap as he was forced to return to the pits to change tyres. The Finn would eventually crash out in turn three with a suspected car failure just before half-distance, his sole DNF from an impressive rookie season in the top flight and one that capped the team's only dual retirement of the year.

"This has been a difficult season for the whole team," Fisichella confirmed, "but I had hoped the last race would last a bit longer than two laps. I got hit in the rear at the start, which damaged the car, then on lap two I went off fighting with a Williams on the way into turn one. The car was very hard to control or slow down on the grass, with very low grip, and that meant when I came back onto the track I was involved in a collision with another car. It was just a racing incident, and I am sorry it ended both of our races.

"It's a shame to leave the final race empty-handed after a year when we have had to fight so hard, but thank you to all the guys; no matter how hard it got they never stopped working, and they deserved more from the end of the year."

Like his team-mate, Kovalainen had begun the race on an audacious strategy in an effort to make up ground from his lowly grid slot, but his first lap contact rendered all that rather academic pretty much from the word go.

"We were planning to run a very short first stint," the recently-turned 26-year-old explained, "and with the car light on fuel I made a good start. I went right on the way into turn one, hoping it would then give me the inside line through the next corner, and was running alongside Ralf Schumacher. I think Fisico got hit because his car suddenly moved over, which set off a chain reaction and then Ralf hit my car.

"At first I thought the front-left suspension was broken, but as I drove back to the pits I thought it was maybe just a puncture. That proved to be the case, so we fuelled the car longer and went back out. Unfortunately, the time I had lost put me right in a group of cars lapping me, so I drove with blue flags all the time for the first stint; I was quicker than the guys in front, but because they were a lap ahead I had to let them all past!

"Eventually I got out of the traffic and was just looking to bring the car home to the finish, but then going through turn two I felt a vibration at the left-rear, and as I lifted off the back end snapped and put me in the wall. It's a real shame to retire like this and not manage to finish all the races, but that's the way it goes.

"All I want to do now is move onto the next challenge - firstly the New York Marathon in November, and then focusing on next year. If I want to become world champion, which is my aim, I need to be even better-prepared mentally and physically than I was this year. I want to start working towards that goal as soon as I possibly can."

Having amassed just 51 points over the course of the campaign - a staggering 155 fewer than last year when they lifted both the drivers' and constructors' laurels - Renault now plan to regroup over the close-season, with team members confident of being able to re-establish the French cars right back at the front of the grid again in 2008.

"We have had a difficult season," acknowledged managing director Flavio Briatore, "and it finished with a hard race. The team expected a tough end to the year because we have been working towards 2008 for a long time already, and when you start in the midfield the kind of incidents we saw today can happen. In spite of this, though, we were prepared to take some risks and perhaps they could have paid off.

"The most important thing after a year full of challenges is that we demonstrated our character and determination. The support from Renault, from ING and our other partners never wavered, and we thank them for their commitment. Our next challenge is to show that we can come back stronger next year, and regain our place at the front of the field. I am confident we can deliver."

"Giancarlo's race was very short," added executive director of engineering Pat Symonds. "When you have two accidents in two laps, it's probably a sign it's not going to be your day. As for Heikki, after his problem in qualifying we decided to do things a little differently as there were no points to be had from a conventional approach.

"We intended to run a very short stint on the super-soft tyre, and it turned out to be even shorter than expected, as he was forced to pit with a puncture on lap one. He continued to race hard, even when a lap down, but ultimately he crashed at turn three. We need to find out why, but it appears to have been the result of a car problem.

"We set our standards high at Renault and while our championship position is nothing to be ashamed of, it doesn't meet the goals we set ourselves. It only makes us more determined than ever to come out fighting in 2008."

 

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