Renault Receive Suspended Ban

by Laura Allard

Renault have received a two year suspended ban from the FIA for their involvement in Nelson Piquet Jr's crash at last year's Singapore Grand Prix.

The team's former boss, Flavio Briatore, has been given a lifetime ban from FIA-sanctioned motorsport, and ex-engineering director, Pat Symonds, has received a five year ban.

The FIA's World Motor Sport Council also said that for each of the drivers managed by Briatore, they will not have their Superlicence renewed, until they are no longer associated with him. This includes the two current Renault drivers, Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean, Nelson Piquet's replacement. Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen are also managed by Briatore.

The verdict comes just days before the 14th round of the 2009 season, in Singapore.

Rewind, and exactly a year ago this weekend, Piquet crashed out of the Singapore Grand Prix on lap 15, just three laps after teammate Alonso pitted for his first stop. The safety car was deployed following the incident, while marshals removed the car from the track. While the front runners pitted from behind the safety car, Alonso was able to make his way through the pack, and he eventually won the race.

Then fast-forward to the end of July 2009, and the crashgate saga begins following Renault dropping Piquet from the team just after the Hungarian Grand Prix, with the Brazilian having failed to score points in any of this season's races. On the day of the Hungarian Grand Prix were Piquet finished back in 14th, Nelson Piquet Sr contacted FIA president Max Mosley to inform him of the race-fixing, and later that week, Piquet Jr himself was called to a meeting to give his version of the events.

The Renault staff were all interviewed by the stewards at the Belgium Grand Prix at the end of August after the allegations emerged. Alonso claimed he knew nothing about the race-fixing plans. Pat Symonds was also questioned, but he gave little away apart from claiming it was Piquet who had suggested crashing. Briatore denied the accusations.

On September 4th, following the emergence of fresh evidence, Renault were summoned by the FIA to appear before the World Motor Sport Council in Paris, believing there was a case to be answered.

On the weekend of the Italian Grand Prix evidence was leaked to the press, including Piquet's statement, and telemetry and radio transmissions. The team began legal action against the Piquets for blackmailing them for a drive for the remainder of the season. On the 15th September, Symonds was offered immunity from the FIA to reveal information. A day later both Briatore and Symonds left the team, and Renault said they would not be contesting the allegations at the WMSC the following week.

A statement released by the FIA following the meeting of the WMSC said that Renault “had accepted, at the earliest practicable opportunity, that it committed the offences with which it was charged and cooperated fully with the FIA's investigation.” The statement also said that Renault had confirmed Briatore and Symonds were involved and had ensured that they left the team, and they apologised for the harm caused by their actions. The statement also said that Renault were prepared to pay for the costs incurred by the FIA for its investigation, and that the parent company would make a “significant contribution to FIA safety-related projects.”

The FIA added: “Offences of this severity merit permanent disqualification from the FIA Formula One World Championship. However, having regard to the points in mitigation mentioned above and in particular the steps taken by Renault F1 to identify and address the failings within its team and condemn the actions of the individuals involved, the WMSC has decided to suspend Renault F1's disqualification until the end of the 2011 season. The World Motor Sport Council will only activate this disqualification if Renault F1 is found guilty of a comparable breach during that time.”

Alonso was thanked for his cooperation and cleared of any involvement, while Piquet retained his immunity for having volunteered information. Symonds receives only a five year ban, to Briatore's lifetime ban, as he accepted his part in the conspiracy, and expressed his “eternal regret and shame”. Briatore continued to deny any involvement.

Renault F1 team president, Bernard Rey, told the media after the verdict: “Today, we fully accept the decision of the Council. We apologise unreservedly to the F1 community in relation to this unacceptable behaviour. We sincerely hope that we can soon put this matter behind us and focus constructively on the future.”

Piquet said in a statement issued after the verdict: “I bitterly regret my actions to follow the orders I was given. I wish every day that I had not done it.”

He added: “Mr Briatore was my manager as well as the team boss, he had my future in his hands but he cared nothing for it. By the time of the Singapore GP he had isolated me and driven me to the lowest point I had ever reached in my life. Now that I am out of that situation I cannot believe that I agreed to the plan, but when it was put to me I felt that I was in no position to refuse. Listening now to Mr Briatore's reaction to my crash and hearing the comments he has made to the press over the last two weeks it is clear to me that I was simply being used by him then to be discarded and left to ridicule.”

Piquet concluded: “As my final words on this matter, I would like to repeat that I am so sorry to those who work in Formula One (including the many good people at Renault) the fans and the governing body. I do not expect this to be forgiven or forgotten but at least now people can draw their conclusions based upon what really happened.”

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