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. I think this also may have played an important part in the decision:

    “It committed to paying the costs incurred by the FIA in its investigation; and Renault (the parent company, as opposed to Renault F1) committed to making a significant contribution to FIA safety-related projects.”

    quote taken from autosport.com

  2. S Hughes said on 21st September 2009, 14:14

    Interesting quote from Nelson Piquet:

    http://www.npiquet.com/news.asp?NewsID=340

  3. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 14:16

    I don’t think Renault should have been banned for the actions of a few but they should still know what is going on in their team. A fine would have been pointless but they could have taken the win from them, taken last year’s constructors points, banned the 3 involved for life from all forms of sport and no offers of immunity and acting sooner would have been nice too.

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

    For god sake I want to shoot Piquet, he blames Briatore when he was at the steering wheel with the pedals under his feet! He speaks of the truth but he only delivered it when it suited him, had he not been fired we would never have known. His immunity is a joke

    • mp4-19b said on 21st September 2009, 14:24

      Hell with his truth!! A truth is a truth only when its revealed immediately. NOT AFTER BEING FIRED & CERTAINLY NOT AFTER ! LONG YEAR!!!

  5. Just reading the Guardian and this made me burst out laughing so much

    That does not lessen the serious charge against Briatore and Symonds, that they conspired with the Brazilian to crash deliberately, but, by making a hash of what should have been a simple tap against the wall, Piquet appears to have missed the planned point of contact on the right of the corner and spun with far greater force into the concrete on the left side of the track.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2009/sep/20/nelson-piquet-flavio-briatore-singapore

    Seriously how crap a driver is Piquet that he can’t even crash right. Total loser lol.

    • Patrickl said on 21st September 2009, 14:35

      Lol, I said the same before.

      It really looked like he was supposed to hit the outside wall and “missed”.

  6. mp4-19b said on 21st September 2009, 14:21

    FIA is a spineless organization!! People there are all corrupt. Hell with this decision & again the Spanish deceiver goes scot free!!

    • So Alonso should have been punished without any evidence of wrongdoing? Great way to administer justice.

    • your little routine is getting a little tiresome mate

      • mp4-19b said on 21st September 2009, 14:28

        How can you be so Naive Rabi?? people investigating this crime are all corrupt from top to bottom, what else can a honest f1 fan expect from them? half the justice would have been done if alonso would have been stripped of his win, but…

        • …and if he was stripped then your opening another huge can of worms as Ferrari and Massa could rightfully contest that the Singapore GP to be taken away from the standings in it’s entirety.

          The basic fact is that Renault were just as much the victim as all of us (as PROVED by their actions since finding out), out of the three people who were involved two have been punished and one walked away. Your bedroom fantasy of getting Alonso thrown out isn’t going to materialise so it’s pointless making 30 comments a day about it. I don’t like Hamilton (too smug) but I wasn’t trying to create a stampede to take his head off when he lied did I?

          And onto Renault both the racing team and the company have essentially been fined so really the punishment has almost fitted the crime here. Unfortunately until it is leaked as to how much Renault and RenaultF1 have to pay we will never know if the fines were justified or not.

    • S Hughes said on 21st September 2009, 14:35

      Totally true!!!

  7. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 14:25

    No evidence Fernando is involved though I know plenty of people won’t be swayed by that, he’s another love/hate charcter in F1 like Lewis. And lol Rabi

    • mp4-19b said on 21st September 2009, 14:32

      Not revealing Alonso’s involvement serves a bigger purpose. It will sink this sport all together if they come up with the real truth. But if the FIA were calling themselves a honest organization, they would have certainly dug deeper into this & come out in the public and revealed everything.

  8. Is it just me or have Renault gotten off lightly here?

    Yes the team submitted to the Council’s decision and yes they complied fully during the investigation, but they brought the sport into disrepute in the worst possible manner, surely a harsher punishment should have been handed out?

    But I guess that because the council ruled that only Flavio, Symonds and NPJ knew about the plan, the team was absolved to a degree. So I guess the punishment handed out to the major players in this whole affair is adequate. Flavio is out of F1 forever, Symonds is out of a job for 5 years and NPJ is probably not going to drive in F1 again after all this…

    Seems like I started to agree with the council’s decision the more I typed! ;-)

  9. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 14:29

    Geemac I can see where you are coming from, those involved had sort of limited the punishment they could get by walked away/immunity and it wasn’t the full team involved though I think with the 3 involved they should have all been banned for life, no immunity.

    • They kinda have been banned for life. Flav is out for good, it would be a brave team that would hire Symonds in 2014 or 2015 when his ban us over (despite his credentials), and who would hire NPJ now? He proved that he wasn’t up to scratch in F1, and he will be forever haunted by this.

      I’m not saying I agreed with the council’s decision, I’m just saying that I guess I see where they are coming from. Kinda.

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st September 2009, 14:31

    Thanks to everyone who posted information on the trial. Have set up a new poll here: Renault escape ban for crash (Poll)

  11. steph90 said on 21st September 2009, 14:31

    Renault should have lost constructors points and that win too. A few epople were involved but their were many suspicions at the time and Renault is made up of more than 3 men even if they were the only ones guilty.
    Most importantly this whole system needs to be addressed; the justice dished out is never justice and the FIA knew about this since Brazil yet couldn’t act.

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