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Friday, February 1, 2008

Alonso, Briatore F1 R28

PARIS - Even Renault agrees: its 2007 Formula One car was a lemon.

The French team hopes that will change this year with the return of two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso and its new R28 car that it launched Thursday.

Alonso is happy to be back with Renault after a turbulent season with McLaren, but conceded they will mostly be chasing podium places as it will be difficult to close the gap on Ferrari and McLaren.

"We have to be realistic," the Spaniard said. "If we can win races, that will be a dream come true."

Renault won back-to-back drivers' championships with Alonso in 2005 and '06, but technical director Bob Bell said it was obvious early that the 2007 car was poor so they focused on the 2008 version.

"Our car was pretty much undriveable," Renault team managing director Flavio Briatore said.

Alonso said testing on the new car had been on ensuring it was free of design faults, and that the focus will be on performance in February before the March 16 start to the season at the Australian Grand Prix.

"We need to recover a gap of maybe one second," Alonso said. "Step by step, we really hope to close the gap."

Bell said Alonso had provided "invaluable" input as they fine-tune the new model.

Briatore didn't want to be drawn on Alonso's troubled year at McLaren, saying it wasn't his business, but described the Spaniard as "more mature" than in the past and "very focused."

McLaren released Alonso one year into a three-year deal due to feuds with teammate Lewis Hamilton.

"He's come home," Briatore said of Alonso. "To have him back is fantastic."

Renault No. 2 driver Nelson Piquet Jr. said the team can win the drivers' championship again.

"If they did it once, they can do it again," Piquet said.

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