Renault face Singapore hearing today

Renault face questions from the WMSC about Nelson Piquet Jnr's Singapore crash

Renault face questions from the WMSC about Nelson Piquet Jnr's Singapore crash

The only foregone conclusion as Renault face the World Motor Sports Council today is what the verdict will be. Having revealed they will not contest the charges they caused a deliberate accident during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, a verdict of ‘guilty’ seems inevitable.

But there are many more questions awaiting answers, some of which we may learn today. What will their punishment be? Was anyone else involved in the conspiracy? Was Fernando Alonso? Has it happened on other occasions? And why did it take the FIA almost a year to discover it?

The scale of the conspiracy

So far we know about one conspiracy to deliberately cause a crash which involved three people. The obvious question now are: were more people involved, and were there other deliberate accidents?

Inevitably many people have seized on Alonso as having a lot to gain from the accident, as it won him the race, and therefore asked how it can be that he did not know about it. So far there is no evidence that he did. The stewards’ initial findings said:

As regards Mr Alonso and the other engineers, the Stewards have found no evidence to suggest that they knew anything about any plan to cause a deliberate crash on lap 14.

You can find the summary of Alonso’s remarks to the stewards on page five of this document (PDF). It is expected that Alonso will appear before the WMSC tomorrow to answer further questions. Hopefully this will settle the matter once and for all.

Renault’s punishment

The nature of Renault’s crime is serious – some are describing it as the worst seen in any sport. They cheated to win a race, put the lives of drivers, marshals and spectators at risk, and they kept quiet about it for the best part of a year.

In their favour, once the details of the scandal emerged they took action and Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds left the team. So far this seems to be a repeat of the 2007 ‘spygate’ case, where McLaren concealed significant details at their first hearing WMSC hearing.

We have to go back to 1997 to find the closest comparable case to the Singapore crash, when Michael Schumacher infamously rammed Jacques Villeneuve during the 1997 European Grand Prix. That was different in several important ways: it involved a driver, not a team, the contact involved another competitor, and it was utterly blatant. The WMSC concluded that:

Michael Schumacher’s manoeuvre was an instinctive reaction and although deliberate not made with malice or premeditation.

Despite ascribing these generous mitigating factors, the WMSC issued the following punishment (read the full PDF document):

The World Council decided to exclude Michael Schumacher from the results of the 1997 FIA Formula One World Championship for drivers. The final results of the FIA Formula One World Championship have been modified accordingly. The results of the Constructors’ Championship remain unchanged. Michael Schumacher retains his points and victories recorded during the 1997 season. In lieu of any further penalty or fine, Michael Schumacher agreed to participate in the FIA European road safety campaign for a total of seven days in 1998.

For consistency Renault should at least be stripped of their fourth place in the 2008 constructors’ championship. On top of that, as the teams earn money based on their finishing positions, I expect Renault will get a substantial fine, probably in the eight-figure-dollar range.

Renault do not have any suspended penalties hanging over them following their punishment at the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend. However the safety implications of crashing a car deliberately cannot be underestimated and the FIA will surely appreciate that in light of recent accidents. They may get the one-race ban they escaped last month – or longer – plus a suspended sentence.

Putting precedent and regulations to one side for a moment, we should ask ourselves whether the act of deliberately causing a crash with one car so the other car can win deserves anything less than a ban. I think it will reflect poorly on F1 if the FIA do not exclude Renault from at least one race. With Singapore the next event on the calendar, it would be especially fitting.

However any re-distribution of points from the 2008 race is out of the question – see this comment from Hakka for an explanation why.

As discussed here earlier, Briatore and Symonds are likely to go unpunished, but expect the FIA to discourage other teams from hiring them.

The politics

Unless the penalty is extremely severe, it is likely there will be suggestions the FIA softened it for political reasons. There were doubts over the future of Renault’s F1 team even before the Singapore allegations blew up.

Losing Renault’s F1 team could also mean losing another potential source of engines. Red Bull already use them (but are trying to get rid of them) and Williams are believed to be trying to source Renault engines for 2010.

Renault also run the World Series by Renault, which has helped the likes of Alonso, Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel into F1. And they supply engines for GP2, where seven of today’s F1 drivers last raced before reaching Formula 1.

Just as Max Mosley admitted McLaren’s 2007 spygate punishment was reduced for the sake of the drivers’ championship, political imperatives may soften the blow to Renault today.

The investigation

While the WMSC presses Renault for more details I’m also hoping we’ll learn new facts about the nature of the FIA’s investigation. Specifically, why did it take so long for the FIA to start investigating the claim when Nelson Piquet first told Max Mosley about it at the Brazilian Grand Prix in November last year?

There may be useful lessons the FIA can take from the case as well. One key piece of evidence against Renault is the telemetry from Nelsin Piquet Jnr’s car (PDF), which makes it quite clear that the accident was intentional. It’s easy to say with hindsight that the FIA should have noted the unusual circumstances of Alonso’s win and taken it upon themselves to look at the data right away. But this is something they should now seriously consider doing in future cases.

What do you think will be the outcome of the Renault hearing? How should they be punished? Have your say and share any developments from the meeting in the comments.

Renault Singapore crash controversy

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178 comments on Renault face Singapore hearing today

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  1. The punishment meted out to McLaren a couple of years ago should apply here – hugenourmous fine, strip the team of both constructor AND driver points for last year AND this year, permanent ban from F1 for Briatore, Symonds and Piquet Jr (already self-imposed I think).

    This is an absolute disgrace for the individuals involved and the sport as well. It comes at a time when we don’t need any more scandals. The FIA may not need to impose spending caps since sponsor money may disappear and there won’t BE any many to spend…

    Off my rant – F1 will survive but this is the last thing we needed.

    • Nirupam said on 21st September 2009, 0:29

      strip the team of both constructor AND driver points for last year AND this year

      Why driver points? In 2007 as well Alonso and Hamilton retained their points!

      • Driver points should be stripped since I believe Alonso had to have heard about the planned crash and should have brought it forward.

        Perhaps he had no prior knowledge of the plan, but surely one of the three musketeers – Symonds, Briatore, Piquet Jr. – would have said “you had a little help there.”

        Recognizing the FIA had decided Alonso was in the clear, I’d like to see more evidence of a proper investigation having been done on Alonso. I know – innocent until proven guilty – but I don’t think the FIA worked very hard on examining that angle.

        Regardless of the exact punishment, it’s all a huge mess that never should have happened.

        • Pointer said on 21st September 2009, 13:41

          To be fair, as much as I dislike Alonso, I’d be surprised if anyone (inc. someone with the supreme arrogance of Briatore) would have given him ammunition like that given the way he handled similar material that led to the ‘spy-gate’ investigation.

      • FAST LADA said on 21st September 2009, 13:45

        HAS RENAULT BEEN BANNED FOR TWO YEARS IMMEDIATLEY??

    • S Hughes said on 21st September 2009, 10:46

      I totally agree with you.

  2. Nirupam said on 21st September 2009, 0:28

    Loosing Renault will be least sought after thing at this point. Somehow we avoided 2010 season being all cosworth cars, loosing Renault_the_engine_supplier means we will have only Mercedes and Ferrari contesting apart from cosworth (I have a feeling that Toyota might pull out as well).
    Though that does not mean that given the nature of the incidence Renault punishment should be lowered

  3. Prisoner Monkeys said on 21st September 2009, 0:33

    I never even thought about the ramifications of a Renault ban on the feeder series. Thanks for that, Keith. I was reading an interview with Mosley over the whole Renaul affair a few days ago and he pretty much admitted that the outcome of the Stepney Affair was politically motivated on a certain level. With Renault supporting two of the larger feeder series, maybed politics will come into it again and save them.

    I certainly think they’re worth saving, too. Reading between the lines on Renault’s dismissal of Briatore and Symonds – Briatore makes out that he did it of his own volition, but I can’t help but be sceptical – and the fact that they won’t contest the charges, it seems pretty clear that they do want to compete in 2010. They’re distancing themselves from all invovled, and they’re accepting the consequences of those actions. I’m no legal mind, but I have looked it up and if someone pleads guilty in a criminal case, their sentence is usually more lenient than if they had pled not guilty and were found to be guilty by the jury.

    As far as I know, only one team has ever been banned from competing until the end of time: Andrea Moda, after Sassetti got involved in organised crime. The difference between Renault and Andrea Moda is that Renault is a major car manufacturer and has success on and off for decades. Andrea Moda was a tinpot organisation, the joke of the pit lane for those with a darker sense of humour. Ironically enough, Andrea Moda and Renault have one major thing in common: both only ever really ran one and a half cars. Sassetti hated having Perry McCarthy around and even sent him out at Spa with a bent steering arm. For years, Briatore has only ever been running a second car because he has to. I’m sure that if given the choice, he’d run Alonso and Alonso only.

    But that’s moot point.

    • I don’t see Renault being banned over this. Does anyone believe that Flavio decided to leave without being pushed, just because it was the honorable thing to do? I think we’ll see that if both resigned (and weren’t actually fired) it’s only because Renault corporate went to them with the ultimatum to quit or be fired. I haven’t seen ANY evidence, or even any allegations, that anyone higher than Flavio knew about the incident either before hand or afterward. If this is the case Renault is just as much a victim in this as anyone else. They have had their name drug through the mud and now will face a financial penalty (from not only the punishment they receive from this hearing, but also the loss of sponsors and the loss of face for their car brand). A severe punishment is only appropriate if the people who did the misdeeds are still around to suffer the consequences. The main course of action should be to find a way to keep Briatore and Symonds out of F1 and all FIA sanctioned sports forever.

      • Prisoner Monkeys said on 21st September 2009, 6:42

        The main course of action should be to find a way to keep Briatore and Symonds out of F1 and all FIA sanctioned sports forever.

        As Briatore is no longer affiliated with Renault, I don’t think he can be brought to bear on this one. At least not directly. I’ve heard the suggetion that while the FIA cannot pin him for this one, they can ban drivers from working with him and either dissuade teams from hiring him in the future or trusting that they won’t associate themselves with him. While he technically won’t be banned from working in FIA-sanctioned motorsports, it will be ridiculously difficult for him to continue working, especially as a manager. And I’ve heard that the FIA wanted to talk to him about some of his management practices – incluing taking twenty percent of a driver’s salary (it’s naturaly for agents and managers to receive a cut of their charges’ income, but 20% is extoritionate) – but apparently he backed out of going to the hearing.

        There’s also been the suggestion that as a Commonwealth territory, Singapore may apply to have Briatore and Symonds extradited to face charges related to race-fixing and possibly corruption.

        • Dr. Mouse said on 21st September 2009, 12:56

          There’s also been the suggestion that as a Commonwealth territory, Singapore may apply to have Briatore and Symonds extradited to face charges related to race-fixing and possibly corruption.

          I never thought of that, but it’s a damn good idea! Although theres always the “all’s fair” line, and people WILL push the regs as far as they can for a win, even breaking them as long as they don’t think they will get caught, there is a line and this is over it by a long way.

  4. I feel sorry for Alonso in this case. He was damned if he did know and damned if he didn’t. What could he do? Fuel the car himself? Blow the whistle and risk his career? I imagine, if he did know, he never believed Nelson would go through with it, and when he did, he found himself leading a race for the first time in almost a year…

    • He could argue that he honestly did not know *before* the race — Renault’s strategy was widely interpreted as hoping for a safety car period, after all, it’s just that nobody expected them to actually *cause* it.

      But as to what he thought about it after the accident, well, that’d be interesting, though we’d probably never know for sure. I remember he was quite enthusiastic about his win, though. No embarrassment at all, at the moment (cf. Schumacher in Austria 02). So he probably has not figured it out then, but in the ensuing year, especially if Piquet Sr. has been making noise behind the scene…

  5. Grace Lovvorn said on 21st September 2009, 1:05

    I believe the punishment will be severe, nonetheless. But if Renault were to be banned completely (no involvement whatsoever), then that would be pretty critical. Sure, we can do without the team, but engines are pretty hard to come by. And who wants a Cosworth engine next year? Didn’t think so. So, they’ll probably get a harsh sentence tomorrow, but it won’t really matter. Renault was probably going to pull out of F1 as a team, no matter if this was happening or not (b/c of Alonso’s not-so-private switch to Ferrari). It’ll be good to see them punished and out of the drama. I’ll be more than happy to see those scumbags pack up and go home!

    • You’d think BMW would stay as an engine supplier. It’s mind-boggling, the way they are pulling out — no Concord, no nothing. Like the board had a collective panic attack or something.

  6. JSingh said on 21st September 2009, 1:36

    Awesome picture Keith!

    • mp4-19b said on 21st September 2009, 5:11

      yeah! I was just about to say that too!! Its like rewinding to the past, going backwards :) Judgement day at last!! Let the truth prevail.

  7. Patrickl said on 21st September 2009, 2:27

    Nelson Piquet first told Max Mosley about it at the Brazilian Grand Prix in November last year?

    Wasn’t that Charlie Whiting?

    Piquet jr. told Mosley in July, but was then told by Mosley that he already knew about it from Charlie Whiting.

  8. wasiF1 said on 21st September 2009, 3:45

    Loosing Renault will be disaster as we are in a state of having Formula 1 Cosworth.

  9. inc0mmunicado said on 21st September 2009, 3:48

    I, for one, would like to know if there are performance clauses in alonso’s contract, and if that had any bearing on perceived pressure on renault to deliver a win for alonso.

    • As a result of the win Renault finished higher than it otherwise would have in the team standings. Alonso’s contract contained a clause that renewed his contract with Renault for 2009 because of its place of finish. Had it finished even one place lower (which it would have without the points Alonso was awarded for his Singapore win), Alonso would have been free to move to any team of his choosing and Renault would have been scrambling to replace him. It gives a possible motive for their actions, but also adds doubt to any argument that Alonso knew about the plan ahead of time or even had knowledge of it before recent times. He wanted to make the move to Ferrari as soon as possible. He would not have agreed to take part in, or stay silent about, this type of manipulation that ultimately prevented him from getting out of his contract so that he could go to Ferrari.

      • Actually, Renault finished 2008 24 points ahead of Toyota. So even if Alonso lost the 10 points for his Singapore win, Renault would still have been fourth overall.

  10. inc0mmunicado said on 21st September 2009, 5:14

    if this is the case, alonso could bring up that his contract was renewed under fraudulent conditions…but that would be for a court of law to decide.

  11. manatcna said on 21st September 2009, 5:31

    Bad news – But – if I had decided my next car was to be a Renault, this whole F1 mess wouldn’t have made me reconsider.
    Renault make some nice cars, (road cars), and that’s what we should focus on (no pun intended)

    My next car won’t be a Renault, but it could well have been.

    • I think the punishment will be something like ban this year results and points from Renault Team, and a fine equivalent to the points’ income the Team gained last year.

      On the other hand we are talking about Renault punishment, what I’m really waiting to see, is the punishment WMSC will give to the real protagonists of this affair, one of them has been offered immunity…

      Inevitably many people have seized on Alonso as having a lot to gain from the accident, as it won him the race, and therefore asked how it can be that he did not know about it.

      Well, I think we could not say nobody had a lot of gain, because a win for a man who has won 2 WDC is not much, on the other hand no one could think this cheat was going to give a win, just a position near the podium.

      And this is what (IMO) make this issue worse than others. It’s the first time we have seen evidence of Top managers and a driver planning, in cold blood, something at very very low level, just for a bunch of points.

      • *anybody

        • mp4-19b said on 21st September 2009, 8:47

          because a win for a man who has won 2 WDC is not much,

          IDR, I’m sorry to say you that are too innocent mate! You think Alonso had nothing to gain from that crash? You think Alonso wouldn’t have cared if he hadn’t managed that win? Think again. Schumacher, the decorated 7 times world champion parked his car on the middle of the road to block your beloved Alonso at monaco. What do you think made him do that? You think he lost control of the car going at 15kmph? When a seven time world champion pulls out such dirty tricks, there is no reason why a two time world champion wouldn’t do so. Hope you got my point. And please, when you answer me back, answer back as a F1 fan not Alonso fan :)

          • Nitpicker said on 21st September 2009, 11:05

            You think he lost control of the car going at 15kmph?

            Blimey, who could keep control at 15,000mph??
            Sorry, couldn’t resist :)

    • True, I don’t tend to base my choice of road car on the behaviour of their racing teams.

      I absolutely hated Ferrari’s political manoeuvring in the past few years, but I would still have a Ferrari road car if I had the money. Likewise, I wouldn’t particularly buy a Renault road car – not because of the F1 scandal, but simply because I don’t particularly like Renault’s road car range.

      However, the big concern for Renault is really the people who are involved directly with their F1 team: the sponsors and the drivers, how will they attract either to a tarnished team?

  12. Bigbadderboom said on 21st September 2009, 6:56

    I don’t want to see Renault banned. Those responsible have lft the team, and its fairly obvious that Flavio managed to contain knowledge of the event to himself and Symonds (Maybe Alonso). It would be incredibly harsh to ban the parent company and punish the rest of the team for the actions of two others.
    However they cannot go unpunished, so they will probably forgoe all constructor points for last year, pay a substantial fine and be bound over (suspended ban).
    Renault, as Keith points out, contribute massivley to motorsport, through world series and rally, also sports saloon racing. And although it shouldn’t reflect in any punishment, F1 is desperate to retain engine suppliers, and Renault has a lot of experience with supplying F1.

    • Dr. Mouse said on 21st September 2009, 13:08

      It would be incredibly harsh to ban the parent company and punish the rest of the team for the actions of two others.

      F1 is a team sport. The team benefited from the actions. The team should be punished. Just as with McLaren last year.

      The fact that the 2 involved quit should not be taken into account. If they had been publicly fired, yes, but they quit, so it was (officially) not the teams action.

      The fact that they are admitting guilt (by not contesting) should be taken into account in sentencing.

      Considering past punishments, I believe the LEAST they should get is what McLaren got last year, disqualification from the mfrs championship.

  13. John H said on 21st September 2009, 8:45

    And they supply engines for GP2, where seven of today’s F1 drivers last raced before reaching Formula 1.

    If the FIA are trying to push F2 as the main feeder, then GP2 (set up in part by Briatore) taking a hit might be in their interests. They run Audi engines I think?

  14. Jonathan said on 21st September 2009, 8:53

    I have only recently realized that the claim that “Renault cost Massa the WDC” has some truth in it.

    Q. Why was Massa released with a fuel hose still attached?
    A. Because Ferrari’s automated signalling system was switched to manual, and the operator made an error.

    Q. Why was it on manual?
    A. Because the pitlane was exceptionally busy, and because they needed to fuel both cars one after the other.

    Q. Why these exceptional circumstances?
    A. Nelson Piquet Jr’s crash.

    So the two incidents weren’t unconnected at all.

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 21st September 2009, 9:26

      If Ferrari took that to a court of law, they’d have a hard time proving the case. Piquet’s accident and the safety car deployment may have been exceptional circumstances, but you would think that, being the greatest Formula One team, Ferrari would actually be able to plan for circumstances such as those. As Murray Walker once put it, anything can happen in Grand Prix racing – and it usually does.

      And they’d have a devil of a time proving that the operator’s error was a by-product of the pit lane being busy. Nor could thy prove that Massa would have won the race if not for the accident. Renault may have unknowingly played a key part in Ferrari losing that title, but to say that they were the cause? Ridiculous.

    • Patrickl said on 21st September 2009, 9:48

      Yet at Valencia they made almost the same mistake sending Massa out too early.

      With Hamilton and Raikkonen simply holding station behind Massa just clear of the dirty air, there would have been a high level of panic for the stop anyway.

      Massa and Hamilton were very light in Q3. So it’s not even certain that they would have finished on top of the podium. I’d say Raikkonen would have won that race. With Massa getting stuck in traffic after an early stop, there is a high chance that he would have gotten stuck behind another car or ended his race in a crash.

      Besides if Massa had won Singapore and Hamilton would have been second. The rest of the season would have been different too.

      For instance, Hamilton showed in the Brazillian GP’s free practice and qualifying that he was faster than Massa. He could have won that race, but they opted for the “save” strategy that was supposed to give him at least 5th.

      Also, lets not talk about unrightful championship changes. The Spa farce was a much clearer injustice than Ferrari’s own failure to give Massa a proper pitstop.

      • mp4-19b said on 21st September 2009, 10:00

        I THINK EVERYONE MUST READ THE ABOVE COMMENT BY PATRICK BEFORE COMMENTING ON WHETHER HAMILTON IS A WORTHY CHAMPION OR NOT!

        • Antifia said on 21st September 2009, 11:35

          The argument above is based on two fallacies:
          #1 Kill an ant in the past and the whole future will be different: Changing an event in a football match where all subsequent events will start from that changed point will indeed generate a different game. Change an event in a F1 race and the consequences will be contained in that race.
          #2 Lewis calculated and did only what he had to do to win it by one point: This is bloody ludicrous. First of all, they all do their best in every race(or so they say). If LH could, he would have chosen to win every single race last year. Furthermore, he would have to be a sourceror to calculate what should his performance be to win the championship (by 1 point) by overtaking Glock in the last curve of the last race.
          Had Massa got at least 1 point out of that race, there is no reason to believe that the subsequent race result wouldn’t be exactly the same – and therefore, Massa would be the champion now. I am not saying they should change things, but one cannot belittle the influence of this event in the 2008 championship.

          • Patrickl said on 21st September 2009, 17:53

            Ad #1) I simply claim that Massa would not have won that race due to his strategy and lack of pace to make it work. Raikkonen and even Kubica were too close behind.

            There is no reason why Massa couldn’t have done his usual “panic when in traffic” and hit a car while attempting some dumb overtake (like he actually did during that race) and lost every point still.

            It’s quite obvious though that if Hamilton had had to fight he would have taken a completely different strategy for Brazil though.

            Ad #2) Look at Monza. Hamilton came back all the way from last spot on the grid. He stopped overtaking cars as soon as he was behind Massa.

            So
            A) it’s not sure Massa would have even gotten points and
            B) It’s sure that Hamilton would have acted differently

      • S Hughes said on 21st September 2009, 10:59

        Hear hear. This topic should be put to bed now.

      • agreed

  15. mp4-19b said on 21st September 2009, 10:05

    At what time can we expect the outcome? Any ideas?

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