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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 13:33 GMT
Renault rumblings
By Mike Burnett
BBC Sport in Monaco

Flavio Briatore and Fernando Alonso
Briatore insists he knew nothing of Alonso's desire to defect
"Winning is just the beginning" was the slogan as Formula One world champions Renault launched their 2006 challenge, amid a fanfare of glitz and glamour in Monte Carlo.

But as the unveiling of the new R26 car drew to a close, doubts remained over whether this was just the beginning of the end for the team.

Renault F1 president Patrick Faure talked of an "aggressive approach" to the new season as he told reporters and sponsors he expected the French team to successfully defend their world titles.

However, the effect the impending loss of world champion Fernando Alonso will have on the team as well as Renault's long-term commitment to the sport are two issues that refuse to go away.

I've never seen them (Renault) as motivated as they are now because they want to prove to him (Alonso) that he was wrong
Renault F1 president Patrick Faure

Alonso's defection to McLaren in 2007 caused plenty of shockwaves when it was announced in December.

But Faure insists that, while sad, the departure of the Spaniard will not hamper his team's prospects this season.

"Fernando Alonso is a committed, professional sportsman, he enters the year as world champion and will be determined to do justice to that title," said the head of Renault's racing operations.

"We are focused on repeating our successes."

If anything, Faure believes Alonso's switch to McLaren will only enhance Renault's chances of repeating their glorious 2005 campaign, when they won both the constructors' and drivers' championships.

"I've never seen the team as motivated as they are now because they want to prove to him (Alonso) that he was wrong."

Despite Faure's words of optimism, they will do little to quell the rumours about Renault's F1 future.

Managing director Flavio Briatore lambasted French journalists who suggested Renault would be pulling out at the end of this season.

But Alonso's claims that he quit not because of money but because he was worried about the team's prospects beyond 2006 are unsettling.

R26 SPECIFICATION
Renault's new R26 car
Engine: 2,400cc 90-degree V8
Transmission: Seven-speed semi-automatic titanium gearbox
Length: 4,800mm
Width: 1,800mm
Height: 950mm
Weight: 605kg

Perhaps of more concern to Faure is the loss of title sponsor Mild Seven, a cigarette company, at the end of the year.

"They were really paying a good part of the budget," said Faure.

"I don't see easily one sponsor replacing them, but I think we can find two or three smaller sponsors who can share the kind of space they have on the car."

As for Alonso's successor, that could prove just as problematic as filling the void left by Mild Seven.

McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya has been linked with Renault, but Faure has indicated the team will look to give younth its chance, just as they did with Alonso.

"I wouldn't say that we have the budget to find the best drivers," Faure said. "I think we have a special talent to find new, very talented young drivers."

Italian Giancarlo Fisichella still has plenty to prove with a year left on his contract while third driver Heikki Kovalainen will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Alonso, who started as the team's test driver in 2002.

But for now both men have the backing of Faure.

"I believe that Giancarlo will now be more integrated in the team than he was last year," said the Renault boss.

"It was his first year of coming back while Fernando had been here for four years and knew everybody.

"Now Giancarlo knows everybody, I think he will do well in 2006 while I am waiting with a lot of impatience to see what Heikki Kovalainen will do in testing this year."

Clearly, Renault are keen to focus on the positives as they prepare to launch their double title defence.

But it remains to be seen whether the cloud of uncertainty currently plaguing their build-up will dog their vision on the track.




SEE ALSO
Renault play down F1 quit rumours
31 Jan 06 |  Formula One
Briatore hits out at 'mind games'
29 Aug 05 |  Formula One
Briatore denies Alonso deal role
20 Dec 05 |  Formula One


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