SHANGHAI -- Renault's team principal says Brawn GP's early dominance has stripped interest from the 2009 Formula One season, sparking a furious response from Brawn's drivers.
Flavio Briatore said the credibility of the sport had been damaged by Brawn's Jenson Button -- who he likened to a concrete post -- leading the championship after two races while the big names of F1 struggle.
Button and teammate Rubens Barrichello fired back Friday, dismissing the comments as "stupid," "bitter" and calling Briatore a sore loser.
Briatore's comments also brought a response from F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, who advised the Renault chief to concentrate on racing rather than politics.
"Its a pity they don't talk more about racing than politics," Ecclestone said. "We seem to have got a lot of team managers who've become politicians."
The success of F1 newcomer Brawn, and the competitiveness of Toyota and Williams, has been largely due to their use of an undercar air diffuser which other teams claimed was illegal. A court hearing earlier this week ruled in favor of the car part.
While the lesser lights shine, Ferrari is yet to score a point this season, McLaren has just one, while two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of Renault has 4 points. By contrast, Button has 15 and his veteran teammate Barrichello has 10.
"Our [Ferrari, McLaren and Renault] drivers are or have been world champions, and then you have a [Brawn] driver who was almost retired, and another who is a 'paracarro,' fighting for the championship," Briatore told the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. "I don't know how we can say we have credibility."
Paracarro is an Italian term for a roadside post, usually made of stone or concrete.
"In three or four races the championship will be decided and I don't know what the interest of the TV viewers will be when Button has 60 points and [Williams' Kazuki] Nakajima 50.
"It will be better to listen only on radio and watch something else."
Button said the comments were unfair to the Brawn team, which worked to produce a winning car despite doubts over the team's future when former owner Honda pulled out of F1.
"He's obviously a very angry man after the diffuser issues," Button said. "It's very unfair to say that. They've worked very, very hard in difficult circumstances, and it's very unfair of Flavio to comment as he has, just because he's a little bit bitter.
"He should also not forget he tried to employ me for this season."
Button again set the fastest time in practice Friday ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix.
"It's a great feeling," Button said. "Because you've had a couple of bad seasons it doesn't mean that you've lost your passion for the sport or love for the sport.
"Things change in Formula One. We've seen change. Some people might not be all that happy about it. Instead of getting angry and putting their views out there, people need to concentrate on improving and catching us up."
Barrichello also lashed out after Briatore's remarks.
"That's stupid, really," Barrichello said. "What a comment. If we all think we need Ferrari and McLaren to win, why are the others here?
"There are plenty of good people in the paddock, and plenty of bad losers."
Ecclestone said Brawn GP was benefiting not from manipulation of the rules, but from the amount of money invested in the 2009 car by Honda.
The F1 boss also said the risk of the championships being decided prematurely justified his failed push to change the points system.
Ecclestone wanted the championship decided on a medals system, with the most golds taking the crown regardless of minor placings, but the proposal was struck down by the teams.
"If we'd have adopted the medal system, it wouldn't have happened, because even if someone has got eight wins, there are still another nine races to go," Ecclestone said. "People would be racing. It doesn't matter how many wins someone has got."
Ecclestone still wants the medal system introduced in 2010.