Webber ignites Briatore speculation

UPDATE #2 (GMM) The world's press and reigning world champion team Renault have rejected reports that Flavio Briatore is set to retire at the end of 2006.

German tabloid 'Bild' and British celebrity magazine 'Hello!' claimed this week that the 57-year-old Italian, whose team principal's contract with the French squad is due to expire, will not return to the formula one paddocks next year.

But, in response to the reports, prominent publications – including La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy, broadsheet 'The Guardian' in Britain, Spanish sports newspaper AS and German broadcaster RTL – cited the information of official Renault team sources in denying the news.

''Renault rejected the media reports about Flavio Briatore's resignation,'' read a similar editorial in German magazine 'Sport Bild', explaining that Briatore had been misquoted.

Furthermore, it is understood that 'Hello!' magazine will publish a retraction and apology in its next issue.

Another specialist German publication, meanwhile – 'Auto, Motor Und Sport' – reported on Wednesday that Briatore is not only staying at Renault, but has now signed a new two-year deal.

France's national sports newspaper 'L'Equipe' also spoke of a new Renault agreement for Briatore to the end of 2008, and even referred to an annual salary of about $3.8m.

08/30/06 (GMM) Depending on what you read, Renault principal Flavio Briatore is either on the verge of signing a new contract, or retiring from the sport.

The 56-year-old Italian, whose current agreement runs out at the end of the year, 'has said he will stay on … next year', British broadsheet 'The Guardian' wrote on Wednesday.

But popular German tabloid Bild-Zeitung – running the headline 'Briatore retiring!' – insists that the complete opposite is true.

The newspaper wrote: 'The world champion-maker of Schumi and Alonso is going to walk away after this season'.

Briatore was quoted as saying: ''I am not coming back to the formula one races next year.

''I have the feeling that all my goals have been achieved.''

'Bild' speculates that Pat Symonds will take over at the helm of the Renault team in 2007.

08/08/06 (GMM) Mark Webber threatened to re-ignite speculation about his manager Flavio Briatore on Tuesday, as he staged a conference call for reporters.

The Australian driver, who is moving from Williams to Red Bull in 2007, was asked about earlier rumors that were linking him with the vacant Renault seat alongside Giancarlo Fisichella next year.

It is now expected that Heikki Kovalainen will grab departing Fernando Alonso's drive, and 29-year-old Webber said: ''I've got a good idea what is going on (with Renault), but maybe you should be asking Flavio what he's doing next season.''

Briatore, also the Renault team principal, has not yet announced whether or not he will still be leading the Enstone-based outfit beyond this year, despite speculation of a likely new one-year deal.

Webber, meanwhile, told Australian television 'Network Ten' last Sunday that he would not be following in Jacques Villeneuve's footsteps by jumping ship before the 2006 season-finale in Sao Paulo.

''I'll keep showing up for Mark Webber,'' confirmed Mark, who joined Williams last season.

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