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 WMSC hearing took 90 minutes and a decision is expected today.
    From F1-Live

  2. Surely it’s a bit early for any decision to have been made yet?

  3. I don’t think it makes much of a difference if Alonso knew or not. The only thing he could have done would have been to tell the authorities which was done by Piquet Sr anyway and they ignored it. I don’t think Alonso should face any punishment. Piquet Jr on the other hand should be punished in some way.

    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.

    I’m slightly disappointed Keith that you’re perpetuating the sensationalist and quite ridiculous idea that this might be the worst act of cheating in any sport when it’s not even the worst act of cheating in Formula 1. Senna Prost 1990 comes to mind as easily being worse. I like also that you add not telling anyone they cheated as some kind of separate charge that they are guilty of.

  4. There`s no sign of a verdict on the news feeds at the moment.

  5. ooh the suspense…

    • The Renault decision has a smell of whitewash about it. Most commentators seem to think the Renault gate is worse than the McLaren gate, yet the penalties seem vastly inconsistent. This is ridiculous…

  6. S Hughes said on 21st September 2009, 12:43

    No official confirmation yet, but a twitter from a Spanish journalist says: “Briatore out for life, Symonds 5 years out, Renault pays the bill but no sanction, Alonso INNOCENT”.

  7. Prisoner Monkeys said on 21st September 2009, 12:44

    Question: who is the real enemy here? Renault … or Flavio Briatore?

    Yes, Briatore and Renault have been interchangeable terms. But the parent company of the team itself has distanced itself from him and from Symonds, they have accepted the allegations and they have co-operated with the FIA every step of the way.

    Their message is clear: Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds do not speak for the team. The decision to stage the accident and fix the race result did not come from Renault HQ. It was a decision made by Briatore and Symonds on the race weekend. Renault are like Mercedes during their Stepney Affair: they have had their name dragged through the mud simply beause they were associated with the guilty parties.

    If and when the FIA deal with Briatore and Symonds, you can pretty much expect that the punishment will be much more severe and much more befitting of the crime.

  8. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 12:46

    K to be fair it is opinion and many feel this is the worst act of cheating ever, just like it’s your own opinion that Senna’s and Prost’s was. I didn’t mind theirs as much at least they only risked their own lives and new what the stakes were. Or maybe it’s just the evolution of opinion in F1 and the bigger interest in safety nowadays.
    I’m checking everywhere for a verdict announcement, if i find anything I’ll post it.

  9. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 12:50

    It’s a bet Prisoner Monkeys :D

  10. It should be Constructors losing points not Alonso because Lewis Hamilton has been around 2 cheating scandles and he didnt get points deducted and 1 this year being caught in the act lying. Unlike Alonso they don’t have proof he was involved or not.

    Just take the 10 points from alonso and leave it as that because if they take all of the points all the spanish fans will be up in arms “again” saying the FIA favour Hamilton.

  11. Prisoner Monkeys said on 21st September 2009, 13:00

    Just take the 10 points from alonso and leave it as that because if they take all of the points all the spanish fans will be up in arms “again” saying the FIA favour Hamilton.

    What does Hamilton have to do with … well, anything in all of this?

    • Im not trying to say Hamitlon is involved in this just comparing that both teams got caught and 2 totally different vedicts have come up. a cheats a cheat but it looks to me Hamilton and Mclaren got off lightly. you could argue why hasn’t Mclaren got a season bann yet and what i was trying to get round really was a “just if prediction”. if Alonso had all his points taken away for 1 race cheat but it was ok for Hamilton to cheat lose what was it 7 points in AUS? but still continue gaining points how does that work out?

      Hamilton cheats at the start in the 09 season he loses 7 points but can still get points and get up in constructors table no season banns.

      Renault cheats nere the end in the 08 season Alonso loses 61 points and drops down to the bottom in Constuctors table they get 2 season bann.

      i say come down hard on all teams/drivers getting points full stop depending who was involved drivers or constructors.

    • It doesnt matter to the spanish, Hamilton is the antichrist or is plutonium to alonso.

  12. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 13:00

    The verdict better come out soon as I’ve got uni Prisoner Monkeys :P
    And I agree Marcus, Alonso hasn’t really been implicated in it.

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 21st September 2009, 13:08

      The verdict better come out soon as I’ve got uni Prisoner Monkeys

      I happen to have uni too … except that it’s 10pm here and I’m on holidays.

  13. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 13:02

    Just comparing cheating with people involved I assume. hamilton will probably always be brought up whenever there is a scandal partly because of the past and partly because he is love or hate character.

  14. GooddayBruce said on 21st September 2009, 13:08

    The scale and nature of the punishment will be completely politically motivated. I think it is naive to even hope for anything else.

    The reason that the investigation took so long is due to the nature of good old fashioned police work. In order to bring a high-profile target to rights you need to construct a water-tight case and make a solid ‘arrest’, else he may be able to evade prosecution. Unless NPJ was willing to go on record there was no case to answer. Even after this happened the evidence against the key target was not strong enough to move.

    So What now? Leak the circumstantial details of the investigation to the press and let them spin it to put pressure on them? Offer immunity to key lieutenants in order to strengthen your case against the key target? Both good options, after all, what do the FIA care of the fate of a mere technical director when there is larger pray to be caught?

    This is the way that the operation had to play out in order to achieve its goals. Now that they are achieved the hearing is academic and can be used for other purposes.

    As to whether Renault can be punished, that depends entirely on whether Bernie can afford to lose them. I currently don’t think he can. The Team Formerly Known As BMW are now willing to enter so there is a contingency should someone pull out, and should Toyota also pull out then there will still be 12 teams – plenty. As an additional bonus, the Make-up of FOTA will have changed considerably.

    The real threat is: where do all the engines come from should Toyota AND Renault both leave? Indications are that Renault could be looking to supply Williams, and may still do so if they withdraw from the sport. I think Max and Bernie will take this opportunity to remove another Manufacturer and gamble on Topota staying around. Still no great shame if they don’t – as Bernie has said before – they have achieved nothing.

  15. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 13:12

    renatul verdict 2 year suspended ban

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