SEPTEMBER 4, 2009
A World Council for the Renault case?
It is expected that the FIA will soon announce an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council to be held later this month to discuss the allegations that Renault F1 fixed the 2008 Singapore GP by ordering second driver Nelson Piquet to crash at a certain point to bring out a Safety Car and by doing so put team-mate Fernando Alonso into a position to win the race. There is speculation that this will happen on September 21.
There has been an FIA investigation going on for several weeks. This is believed to have been started after Nelson Piquet was fired by the team at the start of August. All the indications are that he made claims to the federation. This is not yet confirmed but it is the only logical explanation for the timing of the scandal. Whatever Piquet told (or gave) the FIA was sufficiently convincing for the federation to have to take action. The scandal is certainly not what is needed in F1 at the current moment but, on the other hand, if the allegations are proven, it will ultimately be a positive thing for F1 as the FIA will be seen to be taking action against people who are capable of levels of dishonesty that one does not want to see in any sport.
If there is sufficient evidence for the FIA to conclude that there needs to be punishment for those involved, the future of the team must be called into question. It is unlikely that anyone outside the race team would have known anything about what was going on in Singapore and so the World Council must decide whether the company should be punished or whether it is sufficient to deal with the individuals involved. There is nowadays a rule of collective responsibility (Article 123 of the Sporting Code) and an argument that Renault should be punished for simply employing such people, but at the same time it is clearly not in the best interests of the sport to lose another team from F1. From a pragmatic point of view it would be best to clear out the bad apples and leave the team in one piece.
There is no doubt that the man in the firing line is Flavio Briatore and if Piquet's "reward" for being involved was to keep his drive in 2009 (or perhaps one might say his reward was not be fired) there is only one man in the team who could have made such an arrangement. Having said that, there must have been quite a number of others involved because the strategy adopted by Alonso made very little sense - and they must have known that.
It is clear that engineers can attempt to justify any strategy by claiming that it was formulated on the basis that there might be a Safety Car at a given point in the race. However Alonso's strategy required a crash between his pit stop and those of the other teams, which was extremely unlikely to happen given such a small window of opportunity. The fact that it did happen and that it was Alonso's team-mate who crashed is suspicious - and that was recognised as such at the time by people up and down the pitlane. There are reports that Felipe Massa was so irritated by what happened that he even confronted Briatore.
Suspicion is one thing, evidence quite another and while data, radio exchanges, the timing of radio exchanges and statements made may point to a conspiracy to fix the race, proving that is another matter. That will require some form of solid evidence such as a letter, an email or a text message or perhaps a tape recording of a conversation. If such a thing exists then there will be no argument.
Article 151c of the FIA International Sporting Code rules that "any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally" shall be subject to a penalty. The penalties range from reprimands, through fines and time penalties to disqualifications, exclusions and suspensions. Whatever happens it will not affect the outcome of the 2008 World Championship.