SEPTEMBER 16, 2009

Briatore and Symonds out - Renault not disputing charges

The ING Renault F1 Team says that it will not dispute the "recent allegations made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix". The FIA said that the team had "conspired with its driver, Nelson Piquet Jr, to cause a deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix with the aim of causing the deployment of the safety car to the advantage of its other driver, Fernando Alonso". The FIA also announced that the team had been called to answer charges, "including a breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code", which states that 'any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally" will be punished. While Renault is not admitting all of the above, it is not disputing that the team conspired to cause a deliberate crash nor that fraudulent conduct was involved. Lawyers may argue that there are distinctions between not disputing and openly admitting but now is not the moment for legal sophistry. The sport is in the spotlight for yet another scandal and one which The Times newspaper described today as "one of the worst examples of pre-meditated cheating in the history of professional sport". It is clearly not a time to fudge justice, lest the sport add to its already dubious reputation, summed up by a column in The Guardian a few days ago which described F1 as being "a sport stripped of its integrity, its old values replaced by a superficial prosperity that can no longer conceal a putrescent core".

This is heavy stuff.

The rules say that any breach of the regulations committed by any organiser, official, competitor, driver, "or other person or organisation" may be penalised. This would seem to cover all concerned. The penalties on offer include minor things such as a reprimand right up to disqualification, which means that the person in question would not be allowed to take part in any FIA-governed motorsport perhaps permanently.

It is clear that the ING Renault F1 Team is throwing itself at the mercy of the FIA World Council. The company can now blame the whole incident on the departed staff members Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds and can ask the FIA to be lenient on the team. It is very clear that the Renault company knew nothing about what was happening and indeed the entire plan was designed to create a victory that resulted in Renault deciding to go on in F1. One might argue that Renault was, in effect, being hoodwinked by its own staff. In any case, it has been the victim of the collosal negative publicity that has been seen in recent days.

Having said this, the FIA cannot simply ignore what has happened. Briatore and Symonds must be punished and there is the troublesome question of the precedent set in 1995 when Toyota was caught using deliberately 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 rejected the pleas and banned Toyota from the World Rally Championship for 12 months. The current scandal is undoubtedly worse than that, in that there is a safety element in this case which makes the offence all the more disgraceful.

When all is said and done, the World Council meeting will have to consider rather more than how Renault, Briatore and Symonds should be punished. The federation will be as much on trial as those involved in the scandal and a failure to do the right thing will be viewed as a massive failure.