The decision that kept team managers up and down the paddock on pins and needles came Wednesday when Renault announced Fernando Alonso will stay with the Formula One team another two years. Nelsinho Piquet, whose rookie season included stumbles ...
The decision that kept team managers up and down the paddock on pins and needles came Wednesday when Renault announced Fernando Alonso will stay with the Formula One team another two years. Nelsinho Piquet, whose rookie season included stumbles before he gathered himself for better showings, was retained through 2009.
"We are happy to confirm both Fernando and Nelson for next season," Managing Director Flavio Briatore said. "This gives the ING Renault F1 Team one of the most exciting driver pairings with the perfect blend of youth and experience. Fernando's commitment for the next two seasons confirms the faith he has in the team, and we are delighted to continue working with him. He has been a big asset throughout this difficult season and his leadership and talent, matched with the team's hard work and determination, have paid off with our recent performances, which have placed the ING Renault F1 Team back among the top competitors of Formula One."
Alonso, who won the 2005 and 2006 FIA World Drivers' Championships to become the then-youngest titlist with Renault, demonstrated his talent by scoring points in the first half of the season in a clearly inferior car. He qualified on the front row for the Spanish Grand Prix, fourth of the season. His frustrated effort to earn positions at times cost hims points. But development improved the R28 as the season progressed, and the Spaniard won races in Singapore and Japan. He finished second in the season-ender in Brazil. His effort pulled Renault to fourth ahead of Toyota in the FIA World Constructors' Championship. He finished fifth among 20 drivers on 61 points.
Throughout the season, rumors circulated that he was ripe for teasing away from the tightly funded French team. Even after Ferrari confirmed its drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa would stay with the team through 2009, stories continued that Alonso would go to Maranello. Even Wednesday, in an exchange of stories between Spanish and Italian newspapers, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo reiterated that Ferrari's drivers, including test drivers Luca Badoer and Marc Gene, are firmly in place. Alonso was also linked throughout the season to Honda, where drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello have not been re-signed. Team boss Nick Fry told the BBC the Japanese team is in no hurry and "can wait until Christmas" to announce its 2009 lineup. Bruno Senna, a GP2 series driver who is nephew of the late world champion Ayrton Senna, will test a Honda later this month. Button scored three points and Barrichello 11 this season in a car Fry conceded was "weak" because the team poured its resources into a 2009 car that will reflect several rules changes.
"I have decided to stay with the ING Renault F1 team because, as I have often repeated this season, they have always been my first choice and I feel very happy and comfortable with them," Alonso said. "It's a very close-knit team with a competitive and winning mentality, and also a relaxed and warm attitude, which suits me perfectly.
"After a difficult start to the season, we have overcome our difficulties and constantly improved our performances. My back-to-back wins in Singapore and Japan, and my recent second place podium finish in Brazil, have proved how competitive we can be. In the past we have won championships together, as well as going through tough moments, but we are now determined to show that we can repeat that success together in the coming seasons."
The Brazilian Piquet, one of three second-generation F1 drivers, scored a second place in Germany on the strength of a one-stop strategy that benefited from a well-timed safety car. He scored points in five races but had no points before the French Grand Prix, the eighth race of the 18-race season. His 19 points placed him 12th among 20 drivers.
"Obviously, I am delighted to have the opportunity to race for the ING Renault F1 Team for a second year," Piquet said. "Although I have had a tough year, I have learned a lot from my rookie season, and I will aim to put that experience to good use next season. I want to thank the team for their support this year and for the trust they have shown in me for the future. I'm already excited about 2009 and looking forward to working with the team over the winter so that we can start next season strongly."