Renault will be challenging for the front row this season, according to team Managing Director, the flamboyant Flavio Briatore. The team unveiled its 2008 challenger in Paris, in the presence of Renault/ Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who was there as a sign of showing commitment to the F1 crew, after his discouraging remarks of 2006.
The new car, Renault F1 R28, is said to be a great improvement over last year’s disaster, which in all honesty, wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be. After all, it did finish third on the grid, albeit without McLaren in the championship. Perhaps it was judged based on its ultra-successful predecessor.
Team principal Bernard Rey also has positive spin on things for 2008. “We expect to see the team back in its normal place, fighting at the front of the field,” he said.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso has been testing the new car. It may still be early days yet, but the French steed in his hands has not shown the kind of dominance that Ferrari has exhibited in testing. With hardly a month to go before the season kicks off in Australia, Alonso may not be at all worried about this year’s championship though, if rumours of a Ferrari 2010 move are true...
Nonetheless, the man is a spirited and talented fighter on the track. Nelson Piquet jnr, whose famous name and heritage is unquestioned, will be a different animal as a teammate, to the gung-ho Lewis Hamilton, Alonso’s 2007 prickly pear at McLaren. “My aim this year is to get the maximum out of the package,” Piquet said, not unlike Rubens Barichello and Filipe Massa when they started at Ferrari, “and to do a good job for the team. There will be a lot to learn and I not underestimating the challenge of Formula 1.” Surely this season there is only one team leader in Alonso and his bosses’ eyes?
A number of key changes to the rules have meant that Renault needed to adapt as well. These changes include the banning of driver aids such as traction control and gearboxes meant to last much longer than before. Technical director Bob Bell also sang the new company tune of positive energy when addressing some of these concerns.
“We have put the problems from 2007 behind us and in terms of the car design, we have looked at the problem afresh. The team pushed very hard in all areas, and particularly on the aerodynamics. The front end of the car has come in for special attention with a brand new front wing and the front suspension. The rear end has also been heavily reworked, and we haven’t neglected the basics. The car ran reliably in its first test, and we made encouraging progress on performance development last week. We are confident that the advances we have seen in the wind tunnel will be reflected on track.”
With Alonso, the only double-world champion still on duty, back with the team, it’s hard to find fault in the positive buzz that is abundant in Boulogne-Billancourt, on the banks of the Seine in south-west Paris today.