Renault prepare to harness Alonso's frustrations

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The Independent Online

Fernando Alonso looks like death warmed up. Michael Schumacher reportedly has a head cold. Perhaps this means something, perhaps not, but yesterday each was upstaged by his team-mate as track conditions improved and Renault went head-to-head with Ferrari around this circuit.

The day began with rain and yet more rain as the Englishman Anthony Davidson (who will, eventually, be confirmed as a Super Aguri race driver for 2007 but not until the season is over) set the pace for Honda from the Swiss driver Neel Jani.

When the rain stopped at lunchtime the track gradually began to dry as the second session progressed and, as the big guns came out, the times went tumbling. Predictably, it was Schumacher who led this, consistently upping the ante, but even he could not resist the speed of Fisichella, who lapped in 1min 34.337sec, nor his team-mate Felipe Massa, whose 1:34.408 best usurped his 1:34.565. Close behind them a pale Alonso pushed his Renault to 1:34.863 to head Davidson and the teenage rising star Sebastien Vettel, who circulated in strong company in his Sauber-BMW and just beat Jenson Button for sixth place.

The Renault principal, Flavio Briatore, has tried to patch up internal dissent after Alonso's comments that he has felt alone at times when he has not enjoyed the full support of his team or team-mate. "I talked with Fernando and Fisichella yesterday," Briatore said. "Sometimes we talk about frustration, pressure and this and that, it happens. But I don't think there is any problem. Maybe it gives us some more motivation for this weekend."

Briatore was insistent that the only time Renault have fallen short of the Spaniard's expectations had been in Hungary, when a broken wheel-retaining pin cost Alonso a victory that would have gone a long way to securing his second world title. He admitted that the same mechanic, who dropped the nut from his wheel gun during Alonso's bodged second pit stop in Shanghai last week, had been replaced even though the same crew turned around Fisichella in the second fastest stop of the Chinese race.

Briatore believes his driver will still win the crown this year. Referring to a moment last year when the Spaniard had also said he felt alone, he added: "Fernando said this already at one point last season as well, you remember. Maybe once a year he has this. Now he has done it, he will be OK for the last two races."

Schumacher, however, exudes confidence. "China wasn't that great for us in a way, so we hope to go better here," he said. "This track is one of the most favourites and I am very happy. The weather for the weekend should improve but even for the wet we have done certain things. We come here with a lot of motivation and a lot of good feeling because we believe this track will be better for us than China."