Friday, February 1, 2008

Renault launches new R28 car for F1 season

Even Renault agrees: its 2007 Formula One car was a lemon.

The French team hopes that will change this year with the return of two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso and its new R28 car that it launched Thursday.

Alonso is happy to be back with Renault after a turbulent season with McLaren, but conceded they will mostly be chasing podium places as it will be difficult to close the gap on Ferrari and McLaren.

"We have to be realistic," the Spaniard said. "If we can win races, that will be a dream come true."

Renault won back-to-back drivers' championships with Alonso in 2005 and '06, but technical director Bob Bell said it was obvious early that the 2007 car was poor so they focused on the 2008 version.
"Our car was pretty much undriveable," Renault team managing director Flavio Briatore said.

Alonso said testing on the new car had been on ensuring it was free of design faults, and that the focus will be on performance in February before the March 16 start to the season at the Australian Grand Prix.

"We need to recover a gap of maybe one second," Alonso said. "Step by step, we really hope to close the gap."

Bell said Alonso had provided "invaluable" input as they fine-tune the new model.

Briatore didn't want to be drawn on Alonso's troubled year at McLaren, saying it wasn't his business, but described the Spaniard as "more mature" than in the past and "very focused."

McLaren released Alonso one year into a three-year deal due to feuds with teammate Lewis Hamilton.

"He's come home," Briatore said of Alonso. "To have him back is fantastic."

Renault No. 2 driver Nelson Piquet Jr. said the team can win the drivers' championship again.

"If they did it once, they can do it again," Piquet said.

Renault chairman Carlos Ghosn turned up at the ING Renault F1 launch in Paris and said that he hoped that the team would do better in 2008 than it did last year. Quoting team principal Flavio Briatore, Ghosn said that the 2007 season had been "a disaster" but added that the team still finished third in the Constructors' Championship, an assessment based on the fact that McLaren was excluded rather than on track performance.

"There are two places in front of that," Ghosn said. "And I have a preference as to which one I want to see."

Ghosn said that the 2008 is going to be an important year for Renault with a lot of new products and he wants F1 to contribute as much as possible to boosting Renault sales.

Briatore said that he is hoping for wins and podiums - and expects to see them.

The engineers say that the problems of 2007 have been fully understood and fixed and that it is their ambition to get back into the hunt for the World Championship.

"We are confident that we are now back on track," said Bob Bell, the Renault technical director. "We have a very aggressive development programme for this year. Fernando Alonso drove the 2007 car recently and said it was a nice car to drive, but it did not have the grip of its rivals. We knew that we had a good product but we simply had a problem with the aerodynamics. It was to do with methodologies and so we had to look not only at the problem itself but also at what was causing it and why we did not discover it earlier."

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