Ecclestone: Briatore did not deserve ban

Renault's disgraced boss only needed 'a slapped hand' for Singapore crash scandal
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The Independent Online

Bernie Ecclestone's suggestion that Flavio Briatore deserves no more than "a slapped hand" for sanctioning the deliberate crash which put the lives of a driver, his co-drivers and spectators at risk has encouraged the Italian to mount a legal challenge to his de facto lifetime ban from involvement with motorsport, sources close to the disgraced former Renault team principal said last night.

On Monday, Briatore was effectively banned for life by the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Paris for his part in the incident which saw Nelson Piquet Jr crash out of last year's Singapore Grand Prix, enabling team-mate Fernando Alonso to score an entirely unexpected victory.

Ecclestone, the sport's billionaire commercial rights controller, said he felt sorry for Briatore, and that the punishment was "too harsh".

Pat Symonds, the team's director of engineering, was banned for five years, but the team itself escaped with a suspended sentence, a punishment which – given McLaren were last year fined $100m for a far less serious offence – many believe to be almost ludicrously lenient.

It also emerged that Briatore may be able to continue as co-owner of Queen's Park Rangers Football Club due to a legal technicality. Although Football League rules clearly state the owner, prospective owner or director of a club should not be "subject to a ban from a sports governing body relating to the administration of their sport", Briatore's lawyers may claim the wording of the ban imposed by the WMSC refers to preventing any individual or organisation who works with Briatore being involved in any FIA-sanctioned event, and that as such, he himself has not been banned.

Briatore had already indicated he may challenge the legality of the ban on the grounds of disproportionality, although some legal experts believe his case might have been weakened when he declined the invitation to appear before the WMSC to defend himself.

Nothing is straightforward in Formula One, however, and the fact Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the United Arab Emirates' automobile club president and an FIA vice-president, has told a local newspaper negotiations were "done" before the WMSC meeting, may give Briatore's lawyers further ammunition.

Speculation continues regarding the identity of the mysterious "Witness X", the team member the FIA has revealed provided testimony supporting claims by Piquet Jr that the crash was staged with Briatore's approval.

The position of Alonso is also coming under increasing scrutiny, although the Spaniard's denials of any knowledge of the affair during his extremely brief appearance before the WMSC were accepted without further question. Acknowledgement of his lack of involvement clears the way for Alonso to replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next season.

Renault themselves are likely to confirm Alain Prost will take over as team principal in time for this weekend's grand prix, also in Singapore.

Nor is FIA president Max Mosley without his critics over his handling of the affair. The apparent lack of clarity has led to more calls for a complete change of regime at the FIA. The strong favourite to replace Mosley when he finally stands down next month is former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt, but the Frenchman is very much Mosley's man. The campaign of Finnish former rally champion Ari Vatanen is now reporting a number of new pledges of support.