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Briatore to Stay at Renault

Renault today announced its F1 plans for the future and has confirmed that Flavio Briatore will continue to lead the team for the next two years at least. Their driver line-up will be Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen and there will be two test drivers, Ricardo Zonta and Nelson Piquet Jr.

Flavio Briatore

Flavio Briatore

This news is every bit as important as any decision on retirement to be made by Michael Schumacher because Briatore has been a major factor in Renault’s success since they took over the Benetton team. He is very influential in the driver market and has shown great acumen in picking winners, Schumacher and Alonso in particular.

Renault President Carlos Ghosn commented: “Under Flavio’s leadership, the team achieved a remarkable double in 2005 by winning the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships, and maintaining that competitiveness in 2006. I am counting on the determination, talent and effectiveness of Flavio and the entire Renault F1 Team, under the Presidency of Alain Dassas, to once again take Renault to the forefront of Formula 1.”

The Renault driver selection shows both a commitment to experience and a willingness to give new drivers a chance. Fisichella and Zonta are very capable and offer plenty of knowledge and understanding of the cars; Kovalainen is a potential future star, as is Piquet Jr. This is what Briatore had to say about them:

“Everybody at Renault is very optimistic about our driver line-up for 2007 and beyond. We have taken the conscious decision to build for the future, without compromising the stability of the team in the short term. Giancarlo is a proven force in Formula 1 and Heikki is already fully integrated into the team. After seeing performances in testing this season, we have very high hopes for him. It is also a pleasure to welcome Ricardo and Nelsinho, who each bring different qualities to the team: Ricardo will have a key role to play in preparing for 2007, while Nelsinho has shown this year that he deserves his place in Formula 1. 2007 is the start of something new for Renault, and we believe it will be an exciting season.”

There is something about being seen as the number one in a team that brings out the best in a driver. I think we will see a new Fisichella next year and he will be an excellent replacement for Alonso. No matter what our thoughts on Kovalainen may be, the fact remains that he is very new to F1 competition and it would be wrong to expect miracles from him in his first racing year.

Nobody has mentioned the other Finn, Kimi Raikkonen, however. One must presume that, since Renault have made this announcement now, the rumors are true and Kimi has signed for Ferrari. There is still a possibility that he will stay with McLaren for 2007 but this looks rather remote now.

And that has some bearing on the issue of Michael’s retirement. Increasingly, opinion seems to be that he will hang up his helmet at the end of the year and, with the news from Renault, I would have to agree.

Renault Press Release

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The Corkscrew

Toyota will be demonstrating their TF106 at Laguna Seca this weekend, with Ricardo Zonta driving. Zonta has won at Laguna Seca before so he will know all about the Corkscrew.

And so will anyone who has played the PlayStation video game, Gran Turismo. Just the mention of the circuit brings back those feelings of awe, nervousness and elation the Corkscrew elicits. We may only have experienced it in virtual reality but that was enough to make us respect those who have been there and done that for real. What a series of corners it is!

You approach it on a long, rising straight and the first element of the corner is completely hidden behind the crest of the rise until, suddenly, you’re there. So it is necessary to get your line and braking point absolutely correct without seeing what awaits you. The car goes light as you reach the summit and, just at that moment, the road turns sharply left and begins a steep descent. If you haven’t hit the brakes before then, you have a date with the armco.

As it plunges downwards, the road begins to make a swooping bend to the right, just to make things even more difficult. But, if you get it right, there is nothing like the feeling of triumph that results. This is a corner that belongs up there with Eau Rouge for testing a race driver to his limit.

The Corkscrew

The Corkscrew

I am not sure I envy Ricardo his drive in an F1 car through that corner, however. Gran Turismo allows one to try it in the fiercely powerful Toyota Le Mans car of a few years ago and that was scary enough, even though I did it in the comfort of an armchair in front of a television. To attempt it in the F1 Toyota will be hair-raising indeed.

Okay, you can laugh at my equating a video game with the real thing. But Gran Turismo was state-of-the-art when it arrived, the closest thing to a driving simulator then invented. It gave those of us who will never experience racing on a real circuit an opportunity to have a taste of what it’s like. Without it, I would have no idea of just how challenging a corner the Corkscrew is.

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