Kovalainen to race Renault in 2007, Briatore to stay on

Renault has announced its structure for 2007 and confirmed that Heikki Kovalainen will race for the team next season and Flavio Briatore will remain as managing director through 2008. Kovalainen, who has been with Renault as part of its driver development programme since 2002, steps up from the role of test and third driver to partner Giancarlo Fisichella. He replaces the McLaren-bound Fernando Alonso.

Heikki Kovalainen.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"I am thrilled to get the opportunity to race with a world champion team like Renault," said the 24 year-old Finn. "My two seasons testing for the team, as well as my time in GP2, have allowed me to build my technical knowledge and to understand what it takes to win in Formula One. I have also had the opportunity to show the team what I can do, and it is a great motivation to know that they believe in me."

Briatore has overseen Renault's F1 operations since the manufacturer took over Benetton in 2000. "I am delighted to continue to lead Renault's Formula One challenge," he commented. "It is now important for the Renault F1 Team to begin a fresh cycle of development from 2007, with a reinvigorated driver line-up and several major new commercial partners. This is the key to performing at the top level in the medium and long term."

Along with Fisichella and Kovalainen, that driver line up includes a pair of Brazilian test drivers, one a familiar face to F1 and one new. Ricardo Zonta, who previously raced for BAR (now Honda), moves to Renault after four years in a test role at Toyota, while Nelson Piquet Jr. takes the step up from the GP2 series to a full time F1 test seat.

"I have had four very good years at Toyota, and learned a lot during the last twelve months as we made the transition to Bridgestone tyres," said Zonta. "That involved a lot of changes to the car and a lot of work to understand the character of the tyres. It is a process Renault will have to go through next year, and I think I can bring that knowledge to them."

Flavio Briatore.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Piquet Jr., who is currently fighting for the GP2 title, is ready for the next level of his career. "I am so happy to have signed as a test driver for the Renault F1 Team," he said. "I have worked my whole life to get to this level and it feels like it is the start of the next chapter of my career. I am very much looking forward to working with the team and the other drivers."

Briatore commented on the driver line up: "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 One 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 One. 2007 is the start of something new for Renault, and we believe it will be an exciting season."

Renault also confirmed that its technical management will stay the same. Technical director (chassis) Bob Bell and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds will continue to oversee the Enstone factory in the UK, while technical director (engine) Rob White and deputy managing director Andr? Lain? will do the same at at Viry-Ch?tillon, France.