The ING Renault team have been suspended from the European Grand Prix, following the loss of the right front wheel on Fernando Alonso's car on the 13th lap in Hungary yesterday.
The FIA is extremely sensitive about structural integrity after a detached wheel killed 18-year-old Henry Surtees in the Formula Two Championship at Brands Hatch the previous Sunday, when wheel tethers failed to do their job.
Hours after the race at Hungaroring, stewards argued that Renault "knowingly released" Alonso from the pits without one of the wheelnut safety retaining devices being secured; that they failed to take any action to prevent the car leaving the pits, and that they failed to inform Alonso of the problem or advise him to take appropriate action even though he had immediately contacted them by radio believing he had a puncture.
However, this is being perceived by some as thinly disguised payback for the Renault team principal Flavio Briatore, a leading member of Fota and a strong advocate of a breakaway grand prix series. Some cynics are asking why Renault could escape punishment when they were found in 2007 with McLaren intellectual property so firmly embedded in their computer system that it is said still to be there – when McLaren were fined $100m for the allegation that their former chief designer Mike Coughlan had handled intellectual property stolen from Ferrari – yet is suspended for what seemed to be an error made in the heat of the moment in Hungary.
Speculation is rife, with Felipe Massa injured and Alonso said to be heading to Ferrari for 2010, that the Spaniard could drive at Ferrari in the European GP at Valencia or the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps, depending on the timing and outcome of the appeal Renault lodged via the Federation Française du Sport Automobile.