SEPTEMBER 15, 2009
The future of Renault in Formula 1
The problems that have descended on Renault F1 in recent weeks are very serious and if the team is found guilty of race-fixing by the FIA World Council on September 21, the big question is not how the individuals involved are punished, but whether the team and driver Fernando Alonso should be made to suffer as well. The FIA has a problem in that Article 123 of the International Sporting Code states that "the entrant shall be responsible for all acts or omissions on the part of their driver, mechanic and passengers, each equally responsible for any breach of this code". The FIA may choose to ignore this because it does not necessarily want to punish the team for fear that Renault chief Carlos Ghosn will decide to get rid of the company's involvement in F1. The French firm has made a commitment to stay until the end of 2012, but there is nothing to stop the team being given to someone else or being sold if Renault decides to get out. And that could mean that two or even three teams would be looking engines in 2010.
However it is unlikely that the World Council will try to do what happened in 1994 when Benetton admitted cheating but escaped major punishment as the FIA ruled that the changes had been made by "a junior employee". There was a separate secret deal in which Benetton agreed to make management changes to the team. This was an expedient solution but it could hardly be argued to be following the rules. A year later Toyota was caught using illegal turbo restrictors on the Catalunya Rally in Spain. The team admitted the situation and argued that it had been done without the knowledge of the team management. In that case the FIA World Council threw out the argument - and banned Toyota from the World Rally Championship for 12 months.
"The team has to take responsibility," FIA President Max Mosley said at the time.
Renault will not enjoy the publicity relating to its allegedly errant team, but may conclude that the best thing to do would be to get rid of the operation and then pull back to become a simple engine supplier, as it was in the 1990s. The investment needed for this is virtually nothing and the publicity is good. There is the added bonus that there is already a strong Renault-related brand that could be used. The "Williams-Renault" partnership was one of the most successful in the history of the sport. Williams wants the engines (if Mercedes-Benz engines are not available) but that deal was being blocked by Flavio Briatore, who was trying to manoeuvre Robert Kubica into a position where he would sign for Renault but telling Williams that they could not have the engines if they signed Kubica.
The latest suggestions is that Williams is looking closely at Cosworth instead.