The Renault F1 Team's Managing Director gives his thoughts on the season so far. His verdict? He's happy... but not complacent.
Flavio, how do you summarise the start of the season so far for Renault?
Flavio Briatore: It has been very good, there's no doubt about it. But we always have to tell ourselves that we have achieved nothing so far – simply met our objective from the start of the season, which was to be competing for the title. This is the longest championship we have seen in Formula 1 with 19 races, and it will be difficult to maintain our current level of performance. The situation in Monaco with the poor results was dramatic for us, and that is why it was so satisfying to go to Germany and beat Mercedes on their home turf – it was a big psychological boost. But we all know there is a very fine line between success and failure.
We saw in Barcelona and Monaco two races where the cars were not able to fight for the win- what was the reaction to that?
FB: I said at the time, that you cannot expect to win all the races. We are racing with the best teams in the world, they have huge budgets and F1 is an incredibly tough competition: we are fighting big names like Toyota and Honda. Not only that, but we began building this team four years ago – and we are battling teams like McLaren-Mercedes, who have been investing heavily together for a decade, or Ferrari, who have enormous budgets and stability. From the outside, people don't always see what is happening but within the team, we know what we have achieved. For some of the manufacturers we have seen come and go in Formula 1, even our bad results would have been their best ones. I believe the teams at Viry and Enstone are doing a fantastic job.
One of the hot topics in Formula 1 at the moment is the new tyre regulations – what is your opinion of them?
FB: I think we have to look back to why we changed the tyre rules first of all. We were moving in the direction of saving money in areas that do not bring benefit to the spectator. One of these was engines, by making them last two weekends. In that context, we said the tyre manufacturers should be restricted as well. But then, because we have two tyre manufacturers, everybody pushes things to the limit. It is the responsibility of the teams to make the decision with the driver when they see they have a problem, and they judge the risk involved, like in many other areas. In Germany, we knew there might be tyre problems and worked our strategy around that – Fernando, for me, drove a better race than Raikkonen because he did not have any difficulties, and was able to push all the way through to the end. Sometimes you have the chance to win because you are fast, other times you can win by making your competition lose, and the latter is what we did at the last race. However, we also know McLaren did a better job than us in Monaco. But this year, with these rules, I think we have seen more spectacular races and it has helped the show. We do not want to see people hurt, of course, but managing risks is part of the sport and why people like F1. There is a mix of risk, strategy and racing that makes Formula 1 a great event for the fans.
The team has gone from the back of the grid in 2001, to the front in 2005 – what has been the secret?
FB: There is only one secret, and that is the people, the team. We have people in this team who know how to win. For me, it is like ten years ago with Benetton – it feels like watching the same film, but with different people in the roles. The people in our organisation are very strong, they are racers. This is not a big team like some of our competitors, but we are flexible, we can change direction and we take decisions quickly. The organisation is very flat – we communicate fast, and people are in no doubt as to their role and their responsibilities. Plus we have the Renault group behind us. With Benetton, there was a clothing manufacturer; now, we have an advanced global carmaker with a lot of technology to offer us. That is one of the keys to our competitiveness.
The Renault Group has a new Chairman – Carlos Ghosn. What has that changed for you?
FB: I know Mr Ghosn is a competitive person – he has shown that with what he achieved at Nissan, and I am pleased that he is now at Renault. His predecessor, Louis Schweitzer, gave the green light to come back to F1 and with Patrick Faure, gave me the responsibility for this team. I hope I repaid their confidence, and intend to continue doing so. Renault is not in F1 just to take part – we are here to be competitive, and be the expression of a competitive group. When you are winning, the boost of Formula 1 for the company's image is undeniable, and we need to be able to make the most of that.
That way of thinking seems to link back to your reputation as one of the most serious businessmen in the paddock…
FB: You cannot manage a company of 800 people without a business head. This is not just about going racing – if you want to do that, you can do it with a few friends, build a car together, take it to a track and race it. This is a complex operation, and we have the responsibility of carrying the image of a group like Renault. That means it is business. For us, the objective is to achieve the maximum result for the minimum investment – and I think while results are what we are judged on, the way we achieve them matters. It is easier to do things with an open chequebook, but here we train mechanics, engineers, drivers. We always invest in the future, whether it is with drivers or the team.