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Motor Racing

I was trying to save my team, says Briatore

Former Renault principal says that it was 'his duty' to resign over crash incident

Disgraced renault team principal Flavio Briatore lost no time working on his rehabilitation. In a public statement yesterday the flamboyant Italian said he left the Renault team to help them ahead of a hearing at the World Motor Sport Council in Paris next Monday to face charges of race fixing. "I was just trying to save the team. It's my duty. That's the reason I've finished," he said.

His long-time friend Bernie Ecclestone stepped in with words of support. "It's a pity that Flavio has ended his Formula 1 career in this way," the sport's ringmaster said. "You can't defend him at all. What he did was completely unnecessary. It's a pity that it's happened. He told me recently that he didn't want to finish up like me, playing with racing cars at my age. So at least he's been saved that embarrassment.

"The sport has recovered from so many things when people have said it was finished and it will recover from this. It was supposed to be finished when Ayrton Senna died. It was supposed to be finished when Michael Schumacher retired. People say it's been a torrid year but it always is in F1."

Renault's chief operating officer, Patrick Pelata, said that someone's head had to roll in the wake of the scandal. "I don't know all the details but there was a fault and a fault requires a sanction," he told French radio station RTL. "Nelson Piquet had already left and Pat Symonds is gone. Briatore considered he was morally responsible and has resigned.

"We will know more about the details after what will happen next Monday, with the FIA. At the moment, we have assumptions but it is clear that basically there was a fault. We don't like this, but do we not want the fault of two people to reflect upon the work of a company and the entire Formula 1 team."

The legendary world champion Niki Lauda, who cheated death after his own serious and unprovoked crash at Germany's Nurburgring in 1976, joined the condemnation of Briatore's tactics. "When I first heard the accusation that Renault had asked Nelson Piquet to crash deliberately, the question was whether it was true or not," he said. "If it was true, then it amounted to the worst thing that has happened in Formula One.

"There is only one other incident that comes near – Michael Schumacher parking his Ferrari on the racing line at Monaco in 2006 to block Fernando Alonso's last qualifying lap. But, really, even that is not comparable. This time it was about manipulating a race. There was also the obvious danger to Piquet, other drivers and spectators.

"Yes, the McLaren spying scandal two years ago was extremely serious but mechanics have always discussed technical data among themselves. This, though, is new. The biggest damage ever. Now the FIA must punish Renault heavily to restore credibility in the sport."

His fellow triple champion Sir Jackie Stewart said: "There is something fundamentally rotten and wrong at the heart of Formula One."

The 1996 champion Damon Hill, the president of the British Racing Drivers' Club, added: "It's not a very good episode. There are clearly a lot of issues, and have been in the past, and it has a lot of soul searching to do.

"I'm concerned the sport is going to suffer as a genuine challenge, which is what I always felt it should be and would like it to be, of skill and competitiveness."