OCTOBER 15, 2004
Renault F1 finds itself in a quandary over drivers having ditched Jarno Trulli and replaced him with Jacques Villeneuve for the last two races. Much was made of Villeneuve turning up like the US Cavalry in Renault's hour of need and it has to be said that Jacques has been a big disappointment. Now there is apparently pressure on Renault to replace Jacques with the team's test driver Franck Montagny for the final race of the year. Conveniently Montagny went fastest in the Jerez test this week although that must be seen as a cosmetic result as tests can be contrived to produce any number of results.
The team has only itself to blame because until a fight over future contracts broke out in June, the team had Jarno Trulli at his very best, winning the Monaco Grand Prix with impressive ease and looking very strong. Fernando Alonso, last year's hero, was overshadowed by Trulli. And then came the amazing news that Renault had decided to ditch Trulli in 2005 and hire Giancarlo Fisichella. The reasons put forward for that decision by Renault F1 boss Patrick Faure were less than tenuous. Trulli was obviously unimpressed and did not score another point after that, leaving the team to drop behind BAR in the Constructors' Championship. Then came the decision to dump Trulli and hire Villeneuve and now that has backfired as well. The team is highly unlikely to grab second place in the Constructors' title in Brazil as it would require both BARs to be out of the points and a 1-3 finish for Renault.
Thus, in realistic terms, the question of who drives the last race may not be a question of performance but rather one of politics. France is beginning to make critical noises about Renault, particularly as the Brazilian GP will be first race since 1967 that there will not be a Frenchman in the field. This is unlikely to go unnoticed in the French newspapers (if any bother to send reporters to the Brazilian GP) and with Renault keen to portray a positive image in France it is possible that Montagny might be drafted in.
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