Following an extraordinary meeting of the FIA's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Paris today, the ING Renault F1 team have been given a two-year suspended ban for their role in fixing the outcome of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. The team was alleged to have asked their driver Nelson Piquet Jr. to deliberately crash in order to help team mate Fernando Alonso win the race. The hearing today was attended by Piquet Jr. who orginially blowed the whistle on the whole scandal, Renault Sport president Bernard Rey, Renault driver Fernando Alonso, FIA president Max Mosley and Formula One Management (FOM) CEO Bernie Ecclestone.
This suspended ban means that if Renault are to commit any similar offence within the next two years, they will be permanently banned from the Formula 1 World Championships. For now, however, the team remains firmly in Formula 1. For playing his part in the scandal and continuing to deny the allegations, former team principal Flavio Briatore has been banned from all FIA sanctioned events for life. Renault's former director of engineering Pat Symonds, due to cooperating with the FIA in the investigation and admitting his guilt and duly apologising, has been banned from all FIA sanctioned events for five years.
Although Nelson Piquet Jr. was at the centre of the scandal, the FIA decided to give him full immunity in return for his role in helping to uncover the details of the scandal. However, after such an incident, and already sacked by Renault earlier this season due to a lack of performance, it remains to be seen whether Piquet Jr. can ever make a comeback to Formula 1.
Renault driver Fernando Alonso was cleared by the FIA from any involvement in the race-fixing scandal. The governing body said that they are satisfied about the Spaniard's innocence and thanked him for his cooperation with the enquiries.
Although this race-fixing scandal is one of the worst to have hit this sport ever, the FIA is satisfied that once the events came into light, Renault (the parent company) took drastic and significant measures to change the failings within the team besides condemning the actions of the individuals involved. The fact that Renault admitted guilt and fully apologised for their part in this scandal, and sacked the main men behind the plot resulted in the FIA taking a lenient view on the team. Besides, if Renault had been given a harsh penalty or worse banned, it would have been bad for the sport that has already lost two major manufacturers in two years (Honda at the end of 2008 and BMW's decision to quit at the end of the current season). So although this incident brings into question the integrity of Formula 1, we need to remember that the whole Renault team and its employees were not behind the scandal. It was all masterminded by three men and all of them, in one way or the other, are now out of the team and the sport itself.
The FIA statement also said that Renault would be paying the costs incurred by the FIA in its investigation and also will be contributing significantly to various FIA safety related projects. It was also said that Flavio Briatore will not only be barred from any areas under the FIA's jurisdiction, but will not be allowed to be involved with any form of motorsport that is governed by the FIA. The governing body will not grant licence to any team which is directly or indirectly involved with Briatore, and any driver who is managed by the Italian will not have their FIA Super Licence renewed.
Flavio Briatore's position as a co-owner and president of the London based Queens Park Rangers (QPR) football club also hangs in the balance. The Football League, which governs all Championship clubs of which QPR is a part of, has asked the FIA for more details regarding Briatore's ban. The Football League rules state that an individual banned by the governing body of another sport will not be allowed to own a majority stake or be a director of a football club.
So effectively that is the end of Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds in motorsport. The two men have a long and successful history in Formula 1. Although Briatore has been involved with other allegations and scandals in the past, there is no denying all the Championships he led his team to and the talented drivers he has picked up in Formula 1. During his tenure at Benetton, he got Michael Schumacher to win two World Championships and later on as team boss of Renault, the Italian got Fernando Alonso to win another two World Championships. Pat Symonds had an equally successful motorsport career and is known to have one of the best engineering minds out there today. It is a shame that both these men's fledgling Formula 1 careers had to end like this, but as the old saying goes, "if you live by the sword, you die by the sword!"
As for Piquet Jr. he did not exactly take the Formula 1 grid by storm in his one and a half seasons in the sport, apart from all his spins and crashes of course. His father may have won three World Championships, but like father is not always like son I have to say because Piquet Jr. is far from Championship material. Besides that, his involvement in such a gruesome scandal so early on in his career will surely put off any team or sponsor from even thinking about getting involved with him.
For us though, we hope that we have had enough of politics and scandals for now and that we can return back to the true essence of Formula 1, which is grand prix racing and not sensational political headlines. We are just a few days away from Round 14 of the 2009 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, which ironically, takes us to Singapore, exactly one year on from that scandalous race. Until then, drive safely everyone!