Following a hearing before the FIA International Court of Appeal on Monday, the ING Renault F1 team have been allowed to race at this weekend's European Grand Prix.
During the Hungarian Grand Prix three weeks ago, Renault was found to have breached the Sporting Regulations when they released Fernando Alonso unsafely after a pit stop. During Alonso's first pit stop in the race, an error by one of the pit crews working on the wheel meant that the front-right wheel on Alonso's car was not properly attached. Before any of the other pit crew realised this, Alonso had already been released from the pit stop and was on his way to rejoining the race. As soon as he came out of the pit lane however, it was pretty clear that the front-right wheel on his car was not fully attached. About half way around the lap, the wheel came off entirely and Alonso was forced to reitre from the race. The FIA saw this incident as a breach of safety in accordance with the Sporting Regulations, and the race stewards for the Hungarian Grand Prix subsequently handed Renault a one-race suspension.
Renault appealed against that decision and the hearing of that appeal took place yesterday before the FIA International Court of Appeal in Paris. During the hearing, Renault conceded that they had breached the sport's safety regulations but that it was not intentional. They also said that apart from the pit crew working on that wheel, none of the other Renault mechanics were immediately aware of the problem. So until the wheel detached from the car, the team personnel on the pit wall did not have enough time and knowledge to warn Alonso of the potential problem.
Renault then requested the court to reconsider the severity of the sanction imposed by the race stewards. Having heard the arguments, the court decided to upheld Renault's appeal and overturned the one-race suspension. Instead, the French team were issued a reprimand and a fine of $50,000. Following the hearing, the Renault team welcomed the decision as it now allows them to race at the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain, which is Fernando Alonso's home race.
On Tuesday morning, Renault officially confirmed in a press release that Nelson Piquet Jr. has left the team effective immediately, and that the current GP2 series champion Romain Grosjean will be taking his place to partner Fernando Alonso at Renault for the rest of the season. The 23-year-old Swiss steps up to Formula 1 from being Renault's official reserve and test driver. The current GP2 championship leader Lucas di Grassi will become the new official reserve driver for Renault.
Personally I think that it was the right decision by the FIA to withdraw the race ban. Although Renault clearly breached the safety rules, it was an unintentional incident that cost them a potential podium finish in the race. So a race ban was a bit too harsh to penalise a team in such a case. A reprimand and a fine is more suited to this kind of an incident. On top of that, given that the next race is in Valencia, the ticket sales would have been greatly affected if Spanish double World Champion Fernando Alonso had not been racing. That would be bad for the sport and its organisers. So overall, this is a fair decision.
As far as Romain Grosjean is concerned, he is just another one of several young drivers to have made their Formula 1 debuts this year. As Nelson Piquet Jr. would have found out, Formula 1 is a very tough and harsh place to be in but if one has got what it takes, the rewards can be great. Welcome to Formula 1 Romain, and wish you all the best.
First Free Practice for the European Grand Prix kicks off at the Valencia street circuit at 9:00am UK time this Friday 21 August 2009. UK viewers can watch it live on the BBC red button service or online at the BBC Sport website. Radio listeners can also catch live commentary on BBC 5 Live sports extra.
Following a four-week long summer break, we are now all set for the last part of the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship. Between now and the 1st of November at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we will find out who takes the Drivers' and the Constructors' World Championships for 2009. It is going to a very exciting ride. Until next time, drive safely everyone!