Flavio Briatore, the Renault F1 Team's Managing Director, discusses what double championship victory meant in 2006.
Q: Flavio, the Renault F1 Team are now double world champions. The team has had two remarkable years...
Flavio Briatore: They have been fantastic. With Renault, we went from the back of the grid in 2001 to double world champions -- and we scored a 'double double' with Fernando. Last year was historic because Renault became the first mass-market manufacturer to win in Formula 1. To do it again is unprecedented. The Renault Group made a long-term commitment to Formula 1, and this is why: because they have a team that can deliver the results, and make that commitment into a profitable investment. Winning a second title showed that last year was no fluke. This is one of the great teams in F1.
Q: What was the secret of success?
FB: It was written on the side of the car: team spirit. We are not the team with the biggest budget; we do not pay the highest salaries; and we do not have superstars at any level. We work as a team, from start to finish. People talk openly and directly, they demand the very highest standards, and they have the competitive fire to come out on top. The best illustration came this summer, when we had to face a number of difficult challenges. They knuckled down, and the team fought back. I am very proud to be part of a team like this.
Q: In terms of the technical package, you maintained your competitiveness from 2005...
FB: And we were the only ones! Ferrari stopped developing at the end of 2005 to prepare for this year, and they were strong. McLaren pushed to the end, but that compromised them for 2006. We won the championship last year -- and were the best prepared again at the start of 2006. A lot of credit for that must go to Rob White and his engine team in Viry. They designed a brand new V8, they waited to run it on the track -- and it won its first race. Even late in the year, when we had problems, they were still pushing back the limits on performance and reliability. They did an incredible job, just like the team in Enstone, who pushed the boundaries back in every area.
Q: The team faced a number of ups and downs during the year -- but didn't seem to flinch at any point...
FB: This was a very tough season, much harder for the team and Fernando than 2005. We were fighting against the might of Ferrari, and Michael Schumacher who was doing it for the final time, and giving absolutely everything to that fight. That was a very stressful situation for everybody and an incredible fight. It was an honour to beat Ferrari, and especially because so many people seemed to think they had already won at certain points of the year. We did it, and the challenges we overcame only make that victory even sweeter.
Q: In the heat of that battle, was the team able to maintain its customary operational efficiency?
FB: Yes. We spent less than Ferrari, and we won. But fortunately, it's not just money that makes the car go faster in Formula 1. Efficiency, innovation, creativity, management... they all count just as much as the number of dollars you spend. And we got a better return on our investment than any other team.
Q: You have talked about the quality of the team behind you, but the drivers deserve a special mention...
FB: Fernando was stratospheric this year, like a war machine. He drove an incredible season with no mistakes. Our relationship with him reached its peak this year, and we won together again. Giancarlo took another step forward as well. He scored more points than in 2005, he was more comfortable with the team, and he can take another step forward in 2007. From the outside, people will doubt him and criticise. But inside the team, we have the confidence he will step up to a new level.
Q: Personally, you also overcame big challenges, notably with a cancer scare during the summer?
FB: I did, and I found inspiration within our team. Dino Toso, our head of aerodynamics, has fought a battle with cancer for the last two years, and he has done it with amazing courage. This moment was another hurdle in a year full of challenges. And that is what I learned about our team in 2006. When things go bad, it digs deep inside itself and counter-attacks stronger and more united.
Q: Looking ahead to 2007, you have said the team will be aiming for victories... Is that realistic with the world champion leaving the team?
FB: We will not be the same team next year without Fernando, and we are looking forward to the challenge. Alonso was the anti-Schumacher, and we hope that Heikki can be the anti-Alonso. But the driver is one element of the package. Out of the top three teams in Formula 1, we are the only one that goes into next year with a stable technical structure, and that is what brings success in F1. The management is stable, and we have the investment we need to do the job. People criticised our vision before, and they will do it again, but we know the path we are on -- and we are confident it is the right one.
Q: The team will also become the ING Renault F1 Team...
FB: We are delighted to welcome ING into Formula 1. I think it shows how strong the sport is at the moment, that we are able to replaced the investments of the tobacco industry at the same level. And it shows the strength of our team, that ING chose us over teams like McLaren and Ferrari. ING are an ambitious company, who believe in Formula 1. And they will make a big impact from the very first race, with sponsorship of the Australian Grand Prix. Their arrival is good news for the sport.
Q: Finally, how would you describe the state of Formula 1 at the end of 2006?
FB: It is very healthy at the moment. In structural terms, the teams have made long-term commitments, and we have rules that will help reduce the costs and improve the show. And most importantly, we have given the public a fantastic show in 2006 -- and there is the promise of the same thing next year. We had incredible interest at the end of the championship, and people will be tuning in next year to follow the story again. We have a new generation of drivers, people moving teams, all the cards have been shuffled. That will make things unpredictable and exciting, which is exactly what the sport needs.