Renault deny Schumacher interest

Flavio Briatore, the head of Renault, has dismissed claims from Ralf Schumacher's camp that the German driver is on the verge of a move to the team.

Flavio Briatore, the head of Renault, has dismissed claims from Ralf Schumacher's camp that the German driver is on the verge of a move to the team.

Schumacher's manager, Willi Weber, claimed in a newspaper he had all but signed a deal to take his client to Renault next season after his Williams contract expires.

But Briatore has denied any talks have taken place over Schumacher, who is expected to leave Williams after the team baulked at his pay demands. Briatore said: "I saw Willi Weber in Melbourne and we talked to each other - we are friends, so that is perfectly normal. However, at no time did we discuss, or have we discussed, a possible future for Ralf Schumacher at Renault."

Schumacher, the younger brother of the six-time world champion Michael, has been with Williams since 1999 but has been unable to agree an extension to that stay.

Weber told the German newspaper Bild: "We are in agreement with Briatore and a contract is purely a formality. In Bahrain [on 4 April] we will have a last meeting with Frank Williams. If we cannot agree Ralf will leave." Schumacher has also been linked with Toyota, who are based in Germany and likely to want a replacement for the veteran driver Olivier Panis for 2005.

Meanwhile, Juan Pablo Montoya insists Michael Schumacher still has a fight on his hands for the world championship despite his crushing win in the Australian Grand Prix at the weekend. Montoya, who finished a distant fifth in Melbourne, is taking solace from last season's championship when he lost 25 points on Schumacher over the first five races.

Montoya ultimately lost the title by 11 points and believes his "good points" from Australia have set him up nicely. "We gave away both championships last year mainly because we didn't score enough points in the first five races," he said. "Based on that, you've got to think that if you could start scoring good points from the first race you'd be fine."

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