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banner Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 14:03 GMT
Renault groom Alonso for 2003
Fernando Alonso in action for Minardi
Alonso drove for Minardi for the 2001 season
Renault Formula One boss Flavio Briatore has dropped a heavy hint that Fernando Alonso will race for the team in 2003.

Renault signed the Spanish driver as their test driver for next season, but Briatore was quoted saying on Thursday that he was looking forward to 2003.

"It is an investment for us and for him. It is important to save him, to allow him the time to prepare for 2003 in the right conditions," the Italian told French sports newspaper L'Equipe.

Briatore also said that he would have preferred to drop current driver Jenson Button, instead of Giancarlo Fisichella, for the 2002 season.

We chose not to waste him by letting him drive for another team
Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore on Alonso

Renault, formerly Benetton, have Button and Italian Jarno Trulli signed for next season's campaign.

Button's deal is next year only - and Briatore said he would have retained Fisichella if he had had the choice.

"Personally, I would have liked to keep Fisichella, but we have to honour our contract with Button to the end," he said.

"He has acquired experience, he should blossom next year."

Alonso, 20, drove for Minardi in 2001, but had a long-term Renault contract which was exercised this month.

"He is very young and has a great talent. We chose not to waste him by letting him drive for another team," said Briatore, who explained that Alonso would replace Mark Webber.

Jenson Button'
Jenson Button's F1 future remains in doubt

"We will have only him as test driver since Mark Webber is thinking of going to race in the United States."

The Renault boss predicted his team would finish in the top four in the championship next season.

He also said that he thought that BMW Williams would be the main challengers to world champions Ferrari next year.

"Our aim is to fight for the championship from 2003," he said.

"It will be difficult to go and upset Ferrari and Williams in the short term, but why not McLaren?"

Benetton, owned by Renault, finished seventh in 2001 with just 10 points, Fisichella scoring eight of them.

See also:

02 Nov 01 |  Formula One
Alonso goes to Renault
08 Feb 01 |  Motorsport
Minardi snap up Alonso
06 Feb 01 |  Motorsport
Alonso lines up Minardi drive
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