Alonso backs 'crash' win as sponsors quit

Renault are rocked by two major companies pulling out after race-fixing scandal
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The Independent Online

Renault's Fernando Alonso yesterday defended his 2008 Singapore Grand Prix win against accusations of race fixing on the same day that two major sponsors decided to cut their links with the scandal-hit Formula One team.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's race at the same venue, the Spanish driver grew more agitated when pressed on his involvement in a race that he won after a deliberate crash by Brazilian team-mate Nelson Piquet Jnr. "I regard it as a win, yes," said Alonso, who again stated he knew nothing of any plot.

"My interpretation of events is how could I win the race? It [Piquet's crash] was in the very early stages of the race which still had a long way to go. The car was performing well and I didn't make any mistakes."

On Monday, the FIA handed a life ban to former Renault team principal Flavio Briatore for his role in the fixing allegations, gave a five-year ban to technical director Pat Symonds and a suspended permanent ban on the team.

"I was happy to collaborate with the FIA at the meeting and am also happy that everything is clear that I was not involved in what happened," Alonso added. "That's now in the past and it's time to move on. It's Singapore 2009 not 2008. It's good that the team can put this behind us and can concentrate on the future."

The Spaniard also expressed his annoyance at people who questioned his integrity in the wake of the scandal. "There is nothing to validate and nothing to prove. I've been in Formula One for nine years and have won two world titles. I always give my all. I am here to drive and the car is performing well now and we will target a podium finish. The only thing that really matters to me now is this weekend. I will be preparing for this race and will not be looking back, only forward."

However, Renault suffered a grievous blow to their hopes of remaining in Formula One next season yesterday when ING and Mutua Madrilena tore up their sponsorship contracts with immediate effect.

ING, who had provided a significant slice of the team's budget, had always planned to pull out at the end of the season as part of a cost-reduction programme. Yet the Dutch-based financial group said in a statement they had decided to quit four races early after Renault's punishment by the FIA. "ING is deeply disappointed at this turn of events, especially in the context of an otherwise successful sponsorship," it read.

The company were the largest sponsor on Renault's books, providing more than half their total sponsorship revenues according to some estimates, and the team have yet to announce a replacement. A report by Formula Money earlier this year put ING's contribution to the sport at some $86m(£54m) last season, with $65m(£40m) going to Renault.

Spanish insurer Mutua Madrilena announced earlier yesterday they had withdrawn their sponsorship from the team for similar reasons. However, the company said the decision would have no impact on its sponsorship contract with Alonso.

"Mutua Madrilena believes the conduct of the relevant people in the team was of extraordinary seriousness and not only compromised the integrity of the sport but also put the physical safety of spectators, drivers and circuit personnel at risk," the company said in a statement.