Briatore expelled for life as Renault escape ban

Constructor on probation for two years as Italian is cast into the wilderness
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The Independent Online

Flavio Briatore's spectacular fall was completed yesterday as Formula One's governing body took the unprecedented step of banning the former Renault team principal for life.

It took the World Motor Sport Council just 90 minutes yesterday to draw a final conclusion to the "crashgate" affair and pass the harshest possible punishment on the Italian for fixing the result of the Singapore Grand Prix last year. His former team, however, escaped without a fine and with no harsher sanction than a suspended sentence.

The strategy of firing Briatore and the team's chief engineer Pat Symonds last week was enough to spare Renault and their driver Fernando Alonso, who was called upon to attend the hearing in Paris, from further action. Renault will be on probation for two years.

The action taken against Briatore surprised many associated with the sport. In 2007 Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan, of Ferrari and McLaren respectively, were censured for their roles in the "spygate" scandal when Stepney passed stolen Ferrari intellectual property to Coughlan, but this is the first time that anyone has been banned from motor racing permanently.

Briatore did not attend yesterday's extraordinary meeting in Paris, but former world champion Alonso did, together with the whistle-blowing Piquets, father and son, Renault F1 president Bernard Rey, and the company's head of public relations, Jean-Francois Caubet.

The hearing lasted only an hour and a half as Renault did not dispute the charges that they fixed the result of the 2008 Singapore GP by arranging for Nelson Piquet Jnr to crash his Renault in order to trigger the safety car intervention that helped Alonso to recover from 20th and last place to win.

The WMSC found that Briatore, Symonds and Piquet Jnr conspired to cause a deliberate crash, and thus ruled that Renault F1 were responsible for the actions of their employees. They also expressed the opinion that Renault F1's breaches of the regulations were of "unparalleled severity" and not only compromised the integrity of the sport but also endangered the lives of spectators, officials, other competitors and Piquet Jnr himself. They made it clear that such offences would normally merit permanent disqualification from the FIA Formula One World Championship, but took into account Renault's plea of mitigation and the removal last Wednesday of Briatore and Symonds, and instead imposed a suspended sentence until the end of 2011.

But they let Briatore and Symonds have both barrels. They ruled that, for an unlimited period, they will not sanction the involvement of Briatore in motor sport "in any capacity whatsoever", nor would they grant any licence to any team that might care to employ him. They also effectively barred him from attending any international motor race within their jurisdiction, by instructing stewards to eject him. Furthermore, they have refused to renew any racing driver's superlicence, which is needed to compete in F1, if they still have management contracts with Briatore or his associates.

The WMSC stipulated the "unlimited period" not just because of the severity of the original offence in which Briatore was complicit but also because of his actions in continuing to deny his part in the scam despite all the evidence to the contrary. The WMSC applied a similar sanction to Symonds, for five years.

Piquet was always shielded by immunity for blowing the whistle while the hearing concluded that Alonso "was not in any way involved in Renault F1's breach of the regulations".

Piquet Jnr, the driver who crashed deliberately on lap 14 of the race to allow his team-mate Alonso to win, said: "I bitterly regret my actions to follow the orders I was given. I wish every day that I had not done it. I don't know how far my explanation will go to making people understand because for many being a racing driver is an amazing privilege, as it was for me. All I can tell you is that my situation at Renault turned into a nightmare. Having dreamed of being a Formula One driver and having worked so hard to get there, I found myself at the mercy of Mr Briatore. His true character, which had previously only been known to those he had treated like this in the past, is now known.

"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 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," – Briatore cast aspersions on Piquet's sexuality during last week's Italian Grand Prix – "it is clear to me that I was simply being used by him then to be discarded and left to ridicule."

Renault took the news on the chin, and Rey said afterwards: "We are very sad to find ourselves in front of the Word Motor Sport Council today. As a result of our own enquiries, we informed the FIA last week that we would not defend the charges and we accepted our responsibilities in relation to the incident in Singapore and we immediately took appropriate action inside the team.

"We fully accept the decision of the council. We apologise unreservedly to the F1 community for this unacceptable behaviour. We sincerely hope that we can soon put this matter behind us and focus constructively on the future."

Crimes and punishments: F1's precedents

1997 Schumacher cuts up Villeneuve.

Michael Schumacher's attempts to cut up his title rival backfired. The German ended in the gravel, Villeneuve finished third to win the title. Punishment: Schumacher stripped of second place finish in the championship.

2005 BAR fuel tank.

BAR drivers Jenson Button and Takuma Sato finish third and fifth respectively, before their cars were found to be below the minimum weight limit when their cars were driven. Drivers disqualified from race and excluded from next two rounds.

2007 McLaren at the Hungaroring.

Fernando Alonso waited in the pits after being signalled to leave. Because of the delay, Lewis Hamilton was unable to complete his final qualifying lap.

Alonso moved back five places on grid and McLaren received no constructors points in the race.

2007 McLaren 'spying'.

McLaren designer Mike Coughlan is given a 780-page dossier by Ferrari's Nigel Stepney. McLaren thrown out of constructors championship and fined £49.2m.

2009 McLaren 'lying'.

Hamilton passes Trulli during a safety car period in Australia, then lets the Toyota past after discussion with his team. They later tell the stewards they did not choose to let Trulli past. McLaren given three race suspension and Hamilton disqualified from Australian Grand Prix.

2009 Vettel's crash.

Vettel continues to drive despite various components coming loose. Red Bull fined £30,869.