Renault Escapes F-1 Ban in Singapore Cheating Scandal (Update2)
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By Laurence Frost and Alex Duff
Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Renault SA‚Äôs team escaped a ban from Formula One for a race-fixing scandal. Former team manager Flavio Briatore was excluded from the sport for life.
Renault will only be kicked out if found guilty of a comparable breach through 2011, the auto racing series‚Äô ruling body said on its Web site today. Pat Symonds, the team‚Äôs former engineering chief, got a five-year ban.
The Renault team said Sept. 16 it wouldn‚Äôt dispute charges by the ruling body that it conspired for Nelson Piquet Jr. to crash at last year‚Äôs Singapore Grand Prix to help teammate Fernando Alonso win the race.
The incident was of ‚Äúunparalleled severity,‚ÄĚ the ruling body, Federation Internationale de l‚ÄôAutomobile, said after a hearing at its offices in Paris today. The team ‚Äúendangered the lives of spectators, officials, other competitors and Nelson Piquet Jr. himself.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs the latest scandal to hit Formula One after the FIA fined McLaren $100 million in 2007 for spying on rival team Ferrari. It comes amid concern over future commercial support for F-1, after Honda Motor Co. announced its withdrawal last December and BMW AG said it will leave after this year‚Äôs series. ING Groep NV already announced it was withdrawing its sponsorship of the Renault team before the scandal broke.
Piquet escaped injury in Singapore as his car slammed into a concrete wall after 14 of 61 laps soon after Alonso had entered the pit lane. Alonso, who began the race in 15th place, moved up the field as other drivers followed him into the pits just after crash debris was cleared.
Only Briatore, Symonds and Piquet were involved in the conspiracy, the FIA said. Briatore and Symonds quit their posts last week.
Brazil‚Äôs Piquet Jr., the son of three-time world champion driver Nelson Piquet, gave evidence to the FIA about the incident after being dropped by Renault. He hadn‚Äôt finished higher than 10th in the first 10 races this year.
Piquet Jr. was granted immunity from punishment by the FIA for cooperating with their enquiries.
Renault agreed to remain in Formula One amid the negative publicity of the scandal, FIA President Max Mosley told reporters in Paris. In July, it signed up to race in the series through 2012. Renault spokeswoman Gita Roux said the carmaker had no immediate comment on Mosley‚Äôs remarks or on its future in the sport.
Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One‚Äôs chief executive, said he didn‚Äôt think the scandal would lead to Renault‚Äôs withdrawal from the sport.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôve always said they were committed until 2012. I don‚Äôt see why they would rethink that now or at any time,‚ÄĚ he said in a phone interview.
Renault, which apologized for its behavior, also agreed to make a ‚Äúsignificant‚ÄĚ contribution to FIA road safety projects.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôre going to do an awful lot for safety improvements,‚ÄĚ Ecclestone said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs more sensible than a fine really.‚ÄĚ
Briatore, a former Benetton Group SpA executive who confesses to knowing little about cars, entered Formula One as commercial director of the apparel company‚Äôs team in 1989. He became team manager in 1991.
He hired Michael Schumacher, who won the 1994 and 1995 driving championships for Benetton -- the first of his record seven titles. Briatore joined Renault after it bought Benetton‚Äôs team for $120 million.
Briatore oversaw Alonso‚Äôs driving championship wins in 2005 and 2006, when Renault also won the constructors‚Äô championships.
He‚Äôs also part-owner of Queens Park Rangers, a second-tier English soccer team.
In a statement, Piquet Jr. said he ‚Äúbitterly‚ÄĚ regretted his actions ‚Äúto follow the orders I was given. I wish every day that I had not done it.‚ÄĚ
He said he still hoped to resurrect his racing career.
‚ÄúI am so sorry to those who work in Formula One (including the many good people at Renault), the fans and the governing body,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúI do not expect this to be forgiven or forgotten but at least now people can draw their conclusions based upon what really happened.‚ÄĚ
To contact the reporters on this story: Laurence Frost in Paris at email@example.com
; Alex Duff in Madrid at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: September 21, 2009 10:28 EDT