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Renault confirm Kovalainen and Briatore
Alan Baldwin | September 06, 2006 17:17 IST
Finland's Heikki Kovalainen will race for Renault in 2007 while Flavio Briatore has signed up as team boss for two more years, the Formula One champions announced on Wednesday.
The 24-year-old Kovalainen will partner Italian Giancarlo Fisichella after the departure of Spain's world champion Fernando Alonso to McLaren.
Renault said Briatore, who has been at the helm since 2000, signed up for 2007 and 2008 despite speculation he might quit.
Brazilians Ricardo Zonta and Nelson Piquet junior will be the test drivers.
Zonta joins from Toyota, where he was a test driver, and the 30-year-old has considerable experience of the Bridgestone tyres that Renault will be using next year after Michelin's withdrawal.
Piquet, 21, is challenging for the title in the Renault-powered GP2 feeder series. His father and namesake was world champion in 1981, 1983 and 1987.
Renault's announcement ends talk of Kimi Raikkonen joining from McLaren as Alonso's replacement and makes it all the more likely the Finn will be named as a Ferrari driver after Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.
Renault said Briatore, 56, had also confirmed the continuity of the technical staff, with key members such as engineering head Pat Symonds and technical directors Bob Bell and Rob White staying on.
"It is now important for the Renault F1 Team to begin a fresh cycle of development from 2007, with a reinvigorated driver line-up and several major new commercial partners," Briatore said in a statement.
"We know how important it is to manage change in an organisation, and we have a close-knit, dynamic team capable of fighting for victory. I am confident Renault will be a major force in Formula One in the years to come."
Fisichella, 33, had already been confirmed for one more season while test driver Kovalainen was always seen as his most likely team mate once it became apparent that Raikkonen was heading to Ferrari.
"Everybody at Renault is very optimistic about our driver line-up for 2007 and beyond," said Briatore.
"We have taken the conscious decision to build for the future, without compromising the stability of the team in the short term. Giancarlo is a proven force in Formula One and Heikki is already fully integrated into the team.
"After seeing performances in testing this season, we have very high hopes for him."
Renault are leading both championships, with Alonso 12 points clear of Ferrari's Michael Schumacher and the team two clear of Ferrari in the constructors' standings with four races remaining.
"I think next year is a new start for me. There will be high expectations straight away, but I will not look at it as extra pressure," said Kovalainen.
"I will be aiming to tick off my goals one by one: to finish my first race, hopefully to do it in the points and to improve all year. We should have a car capable of bringing good results, and I need to deliver them."
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