Briatore signs new deal with Renault

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The Independent Online

Acknowledging that the loss of Fernando Alonso to McLaren signals the end of an era, Renault yesterday landed the first punch in what promises to be a busy news weekend at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza by confirming that Flavio Briatore would lead their team for a further two years.

They also confirmed that the 24-year-old Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen would replace Alonso alongside Giancarlo Fisichella. The former world champion Nelson Piquet's son, Nelson Jnr, joins as a test driver alongside his fellow Brazilian Ricardo Zonta, who arrives from Toyota.

Briatore said: "The commitment and enthusiasm [the Renault president] Carlos Ghosn has shown for the Formula One project over the past year has been a key factor in my decision. 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."

The team's sponsor, Mild Seven Tobacco, is due to withdraw at the end of the season and speculation has linked Renault with UPS.

Ferrari will reveal their 2007 driver choices - expected to be Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa - after Sunday's race. It would be a surprise if Schumacher reveals his plans. It is thought that if he does win the 2006 crown he will retire, but he cannot clinch it this weekend at Monza.