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

  1. The theory that Renault would quit F1 if they receive a harsh punishment was used as an explanation by some when they weren’t punished for having McLaren information. If that was the case then I don’t I think the threat has as much power in F1as it did, but it does have power in the junior series.

    I don’t want to see any more teams quit F1 but even if Renault and Toyota left there should still be at least 20 cars on the grid next season this was not the case a few years ago, and we have to remember that Mosley and the FIA prefer privateer teams to manufacturers at the moment and probably won’t mind if more teams were supplied by Cosworth.

    I think the even with Briatore and Symonds gone the punishment will be at least as bad as that which McLaren received after the spying case but I don’t know whether it will go so far as banning them from next season.

    • HounslowBusGarage said on 21st September 2009, 11:17

      there should still be at least 20 cars on the grid next season this was not the case a few years ago

      When were there less than 20 cars on the grid?

      • mp4-19b said on 21st September 2009, 11:48

        When were there less than 20 cars on the grid?

        When British American Racing got banned for spain & monaco for using illegal fuel tank in 2005. So we had only 18 cars for those two races.

      • I meant that if a couple of teams had quit a few seasons ago the grid would then have been less than 20 cars, whereas now if two teams quit we should still have at least 20 cars.

        So a threat of quitting F1 would have had more power a few years ago when it would have had more impact.

  2. Mark Webber is managed by Briatore isn’t he? So what does this mean for him?

  3. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 10:42

    I think this will be a show trial simply to say ‘we are taking action. don’t do anything like this again’. They can’t punish Renault too severely for fear of them leaving and Briatore and Symonds have already gave their heads, Piquet is immune so what can they do? A fine if Renault can pay, lose last years constructors points? Will that make any difference?
    The disgrace is the actual people involved (who risked lives and the reputation of their team and the sport and influenced the WDC result) cannot now be punished; they’vre either walked away or somehow managed to get protected from punishment for being guilty.

  4. S Hughes said on 21st September 2009, 10:44

    Thanks for a brilliant summary of the whole thing.

    I agree that the punishment should be harsh. It is generally acknowledged that this is one of the worst, or the worst, cases of cheating ever in sport, and certainly the worst in F1, so the punishment should reflect that, i.e. it should be worse than McLaren’s for spygate.

    Also, there must be a discussion on why this accusation wasn’t investigated sooner, particularly as it was hot gossip in the paddock at the time.

    I reckon Teflonman will live up to his name, but the suspicions will always be there.

    Lastly, I’m afraid that I have little faith in the FIA to investigate properly or find out the full story, or even to mete out the appropriate punishment. Their inconsistency is such that it really seems to depend on what team or driver is accused as to the harshness of the punishment. We all know that McLaren/Lewis get the harshest, and other teams/drivers get less in varying degrees.

    I wonder if the session will last more than a day.

    • I am also curious if it will last more than one day.

      I am no lawyer. However Renault have not declaired being guilty just that they wont be providing a defence so persumably there still has to be a procsution agurment in court (thus why people have been called as witnesses) and a vote to first of all find Renault guilty.

      However i do hope this get rapped up today as if it drags on it could start to overlap this weekends GP.

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

        Yes, I agree the case must be done’n’dusted by today evening. “If” Renault are fined, it would be only appropriate to use that money for road & safety awareness, with Alonso as its ambassador. Every single penny must be accounted for, cuz we have people like Bernie,Luca di,Max & Todt waiting to gobble it up.

  5. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 10:58

    Also, there must be a discussion on why this accusation wasn’t investigated sooner, particularly as it was hot gossip in the paddock at the time.

    Agree S Hughes, especially when rumour is Charlie Whiting knew since Brazil last year and plenty of people were suspicious at the time of the incident. I’m not saying F1 should turn Orwellian and spy on everyone and investigate everything, I think most of us are sick ofb stewards as it is, but when there was such an unspoken consensus and the FIA were aware before the season was done and dusted then action should have taken place.
    The idea that it was because Piquet hadn’t given a written statement at that point is ridiculous, he was allowed to basically threaten a team and drive a car into a wall and yet everyone’s hands were tied. It is a crazy way for F1 be.

  6. Mosley has taken out another enemy (Briatore), but he will have to justify the McLaren farcical fine, by giving Renault at least the same.

    Regarding Briatore & Symonds, I doubt any team would use them in the future, so I don’t really see an F1 ban for them as being an issue.

    But……F.I.A. continuity….hmm…..anything could happen.

  7. Other things to consider here.Are Renault leaving F1 anyway? Does the FIA already know this? Have Renault been given the opportunity to avoid a huge financial penalty by providing all of the evidence today?

  8. S Hughes said on 21st September 2009, 11:42

    The hearing is over apparently. Piquet Jr and Alan Donnelly have left the building.

  9. S Hughes said on 21st September 2009, 11:50

    Rumour of a 2 year suspended ban, continue racing – so no fine? If this is true, it makes a complete mockery of the McLaren $100m fine.

  10. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 11:53

    Thanks S Hughes, wounder when we’ll know what has happened.
    If Renault do leave, which I’m not sure they will at least not yet, it would be interesting to see if Toyota make their excuses and bow out of F1 too.

    • S Hughes said on 21st September 2009, 11:55

      If it’s suspended, it was probably worked out behind closed doors before to save Renault from leaving F1. Talk about inconsistency of decisions, but let’s await official confirmation.

    • mp4-19b said on 21st September 2009, 11:58

      According to F1-live:-

      Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport suggested that the French team can expect a US $50m fine and exclusion from the constructors’ championship standings.

      Will they be excluded from this years championship or last years?

  11. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 11:57

    S Hughes I think Mclaren’s and lack of punishment in 2007 made a mockery of it anyway; mclaren were able to say ‘well Renault acted in the same manner albeit without a mole, they get off and we are handed this harsh penalty’. It was shown as Mosley going mad with his vendetta which took from the seriousness of the crime.
    I agree MP4 2 hours for the hearing and we’re meant to believe they covered every possible area?

  12. mp4-19b said on 21st September 2009, 12:06

    One thing is for sure. The WMSC comprises of some weird people, so we can expect some weird decisions.

  13. S Hughes said on 21st September 2009, 12:06

    I think it is confirmed that it is a 2 year suspended ban – no fines, no stripping of points. Well, what an utter and complete joke. I am really starting to think that F1 is an arbitrary load of ****!

  14. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 12:14

    All complete show then if that is true! They were limited by how to punish them as soon as Briatore and Symonds bottled it and quit, Briatore didn’t even turn up! I love the racing and the technology and the teams and it is being ruined by how it is governed and the actions of a few individuals. Maybe Fernando Alonso was nright a few years back, F1 is no longer a sport, at least not by how it is governed as this sentence wasn’t even worth a hearing. I hope the punishment is more than that and will actually fit the crime.

  15. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 12:28

    I know they were tied by that it happened last year and certain people left the team and fear of a fine could make the team leave but the punishment could still have been creative and fair. Take away their points from last season, monitor any changes within the team, ban the people involved from motor sport and sport for life, give the individuals a fine.
    People could have been killed all because Piquet wanted a ride at Renault. It changed the WDC, maybe Lewis would have won anyway and Ferrari were at fault for that pitstop but even if the pitstop hadn’t of happened elevating Fernando to first was taking points of the championship battlers anyway.
    The sport has been let down by that it wasn’t investigated soon, it was let down further by offers of immunity when the FIA seemed to be doing a thorough investigation but it has been tarnished by that investigation was taken seriously and yet has not achieved anything rather than bring insight. It seems we all now know what happened, what is the point in knowing when nothing will be done about it?
    Sorry for the ramble.

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