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'Alonso did his own deal'
Alan Baldwin | December 20, 2005 22:00 IST
Renault team head Flavio Briatore has denied masterminding Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso's shock move to McLaren for 2007.
McLaren stunned the sport on Monday by announcing that Spaniard Alonso, managed by Briatore, had signed to join them at the end of next year.
"I was at no time directly or indirectly involved in the conduct of these negotiations," Briatore said in a personal statement on Tuesday.
"Fernando made a personal decision that his future lies outside the Renault team when his current contract expires at the end of 2006.
"He contacted and negotiated with McLaren at his own instigation."
Monday's announcement, less than three months after Alonso became Formula One's youngest world champion at the age of 24, prompted immediate speculation about Renault's future intentions in the sport.
It also cast a question mark over the flamboyant Briatore, an astute paddock politician who had apparently negotiated the lucrative departure of his own team's star asset to their greatest rivals.
The Italian did not say at what point he had become aware of Alonso's intentions or whether he had attempted to persuade him to stay.
Alonso's decision to leave, with his team still celebrating their double triumph on the track with the constructors' title also won this year, left many in the sport wondering what was going on behind the scenes.
"From Briatore and Alonso's point of view the timing of this announcement is all wrong," said Britain's former driver and ITV television commentator Martin Brundle.
"Why would they allow McLaren to announce this now, the week before Christmas and a full year ahead? Why would Renault accept it just when they want to milk the marketing for the championship success?," he said on the ITV website.
"It's surely going to hurt the motivation of the Renault team."
Others asked why Renault had not offered to match McLaren's terms and, if they had, why the Spaniard had still decided to leave a team where he had been groomed as the golden boy.
McLaren's move was a complete surprise and their second coup in a week, coming close after the announcement that Vodafone were leaving Ferrari to become the Mercedes-powered team's title sponsor in 2007.
It also sent the 2006 driver market into overdrive nearly three months before the start of the season on March 12, with the attention now focussed firmly on McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari's Michael Schumacher.
Raikkonen has been linked to Ferrari for some time, with the Italian team open in their admiration of the Finn's qualities.
Runner-up this year with seven wins, his contract with McLaren expires at the end of 2006 and he can expect to command a hefty price tag.
Ferrari are unlikely to pair him with seven times champion Schumacher, if only because the financial burden of their combined salaries would be immense, who has a contract to the end of next year.
If Schumacher retires, Raikkonen would be an obvious successor. However he could also stay at McLaren in a super-team or consider other approaches.
Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper said Renault and BMW had also made him offers.
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