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acing-Schumacher lacks star appeal, says Briatore

Written by: Staff
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MONZA, Italy, Sep 9 (Reuters) Flamboyant Renault team boss Flavio Briatore says Ferrari's Michael Schumacher lacks star appeal despite being a great Formula One champion.

''The last stars I saw in Formula One were (Ayrton) Senna and, even if he won only one world championship, Jacques Villeneuve,'' today's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper quoted him as saying.

''If we want, we could also add (Juan Pablo) Montoya.

''Now, instead, we have only champions,'' said Briatore.

''That's why I think in the next three years there will be a generational change and that 80 per cent of the drivers racing today will not be around any more.

''Then I hope new stars will be born, more complete drivers,'' said Briatore, an undeniable paddock personality whose team are just two points clear of Ferrari in the constructors' championship.

Seven-times world champion Schumacher, Formula One's most successful driver who is fighting Renault's Fernando Alonso for the title, is widely expected to announce his retirement at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Briatore's words would find no echo among the Ferrari fans who fear they will be witnessing Schumacher's last appearance in Europe and whose banners were draped across railings in the main Monza grandstand.

''Michael, we are always by your side,'' declared one.

Alonso, the youngest champion in Formula One history at the age of 24, is leaving Renault for McLaren -- the team that feisty Colombian Montoya left in July for the U.S. NASCAR series.

Canadian Villeneuve, the 1997 champion with Williams, left BMW Sauber in July after being replaced by 21-year-old Polish test driver Robert Kubica.

Brazilian three-times champion Senna died at Imola in 1994, the year that Schumacher won his first title with Briatore's Benetton team.

REUTERS PM VC1540

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