I have read today that sections of the media seem to think that the FIA ruling on Renault was a cop-out and that the French car company escaped lightly from the Singapore scandal. I think that this is a lot of rubbish. I don’t agree with Max Mosley or the World Council on a lot of things, but this was the correct decision. To my mind Renault was as much a victim of the affair as was the sport as a whole. Does anyone honestly believe that Carlos Ghosn and his besuited bureaucats in Paris had any idea what was happening in Singapore? Of course not.
And if they had known, would they have agreed it was a good idea? That is a more interesting question given the corruption that has too often been exposed in French industry and politics. This was highlighted yesterday by the start of a trial in Paris in which Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, stands accused of trying to smear his former rival Nicolas Sarkozy before the 2007 election. However, in the case of Ghosn I simply do not believe it. He has made a name for himself by being a completely straight-shooter and such men do not generally surround themselves with people likely to get them into trouble. Ghosn’s only failing – and something that always seemed rather odd – was for him to keep Flavio Briatore as head of the F1 team when he took over as Renault chairman back in April 2005.
But let us keep this in perspective. Ghosn has more important fish to fry than Formula 1. The sport is barely a blip on his radar screen. Back in early 2005 Renault was winning. The team delivered World Championships in 2005 and 2006 and so there was really no need for change. When Patrick Faure reached 60 in 2006 he was replaced as head of the F1 team by Alain Dassas. When Dassas was needed to become chief financial officer of Nissan at the end of 2007 he was replaced by Bernard Rey. This was all just business as usual.
By the end of 2007 it was becoming clear that the team was not doing well. Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen won nothing and scored just one podium between them. Renault slipped to third in the Constructors’ Championship. Then the team was caught up in the espionage scandal and in December that year was found guilty of breaching article 151(c) of the International Sporting Code, but escaped a penalty. If one is looking for a poor FIA decision this was it.
As the economy worsened and Renault’s financial results dived, so pressure grew on the F1 team to cut costs. As the latest figures reveal Renault F1 did no such thing, its spending going up dramatically in 2008. The team made a big loss. So in the autumn of 2008 the team was spending like crazy and failing to deliver results. This was a bad combination.
It was against this background that the Singapore plot was hatched. It was designed to give Renault success but the car company was being hoodwinked just as much as the rest of the F1 world. The real motivation behind the idea was very simple: Briatore and Symonds wanted to preserve their jobs. Thus they were conning the management of Renault that they were doing a good job. The risk they took in doing that was to put Renault’s international reputation on the line and in the last few weeks Renault has paid a mighty price in terms of bad publicity. In my opinion this is punishment enough for the company. If there was a hint that Renault top management knew about the plot then I would agree that the punishment was a cop-out, but there is no such evidence and it is clear that when the company realised what was happening, it did not even try to defend its errant staff. They were gone. Renault thus did the right thing
You may read elsewhere, if you can be bothered, that Formula 1 will miss Flavio Briatore.
Formula 1 misses no-one. It is a world that moves ever onward. As Charles de Gaulle said: “The graveyards of the world are filled with indispensable men.” Briatore got what he had coming to him and Formula 1 is better off without him. You can attack Max Mosley for not acting sooner in this scandal and by doing so of seeming to be protecting the plotters, but I really believe that if the FIA had tried to nail Briatore without Nelson Piquet’s evidence, it would not have been successful. I think that the FIA’s handling of the situation was actually very smart: keeping Piquet’s revelations quiet until the Renault people had been ambushed with the interrogations in Spa.
And those who think that Max had it in for Flavio, ask yourselves this: why did he not crucify him over the McLaren data in the Renault computers in 2007? At that point the Italian was pretty much on the ropes and the FIA let him crawl away without any real punishment. No, that argument does not make sense.
I am not a Briatore fan. I never have been. I always felt that he was in the wrong business. Racing people like racing. Briatore just liked being on TV and making money. He was good at both. When he first arrived in F1 he brought with him sharp practices which were new to the F1 wheeler-dealers of the era. This changed the way that business was done in F1 and, as far as I am concerned, it was to the detriment of the sport. I always believed that one day he would get F1 into trouble and I did nothing to help him. He did not like this. We did not enjoy a good relationship.
Briatore made himself a brand and turned that into cash. There are some who think that his brand values were chic, I did not. I think the man had little taste and little class. Maybe he found humour in getting idiotic wealthy people to spend mad amounts of money on tasteless Billionaire baubles. Who knows? Who cares.
Flavio’s boat has sailed and F1 is better off without him. He was, in the end, his own executioner and that was a suitable and rather satisfying end.
“I didn’t attend the funeral,” Mark Twain once wrote, “but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”
My sentiments entirely.