MOTOR RACING: Renault under pressure to mount title challenge

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The Independent Online
THE CHAIRMAN of the Renault Formula One team, Patrick Faure, made it clear that he wants to see a major improvement in performance this year by the French manufacturer, who became the sixth team to unveil their new Formula One car in Monte Carlo yesterday.

"Every year the only major subject on which I disagree with my favourite managing director" - he gestured at Flavio Briatore - "is that we are not just here to take part and put on a show. As a company we are also investing technology and we are here to get results. We have always said that the hard step comes in 2005. This is the year in which we have to fight for the world titles, and we have to win races, in the plural."

The latter is a criticism of the team's achievements in winning only one race, with Fernando Alonso, in 2003, and one, here in Monaco, with Jarno Trulli, in 2004. The latter has been replaced by the former Renault racer Giancarlo Fisichella for the new season.

The Jordan team, who were recently purchased by the Russian steel magnate Alex Shnaider, have signed Narain Karthikeyan, which will make him the first Indian driver to race in Formula One.

Karthikeyan, who has had test drives for Jordan-Ford, Jaguar and Minardi in the last three years, said: "It's a momentous day for me and it has indeed been a long journey. Today, I can see my dream of becoming India's first F1 driver become a reality. The last 48 hours have been very tough and very hectic. We've had good news in the end, so it has eventually been worth all that."

Karthikeyan's first task, before he gets on the track in the opening race of the season in Melbourne on 6 March, will be to get the super licence he needs to drive in Formula One.

"The super licence is the most important thing right now. I've done well in other races but I still have to do about 300 kilometres over the next few weeks to get it. It won't be a problem though," he said.

Karthikeyan, who currently drives in the World Series Championship, said he was confident.

"I've raced with drivers such as Jenson Button and [Takuma] Sato before, and I've beaten them on my day," he said. "They're doing pretty well in Formula One, so that gives me confidence that I too can compete."