The ING Renault F1 Team has announced that it will not dispute the recent charges made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. This means that the team is admitting to a breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code, that the team “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”.
In effect the team has admitted to “fraudulent conduct” as detailed in the relevant article. Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds have not admitted to the charges, but they have little defence possible. This obviously throws the cat amongst the pigeons as the team may be trying to get off the hook with the FIA but may have left itself open for legal actions. All the other teams, for example, were deprived of prize money that Renault claimed, which may have amounted to millions of dollars. There is also the question of gamblers who wagered money on anyone other than Fernando Alonso to win in Singapore last year and lost money as a result. One can speculate that admitting to “fraudulent conduct” might leave those involved open to charges of criminal conspiracy, as Renault has admitted that there was an agreement between two or more persons to engage in fraudulent conduct. Repentance by one or more parties does not affect liability but may reduce a sentence.
If we restrict ourselves to the sporting questions raised by the statement, it is clear that ING Renault F1 (which is the name used by Renault F1 Ltd, a wholly-owned division of Renault SA) is throwing itself at the mercy of the FIA World Council. The team’s managing director Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds have left the team, presumably not of their own choice.
This is not a surprise but it does seem to suggest that Renault has decided that it wants to continue in Formula 1 and that it understands that it cannot go down that path unless it sacrifices those responsible. The team will have to face the charges nonetheless, although the company can now blame the whole incident on the two men involved and can ask the FIA to be lenient. The FIA can now justify that plea as it is very clear that the Renault company knew nothing about what was happening and indeed the stunt was undertaken in an effort to pull the wool over the eyes of those in Boulogne-Billancourt, which means that Renault can also argue that it was a victim of the affair as the massive negative publicity in recent days has done the car company no good at all.
Notwithstanding this, the FIA needs to be mindful of precedent as in 1995 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 rejected the pleas and banned Toyota from the World Rally Championship for 12 months.
The World Council must also look at the question of whether Fernando Alonso could have been part of the conspiracy to which Renault has now admitted, or whether it was just Briatore, Symonds and Nelson Piquet Jr involved.
The demise of Briatore will be greeted with glee in some quarters in F1 for he has made many enemies during his time in the sport. They are now talking openly. The news of his departure will affect the F1 world in many different ways. Drivers who are managed by him may not wish these arrangements to continue as his involvement, once deemed a positive element for a driver, will now be seen as a major negative. This will free up movement on the driver market considerably. It will also mean that Williams can get back to talking to Renault about an engine deal for 2010. This had previously been blocked by Briatore as he was trying to get Robert Kubica to sign for Renault rather than Williams and was denying the team engines if they did a deal with the Polish driver. The demise of Briatore may also influence the Red Bull Racing decision over 2010 engines as well.
It remains to be seen where the Renault F1 team goes from here, but the fact that the team has acted suggests that its French parent wishes to save the team and rebuild its reputation in F1.
It will also mean that Briatore’s position within FOTA will need to be filled by someone else. He was previously chairman of the FOTA commercial development working group.
The pain may not be over just yet for Briatore. Now that the offences have been admitted by Renault Briatore and Symonds will have to be punished, lest they pop up tomorrow in another team. If Renault is admitting the offences then there is no way that either Briatore or Symonds can argue that it was not planned. And all previous denials are exposed for what they were – deliberate lies.
Telling lies to the FIA is something that is seriously frowned upon by the World Council, at least if one considers what has happened to McLaren in recent times. Briatore and Symonds cannot expect any leniency, even if he is friendly with some of those involved. The knock-on effect of a punishment could result in Flavio falling foul of the British Football League’s “Fit and Proper Persons’ Test” for club directors. Briatore is the part-owner of Queens Park Rangers. According to reports the ‘Fit and Proper’ test might become applicable to Briatore under the rule that nobody can be a director or hold a majority interest in a club if they are “subject to a ban from a sports governing body relating to the administration of their sport”.