Fisichella in mood to be Renault's driving force

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Five months ago the Renault managing director Flavio Briatore's lip curled and he could barely hide his disgust and disappointment when his driver Giancarlo Fisichella lost the lead of the Japanese Grand Prix with two laps to go to a charging Kimi Raikkonen.

Now, Fisichella appears to be Briatore's blue-eyed boy. The world champion Fernando Alonso is still Renault's lead driver at the top of the World Championship table following a victory and a second place so far in 2006, but since the Spaniard revealed last December that he is heading for McLaren in 2007, the signs are there that Fisichella, Formula One's perennially unlucky star, is back in favour.

The winner here in Albert Park last year, he won again in Malaysia a fortnight ago and, though that triumph owed much to a problem in qualifying that left Alonso with a heavy fuel load, the Italian is regaining the confidence that he lost after that Japanese defeat.

Fisichella is one of the stylists of the game and to watch him on a fast lap is to see the economy of effort that marks out the drivers who can make a hard job seem easy, but he is also sensitive to setbacks, whereas Alonso takes the knocks without any apparent negative effects.

"I'm confident," Fisichella said yesterday during preparations for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix. "It's a fantastic atmosphere for me here. I've a good feeling and a great memory from last year. I'm really optimistic. It's like 2005 again for us, winning both opening races, , but the most important thing is to have a reliable car. Developing the car is the secret of Formula One, we need to carry on developing. I'm confident Renault will do this. "The McLaren has potential to be as quick as we are. They are going to have a better car here so they may be a bit closer."

Arguably, Renault have the strongest driver line-up, and the most potential for team-mates to fall out. "I'm happy if I have to fight with my team-mate because it means that the car is competitive and it's good news for the team and for me," Alonso said, with the clear subtext that he believes he will have the upper hand in any such battle.

"Even if I'm leaving the team, I have no doubts that I saw in the first two races that nothing has changed from last year. The two of us will have the same opportunities and the same favour in the team as we did last year. They know that we need to try to win the championship so they need to try and help me."

McLaren come here with aerodynamic and power upgrades while Ferrari, Honda and Williams have not been standing still. But the odds favour the blue cars again this weekend.