The FIA has ruled that the ING Renault F1 team is suspended for the next Grand Prix, because a wheel fell off Fernando Alonso’s car during the Hungarian Grand Prix. The Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile, the French national sporting authority, has appealed the decision on behalf of the team. It remains to be seen when the Court of Appeal will be convened, but with the European holidays now kicking in, it is unlikely that this will happen before the end of August. Thus one can expect to see Renault racing in Valencia, but it could then be left out of one of the following Grands Prix, probably the Italian race.
The FIA is obviously seriously worried about parts falling off cars, following the death of Henry Surtees in the Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch and the serious head injury suffered by Felipe Massa in Hungary at the weekend. Thus the decision is easily justifiable in terms of safety. It is, however, inevitable – whether the FIA likes it or not – that the move will be seen by some in F1 circles as some kind of a payback for Renault team boss Flavio Briatore, who has been one of the leading members of FOTA in recent months.
It will not help that the FIA Stewards in Budapest include some of Max Mosley’s strongest supporters, who are advised by Mosley’s right hand man Alan Donnelly. One of them is none other than Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the UAE representative, who confessed last year to have personally provided Mosley with 41 votes for last year’s confidence vote resulting from Mosley’s spanking scandal. Ben Sulayem later became an FIA Vice President. It is somewhat ironic that Ben Sulayem was given the opportunity to show off his driving skills in a Renault F1 car in Dubai a few months ago.
He crashed into the wall after losing control of the car as he accelerated away from the startline. A rather embarrassing experience.
Safety is, of course, of paramount importance and it is always difficult for those who seek to argue against the logic of it. However, such actions will lead the conspiracy theorists to see all manner of skeletons in the F1 cupboard. Although it has yet to be reported properly, there are rumours at the moment that Renault is on the verge of selling its F1 team to someone that Briatore has found to take it over. This will no doubt disrupt any negotiations along those lines. At the same time, with Massa unlikely to be back in action for Ferrari for some time, the team will be needing a new driver. It is expected that Alonso will join the Italian team next year whatever happens and it would be very convenient for that now to happen earlier than planned.
Such cynicism is rife in F1 circles and it will be interesting to see if this is what comes to pass.
The logic behind this punishment is that the team “knowingly released” Alonso from the pits without one of the retaining devices for the wheel-nuts being securely in position; it failed to take any action to prevent the car leaving the pits, failed to inform the driver of the problem or advise him to take the appropriate actions. The FIA says that this resulted in a heavy car part detaching itself from the car.