Renault ask police to charge Piquet

Briatore seeks criminal action after claiming driver attempted to blackmail them
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The Independent Online

Attitudes hardened further yesterday in the acrimonious fall out surrounding allegations that Renault's Formula One team fixed the result of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

As Nelson Piquet Jnr's legal deposition to the FIA was leaked, the beleaguered team claimed that they have taken "criminal action" against him and his father, the triple world champion Nelson Piquet Snr.

A statement issued yesterday said: "The ING Renault F1 Team and its managing director Flavio Briatore personally wish to state that they have commenced criminal proceedings against Nelson Piquet Jnr and Nelson Piquet Snr in France, concerning the making of false allegations and a related attempt to blackmail the team into allowing Mr Piquet Jr to drive for the remainder of the 2009 season. The matter will also be referred to the police in the UK."

Individuals can only refer such matters to the police authorities, who themselves will decide whether to start criminal proceedings, but the claim was further indication of the escalating pressure on Renault, whose drivers Romain Grosjean and Fernando Alonso finished second and third fastest behind Adrian Sutil in second practice for the Italian Grand Prix.

If Renault motor company's chief Carlos Ghosn is supportive of the counter-attack, it could have serious repercussions for the car manufacturer's team if they are found guilty when they go before the World Motor Sport Council in Paris on 21 September. On one of his rare visits to an F1 paddock, outgoing FIA president Max Mosley threw in his 10 cents' worth. "If you look at any other sport, if somebody fixes the result then it's usually taken seriously," he said. "Fixing is one degree worse than cheating. If you're a cyclist and you take dope, that's cheating. If you bribe the other cyclists, or you get somebody to have a crash in the peloton so the yellow jersey guy crashes, that's more serious.

"Then if it puts human life at risk, whether it's the spectators, the marshals or the drivers, then it's more serious again. The moment we talk about that, we sort of imply they [Renault] are guilty, but we don't know. Until they put their defence in, we've got to assume they're innocent."

Mosley confirmed that Renault have asked for more time to place their documentation before the FIA, and that Piquet has been granted immunity in much the same was as Alonso was in the McLaren "Spygate" scandal in 2007. And he did not rule out exclusion from the world championship if Renault's case fails.

"If, and it is a very big if, they are guilty, it is very serious indeed. But we are in a situation where we have heard one side of the story and have investigated to the best of our ability. Now we are waiting for Renault's side, and it is only when we have got both sides, that one can actually reach a conclusion."

A Formula One Teams' Association statement said: "Fota express concern at the leakage of information, which may or may not be relevant to the FIA enquiry into the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. All parties to the dispute should have the right to a fair hearing carried out in private and not in the public arena, which is producing adverse publicity damaging to the corporate image and credibility of Formula One. Fota condemn the habit of intentionally releasing confidential documents to influence public opinion."

Q&A: How Briatore and Piquet hit the skids

What exactly are Renault's Flavio Briatore, Pat Symonds and Nelson Piquet Jnr accused of doing?

They are charged with colluding on the morning of the race to bring about a situation in which Piquet, the team's junior driver, crashed his car deliberately during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix last year so that team leader Fernando Alonso, who was on a very aggressive refuelling strategy which called for an apparently unfeasibly early first stop, could benefit and win the race.

Why wasn't anything done about it this time last year?

There were many mutterings in F1 circles about how convenient it was that the safety car was deployed on the 14th lap of the race, just after Alonso had made that early stop on the 12th, but in the absence of any serious allegations or evidence, nobody took any real notice.

What was in it for Piquet Jnr?

Allegedly, by currying favour with his team's management, he would safeguard his drive for 2009 at a time when Flavio Briatore was threatening to drop him.

So how did it come to light now?

The trigger was the sacking of Piquet Jnr in July, and the outburst he made against the team in which he was heavily critical of the manner in which he had been treated. It emerged at Spa-Francorchamps after the Belgian GP this year that Piquet and his father, triple world champion Nelson Piquet Snr, had recently made serious allegations about the race being fixed to the FIA following Piquet Jnr's dismissal.

So what will happen now?

The FIA's investigation is ongoing, and Renault F1 have been summoned to appear before an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris on 21 September.

How will the WMSC determine the facts?

They have already conducted several interviews with the parties concerned but will also have access to radio transmissions between the team's management on the pit wall, and Alonso and Piquet during the race, and the telemetry from Piquet's car.

Has there ever been an incident like this in F1?

The closest was probably at Monaco in 2006 when Michael Schumacher was put to the back of the grid after race stewards ruled he had deliberately stalled his Ferrari in an attempt to safeguard his pole position.