Monday, September 21, 2009

Relief for Renault as Flavio shown the door

The World Motor Sport Council met this morning in Paris to decide the fate of the Renault F1 team after it as good as admitted that its former team principal, flamboyant Flavio Briatore, and his engineering director Pat Symonds, had left the team after ordering Nelson Piquet Jr to crash during last year's Singapore Grand Prix to give Fernando Alonso the advantage to win the race.

The judgement came at lunchtime. Renault's culpability was deemed to merit being thrown out of the sport, but that this drastic sentence was suspended for two years, only to be enacted if they were found guilty of a "comparable" offence.

What this essentially means is that Renault have got away with little more than a bit of egg on their faces. Where is the deterrent on this? Does this not give the green light to any other team to do whatever it pleases as long as it co-operates with the eventual investigation and sacrifices some personnel? I'm not suggesting that this is what happened in this case - I'm sure Renault were horrified when they found out people's lives were brazenly put at risk for a race win by their employees, but it sets a dangerous precedent.

In this economic climate, a hefty fine of the order of the $100 million dollars levied on McLaren for the Spygate scandal in 2007 would perhaps have been too harsh, although this offence was much worse. This was not McLaren's only punishment. They were also disqualified from the 2007 championship. That would also have cost them dear.

F1 teams get a share of the commercial spoils of the sport. Exactly how these are divvied up is kept signifcantly more secret than the evidence presented at today's hearing, which was leaked to the press a week ago but we do know that the amount a team gets depends on how successful they are, how long they've been in the sport and on all sorts of various criteria. If Renault had been disqualified from this year's championship, it's no exaggeration to say that this would have cost them a few million. In the context of their overall budget, it's not huge, but it would have been a bit better than just allowing them to pretty much continue as normal.

I am not in any way sad to see that Flavio Briatore has pretty much been told never to darken the doorstep of motorsport ever again. Given his culpability in cheating in one sport, a question mark surely must hang over his participation in football, as owner of Queens Park Rangers. He's also banned from managing drivers so no doubt Fernando Alonso (who was completely exonerated of any involvement in the crash plot)and Mark Webber will be looking for a new manager.

Pat Symonds gets a five year ban because he said sorry. I think, to be honest, that that's a bit lenient.

Completely escaping any sort of punishment is the driver involved, Nelson Piquet Junior, because he blew the whistle. What he did was completely wrong, but we have to remember that he we one with the power in that situation. His statement and apology today gives some indication of the pressure he was under and his emotional state. Being bullied, as he undeniably was, by Briatore, a man who seemed to control every aspect of his professional and personal life, can do strange things to a person's psyche and the fact that he was prepared to crash a car at over 100mph on orders shows the fragility of his mind at the time.

I'm not optimistic that he has a future in Formula 1, as he clearly wants to have, but I'd like to see what a decent team manager would do with him.

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