Renault putting distance between itself, competitors


The Renault Formula 1 team came to the British Grand Prix in part to celebrate its 200th race at the circuit where it contested its first some three decades ago.

It left Silverstone, England, with more to be happy about than might have been anticipated after a superior weekend performance left it a rapidly disappearing dot on its rivals' horizon.

Fernando Alonso was dominant from start to finish in winning the event from pole position, surrendering the lead for only one of 60 laps and extending his advantage in the driving standings.

Teammate Giancarlo Fisichella split the two Ferraris in finishing fourth to help extend Renault's edge in the constructors championship. All this must have brought a great deal of satisfaction and a multitude of smiles to an outfit being questioned severely a month or so ago after Ferrari began to make inroads on Renault's dominant start to the season with consecutive victories.

Renault's response to its critics has been to turn up the wick on its pursuers, with Alonso winning the subsequent three events with apparent ease and without putting a wheel wrong the whole way. The question is now on the other foot as "Who can catch Renault?" is the pop quiz of the moment as the season nears its halfway mark. The answer, at this point, is nobody.

Certainly not Ferrari and seven-time driving champion Michael Schumacher, who won at Imola and the Nurburgring but has been reduced to a spectator behind Alonso ever since. He went so far as to resort to parking in an unreserved place on track at Monaco in an apparent effort to hinder Alonso's last shot at pole position, which Alonso won anyway when Schumacher was remanded to the rear of the field for his indiscretion.

Schumacher couldn't come close to consistently matching Alonso's pace at Silverstone, finishing 14 seconds behind. He and his team have a lot of work ahead to make the rest of the season interesting.

And certainly not Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren-Mercedes, who was unable to hang onto even Schumacher's pace in Sunday's race and was passed in the pits for second place to boot.

McLaren is still dealing with the departure of designer supreme Adrian Newey to Red Bull, a defection that seems likely to hamper its development of a Newey-created car for the rest of the year. Their chances of competing with Renault on equal terms under those circumstances are just about nonexistent.

All this could justifiably make one wonder why Alonso, the defending driving champion at the defending constructors titlists, has chosen to leave Renault for McLaren after this season. His arrival likely will unseat Juan Pablo Montoya but might prove Montoya's general contention that McLaren is going downhill rather than up in terms of competitiveness.

In the meantime, Alonso continues to drive circles around the rest of the field and Renault continues to be this season's irresistible force. Team principal Flavio Briatore, a man not noted for his calm disposition, was positively blasé when interviewed after Sunday's victory, saying he expected to dominate the race once it became apparent how much fuel the other teams were carrying.

The way it appears now, the only team likely to keep Renault from repeating last season's results is Renault. Its fellow F1 teams only can hope the current leaders trip on their own shoelaces or the rest of 2006 might be anticlimactic in the way Ferrari made the early years of this century a competitive and comparative yawner. Then again, that might not be all bad. Turnabout is, after all, fair play.

Around the paddock
Jacques Villeneuve, a longtime Schumacher critic, has resigned from the Grand Prix Drivers Association because that body wouldn't remove Schumacher as its president at a meeting this weekend, Reuters reported. Villeneuve, whose history with Schumacher goes back to their clash at the title-deciding 1997 European GP, is of the opinion that Schumacher's tactics at Monaco made his leadership position untenable. … Among the British GP festivities was a birthday celebration for Jackie Stewart, who turned 67. A true gentleman of the sport, Stewart won three driving titles and 27 F1 races, a record for victories that stood for 20 years. … The Midland team might be sold to Dutch technology company Lost Boys BV, CBS television reported, which would mark the second time in two years the former Jordan team has changed hands. The likely sale price is somewhere in the $100 million range, CBS said. Such a move could lead to the establishment of an all-Dutch lineup with incumbent Christijan Albers partnered by the promising Robert Doornbos, currently Midland's third driver.

Michael Kelley is a freelance journalist and a contributor to ESPN.com.