The ING Renault F1 team, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Renault SA, says that it has initiated criminal action against Nelson Piquet and his eponymous son, the former Renault driver. This is not possible and Renault lawyers in Paris would know this, which makes the statement seem very odd indeed.
The Renault statement says that “the ING Renault F1 Team and its managing director Flavio Briatore personally, wish to state that they have commenced criminal proceedings against Nelson Piquet Junior and Nelson Piquet Senior in France, concerning the making of false allegations and a related attempt to blackmail the team into allowing Mr Piquet Jr to drive for the remainder of the 2009 season. The matter will also be referred to the police in the UK.”
In French law it is not possible for a private individual or a company to commence criminal proceedings. All they can do is to claim that a crime has been committed and ask the authorities to investigate. These claims will then be examined in a judicial investigation, which will be performed by police, working for a law officer known as a “Procureur de la Republique”. The procureur wil look at the evidence put forward and will decide whether it is in the public interest to take the case further. If the claims are deemed to have substance then a criminal procedure will be initiated with a summons being issued.
The team is up before the FIA World Council on September 21 to answer the charge that it organised for Piquet Jr to crash in order to get a Safety Car and thus help Fernando Alonso to win the Singapore GP. Much of the evidence against Renault has been leaked to the media and it is clear from this that it is going to be an interesting case. It remains to be seen whether or not the FIA has further evidence that has yet to come to light, but it is interesting to theorise on the subject of whether the Piquets would have embarked on the current course of action if there was the slightest chance that they would lose. This seems very unlikely as there is little to be gained in taking a risk that might go wrong.
Briatore has apparently been able to convince Renault management in Paris that he is the victim in this affair. There is a very real danger that by doing this the French manufacturer will create a rod for its own back. The FIA clearly does not want to see the French company leaving the sport – if only because the engines are needed in F1 – but if Renault is supporting Briatore then it is likely that the company will be deemed to be in league with the team and thus if ING Renault is found guilty the FIA might feel obliged to punish the parent company in the same way – based on its long-established rules of collective responsibility.