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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee