Alain Dassas, the Renault F1 Team's President, discusses the team's sporting achievements in 2006.
Q: Mr Dassas, what assessment would you make of the team's sporting record in 2006?
Alain Dassas: The Renault F1 Team has become double world champions for the second consecutive year: it would have been hard for them to do better! I think it is important to say that results like these owe nothing to chance. They have been planned and constructed to meet a pre-defined strategy. We have hit our targets.
Q: This championship saw many ups and downs for Renault. What are your stand-out memories?
AD: Firstly, I was struck by the team's incredible start to the season. We were clearly better prepared than our competitors, and there are many good memories from that period. For example, the win in Barcelona and the welcome from the crowd were wonderful to see, just like the stands full of blue and yellow in Magny-Cours. Then our rivals began catching us, piece by piece, and the situation became more tense. Among the bad memories, I will remember the qualifying incident in Monaco, Fernando's penalties from the stewards in Budapest and Monza, and the mass damper affair.
Q: How did the latter incident affect the team?
AD: The Federation's decision, which we accepted and adhered to, had several impacts. Firstly, a significant performance loss. Secondly, it disrupted our development programme. And, finally, it cost the team a significant amount of money, because we had to re-optimise the car by designing, approving and producing new parts. That could have had an effect on our motivation, but the team's effective response inspired great respect. Be it at Enstone or Viry, they worked night and day to solve the problems we encountered through the season. And when I say night and day, that isn't just a figure of speech...
Q: You conquered Ferrari, a legendary name in motorsport. Is beating this team more important than beating any other?
AD: I think it has a greater impact with the general public. It really hits home, which is positive for us. But we also beat many other manufacturers: Mercedes, BMW, Honda, Toyota. That sends a clear message. If we can do better than them on the track, we can do better on the road as well.
Q: You have mentioned the general public. Have you been surprised by their reaction to the double championship?
AD: Yes. The response seems to me more positive than in 2005 and it has come from a wide range of people. There was such suspense towards the end that it drew in many new spectators. Everybody got excited by the battle between Alonso and Schumacher, and Renault and Ferrari. During the final stages of the year, the audience figures were sometimes 40% higher than a year ago. I also think Renault has built genuine sporting credibility over these years. That's why the number of blue and yellow caps and flags has been constantly growing at circuits around the world. This year, according to my information, distributors have sold more models of Renaults than Ferraris...
Q: Unlike other teams in the paddock, there is almost a familial atmosphere at Renault...
AD: It is familial and close-knit, and that struck me immediately. There is a real connection between the team members. I saw it best during the difficult times: people didn't look to blame an individual, rather all wanted to solve the problem. The drivers and the factories at Viry and Enstone all work as one team. They know they rely on each other to succeed.
Q: There are also very close links between the team and its partners...
AD: The relationships with partners such as Elf and Michelin are exemplary. We have shared joy and disappointment as one, while Mild Seven also made a significant financial contribution to our success. And now, we are turning a new page. Next year, we will welcome ING and use Bridgestone tyres. That will be the start of a new adventure.
Q: In budgetary terms, did the titles come at a high price in 2006?
AD: Our budget in 2006 was equivalent to that we had last year. Logically, therefore, it remained the fifth-largest on the grid! When he took the decision to continue in Formula 1, Mr Ghosn spoke of three criteria: first-rate performances, effective use of the positive impact on the brand image and reduced costs. That will be the case in 2007, as the new engine regulations will allow all competitors to make savings. It will be our job to minimise the consequences of these changes, most especially on a human level.
Q: What's more, Renault will supply engines to Red Bull Racing in 2007...
AD: Yes. That will allow us to maintain a higher level of engine activity, to increase our earnings and to improve the show as another team will be racing with a competitive, high technology engine.
Q: How will Renault capitalise on the world championships, in the short and medium term?
AD: Firstly, we were ready for them this year, whereas in 2005 we were a little slow getting started. A worldwide communications and advertising campaign was launched the day after the titles were won. Our message is simple, and consists of the links between F1 and our production vehicles: in essence, that our on-track performances reflect what we can do on the road. Both worlds share the values of reliability, quality and performance. Secondly, our repeated success improves Renault's image, and brings it a sportier, more technology-driven character, and helps improve brand awareness around the globe. And finally, it unites and motivates the personnel of Renault Group. The whole Groups supports the F1 team, and is delighted with these titles.
Q: Will we also see sportier products?
AD: Naturally. Currently, we are selling sports versions of two current models: Clio and Mégane. Among the 26 models that will be launched in the next three years, we will have one or two sporty products; we are also debating a more focused sporting product, but that will not come immediately. Overall, we want to improve our entire range, in terms of product profile and quality.
Q: Finally, you are losing an exceptional champion this winter...
AD: That's true. Fernando Alonso is a worthy champion who fully deserves his titles. He has been a member of the Renault family for five years, and we are proud of that. I am sure we will remain close in the future... but we also want to defend our titles! Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella will bring us a blend of youth and experience. 2007 will be a year of change for Renault and our rivals. It is up to us to get the maximum from it.