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Renault ready to pay what it takes for a top driver

Written by: Staff

BARCELONA, May 14 (Reuters) Renault want a top driver to lead the team next year after Fernando Alonso leaves and will pay what it takes, team president Alain Dassas said today.

Spaniard Alonso, who last year became Formula One's youngest champion at the age of 24, stunned the sport in December when he announced that he was leaving champions Renault to join McLaren in 2007.

''(Team boss) Flavio (Briatore) will make proposals and selections but we are ready as Renault...to do what is necessary to have a good driver,'' Dassas told reporters at Alonso's home Spanish Grand Prix.

''We are committed for a long period of time...we have stated clearly that next year we want to have a driver who is able to give a top performance,'' he said.

Renault earlier announced that they had agreed to sign a contract with Formula One's commercial rights holders, committing them to a long-term future and ending speculation that they might quit.

Dassas said he doubted whether Renault could have kept Alonso, who is managed by Briatore, even if they had been able to make their commitment known last year.

''I was not there half a year ago but I guess Alonso has left the team for several reasons,'' he said. Renault have Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, on the front row with local hero Alonso in Sunday's race at Barcelona, as their other driver this season but his contract also expires at the end of the year.

The Roman said last week that he expected to know his future within the next month.

Young Finn Heikki Kovalainen is the team's test and reserve driver and has been seen as a leading candidate to join the line-up next year.

''It is true that we like to grow our own talent from within,'' said Dassas. ''It's also true that we are there to have top performances and we need a top driver to do that.

''Alonso is not replaced easily, so we need a top driver. We need both. We need a young talent and a top driver.'' ''Giancarlo is a top driver. Michael Schumacher is a top driver,'' he added. Ferrari's seven times champion, now 37, has yet to decide his future and has said he may not make any announcement until the end of the season.

Briatore's contract also expires at the end of the season and Renault have said they will do what it takes to persuade him to stay on.

However the flamboyant Italian said that he remained undecided and did not want to talk about his contract for several months.

''I expect Flavio to take his decision as quickly as possible,'' said Dassas. ''What interests Flavio is to be at the top. If we give him the means to be at the top, I think he will be happy to sign.'' REUTERS DH BD1859

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