Doubts remain over Alonso role in race-fixing scandal

The Renault Formula One team will learn within the next two days what punishment the World Motor Sport Council decide to mete out as an extraordinary meeting in Paris investigates the fixing of the result at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

Earlier this week, team principal Flavio Briatore and engineering chief Pat Symonds resigned from the company. The latter has maintained silence over the matter, while Briatore lost no time seeking to excuse his role in the scandal and to rehabilitate himself. "I was just trying to save the team. It's my duty. That's the reason I've finished," he said.

Renault have said they will not dispute the charges of race-fixing – tantamount to admitting their guilt. They have thrown themselves on the leniency of the court now that two of the three men involved had quit – the third being driver Nelson Piquet Jnr, who deliberately crashed his car so the team leader, Fernando Alonso, could benefit from a safety-car period and win the race at a time when Régie Renault were seriously reconsidering whether to remain within the sport after a string of poor results.

It is irrelevant whether Briatore and Symonds were pushed or chose to fall on their swords. As the architects of the plan, there was no way they could stay. What matters now is whether the court decides that showing them the door represents sufficient action, or whether it decides that Renault should be hit with a ban from competing in next year's World Championship, or handed a fine such as the $100m with which McLaren were hit back in the Stepneygate spy scandal of 2007 when much less was proved against that team than is alleged against Renault.

Two years ago, to general disbelief, Renault walked free from a similar spying claim – even though McLaren's intellectual property, including the crucial "J" damper which revolutionised suspension behaviour, was so deeply embedded in their computer system that it remains there to this day.

In among all the hoopla, there is a question that is now being asked in some quarters: was Fernando Alonso completely unaware of the strategy that Briatore, Symonds and Piquet Jnr are said to have hatched to his ultimate benefit?

Alonso has maintained his silence over the race-fixing allegations but he made a statement at Spa to the race stewards, their chairman Alan Donnelly, an FIA observer and external advisers from Sidley Austin LLP and Quest who were employed on the governing body's behalf, in which he said he had no knowledge of any meetings between Briatore, Symonds and Piquet Jnr, and that he usually left strategy to his engineers. Alonso also stated that an early and aggressive refuelling strategy – he stopped on the 12th lap – was consistent with trying to gain an advantage after a poor qualifying, when running the same strategy as the 14 rivals ahead of him on the grid would not have presented him with much chance of progress.

It is thought that Alonso was offered similar immunity from prosecution to that which Piquet was given to spill the beans, and which Symonds was offered, just as the Spaniard was during the Stepneygate scandal.

In Piquet's case, that conveniently bypasses the crucial safety issue at the heart of the incident. Formula One might have had an impressive record since the deaths at Imola in 1994 of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, but marshals Paolo Ghislimberti and Graham Beveridge were killed at Monza in 2000 and Melbourne in 2001 respectively by flying debris, and Renault themselves only narrowly escaped exclusion from the Belgian GP after Alonso was released from the pits with a loose front wheel in the Hungarian GP, only a week after an errant wheel had killed Henry Surtees in a Formula Two race at Brands Hatch in July. A deliberate accident exacerbated similar risk.

"If it puts human life at risk, whether it's the spectators, the marshals or the drivers, then it's more serious again," the FIA president Max Mosley said in Monza last weekend.

Triple world champion Niki Lauda, who came close to death in a crash in Germany in 1976, said: "I would never have crashed on order: firstly, because sport is sport and secondly, because in my day I could have hurt or killed myself. My Nürburgring crash was big. I got straight back in and drove as soon as I could. Others were not so lucky. Some died. We do not want a sport where we are putting lives at risk for all the worst reasons."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
news
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot