Briatore’s victory gives the FIA a tough lesson in the limits of its power

The FIA focused its punishment on Symonds and Briatore instead of Renault

The FIA focused its punishment on Symonds and Briatore instead of Renault

The Singapore crash affair is by no means over: I cannot imagine the FIA letting Tuesday’s verdict in favour of Flavio Briatore lie, and Briatore himself has said he may bring further lawsuits.

But now the verdict is out there and the principal players have all said their pieces, it’s time to take stock.

The FIA’s attempt to single out the individuals it believed were behind Nelson Piquet Jnr’s deliberate crashing in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix has backfired badly. What are the consequences for F1?

Depending on who you believe, either the FIA didn’t want to punish Renault – and risk the team joining Honda and BMW in quitting the sport – or Max Mosley really had it in for Flavio Briatore. Or perhaps a bit of both.

Whichever, the outcome was that when the FIA handed down its verdict on September 21st last year, Renault escaped the full force of the punishment:

The World Motor Sport Council considers that offences of this severity merit permanent disqualification from the FIA Formula One World Championship. However, having regard to the points in mitigation mentioned above and in particular the steps taken by Renault F1 to identify and address the failings within its team and condemn the actions of the individuals involved, the WMSC has decided to suspend Renault F1?s disqualification until the end of the 2011 season. The World Motor Sport Council will only activate this disqualification if Renault F1 is found guilty of a comparable breach during that time.
WMSC decision

In short, Renault would have to commit another similar infraction to gain a disqualification. And remember this extremely restrained verdict came one month after their European Grand Prix ban imposed by the Hungarian Grand Prix stewards was lifted.

Instead the FIA went after the two men it said were responsible: Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds:

As regards Mr. Briatore, the World Motor Sport Council declares that, for an unlimited period, the FIA does not intend to sanction any International Event, Championship, Cup, Trophy, Challenge or Series involving Mr. Briatore in any capacity whatsoever, or grant any license to any Team or other entity engaging Mr. Briatore in any capacity whatsoever. It also hereby instructs all officials present at FIA-sanctioned events not to permit Mr. Briatore access to any areas under the FIA?s jurisdiction. Furthermore, it does not intend to renew any Superlicence granted to any driver who is associated (through a management contract or otherwise) with Mr. Briatore, or any entity or individual associated with Mr. Briatore.
WMSC decision

This verdict was widely truncated to the phrase “lifetime ban” when it was reported, but the differences between the two are important. The FIA does not have power to punish individuals, which is why the ‘ban’ was worded in this way.

As has been widely pointed out the Tribune de Grande Instance did not find Briatore innocent – far from it. They simply found that the FIA had exceeded the limits of its authority:

The FIA [...] can sanction licence holders, leaders, members of the ASNs [national sporting authorities], but it cannot with respect to third parties, take measures equivalent to a sanction – in contravention of article 28 of its statutes. The World Council, by forbidding FIA members and licences to work with Messrs Briatore and Symonds, on the one hand added a negative condition ?ǣ to not work with them ?ǣ which is not provided for within the FIA statutes.
Tribune de Grande Instance

(See the FIA statutes for more)

Out from the FIA came a predictably thundering denunciation and some terse words from Max Mosley as well. But it’s far from clear what it can do next – it seems to have painted itself into a corner.

Letting the whole shameful affair lie as it is with no-one receiving any meaningful punishment would be a disgrace. But it can hardly call Renault back and say “actually it turns out we should have punished you”. It has said it is considering an appeal in which it will hope to find some way of sanctioning Briatore.

Nor should we forget that while the FIA went to one extreme in punishing Briatore, it went to the other by failing to punish Nelson Piquet Jnr. He may (so the FIA claims) have blown the whistle on the whole affair, but should a driver who admits to crashing a car on purpose be allowed to keep his superlicence?

Turning away from the Singapore case, how should the FIA handle these cases in the future? Reform its statutes to give it the power to hand down punishments to individuals? Or accept that it might in future have to hand down punishments even greater than McLaren’s 2007 $100m fine – to teams whose F1 commitment is wavering?

Finding the answer to that is the first big question of Jean Todt’s presidency.

Renault Singapore crash controversy

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61 comments on Briatore’s victory gives the FIA a tough lesson in the limits of its power

  1. Whitty 123 said on 7th January 2010, 10:46

    What gets me is now Renault and everyone involved have effectively got off scot free.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 7th January 2010, 10:51

      Exactly. And this was such a high-profile case I can’t see how the FIA can possibly be satisfied to leave things like that.

      • MacademiaNut said on 8th January 2010, 7:38

        FIA should have penalized Renault anyway, if it was a large fine, Renault would have in turn sued Briatore. Instead, FIA chose not to penalize Renault as Briatore & Symonds had left the team. For FIA to go back and punish Renault would be absolute nonsense now. Other than FIA directly pursuing B & S (isn’t it nice that their names together form BS), I don’t know what other option is there.

    • Ads21 said on 7th January 2010, 10:59

      Trouble is its hard to talk about “Renault and everyone involved” it was a conspiracy between 3 or 4 individuals without any other members of the team having knowledge. In those circumstances it would be difficult to punish the organisation especially when as soon as it was found out Briatore and Symonds were fired.

      The only fair punishment is for the individuals involved to be punished, not Renault as a whole. Problem is since the punishments given to Symonds and Briatore weren’t legal the rules need to be changed so the FIA has the authority to hand out such punishments in future.

      • Whitty 123 said on 7th January 2010, 11:15

        What about Mclaren? The team was fined a extraordinary amount of money in the spiegate scandal and there was only a few individuals involed in that. I don’t see why Renault could get away without any sanction dealt.

        • Renault would never be handed a massive fine like Mclaren because at the time ofn the hearing Renault’s future was so uncertain and it was feared if they were given a massive fine they would walk away completely.

          • Whitty 123 said on 7th January 2010, 11:34

            I don’t think that an excuse. If they would have walked away so be it. I know the FIA were worried about the manufacturers leaving but still, another team will come along. I’ve never been a fan of manufacturers in F1 anyways I see it as a sport for racing teams.

        • I believe McLaren, and Ron Dennis in particular, had denied that they had been in possession of the Ferrari technical dossier. Tthe FIA had previously ruled in McLaren’s favour over the case, which Ferrari then appealed; it was only once e-mail evidence was brought to the appeal that the FIA handed down the $100m fine. Completely fair judgement in my eyes, coming from a McLaren fan, however the scale of the fine did seem a bit on the eye-watering side

          • Whitty 123 said on 7th January 2010, 12:01

            Flavio denied racefixing. He accused Piquet of blackmail. Then the FIA found evidence Flavio asked Piquet to crash. Kind of the same…..ish. Yet no fine for Renault. I realise they brought charges against Flavio but I still believe some kind of fine should have been given to Renault not just a suspended ban. Perhaps exclusion from the constructors championship for a year like Mclaren were given, but that still would have been to lean in my eyes.

        • and then handed the contract by the fia to supply to control ecu that is still used till today…more than making up the short fall.

          The fia had to enforce the rules but didnt want to have the team fold.
          If they were serious they shouldn’t have fined them 1cent, but expelled them for 1 year. and or disallowed any points scored by the drivers.

      • If you consider, for example, in football if a group of players are caught match-fixing then they are the ones who are punished, not the whole club. It would be be wrong for the FIA to punish Renault F1 as a whole because, as Ads21 said, only three or four people were involved. On the otherhand, the Mclaren case is different. Illegally obtained data had made its way into the core of the engineering office where a lot of the team could have been involved in using it.

        I think the only way forward for the FIA is to require the top people of the teams to be license holders of the FIA. Again, going back to a football analogy, arent the coaches required to hold a FIFA license and club owners (such as Briatore and Ecclestone) vetted to be approved by the English FA? On that note, weren’t Qadbak refused permission to be the owners of Notts County? Would the FIA have had the power to refuse Qadbak the oppertunity to enter BMW-Sauber for 2010 if Peter Sauber hadnt stepped in?

        The fact of the matter is, from my perspective, the FIA dont actually have all that much control over who is involved in F1.

        • I agree with you on the issue of licences. The simplest solution to all of this appears to be the introduction of a requirement for the top members of each team to be FIA licence holders. Also it should perhaps be enshrined in the FIA statutes that a team principal is responsible for the actions of his employees (so no Dennis-esque defences, “I didn’t know anything, honest guv.” Tough. It’s your job to know.

          On the issue of Qadbak, it is believed that there are FIA statutes in place to prevent various “undesirables” (such as convicted criminals and perhaps even religious zealots) from owning an F1 team. Qadbak’s apparent association with Russell King would probably have hobbled their takeover of the Sauber team even if they had managed to put together the finances.

      • And this was such a high-profile case I can’t see how the FIA can possibly be satisfied to leave things like that.

        The FIA could have been satisfied by using their own capacities:

        A) Revoke Driver’s Licence of Piquet Jr

        B) Ban for a certain period (even unlimited) Renault Team…

        …unless Renault demonstrate their full commitment with this sport according to the gravity of that action:

        Put a legal claim against Briatore and Symonds for exceeding the conferred powers they received from the team’s owners.

        That kind of behaviour is punishable in a Civil Court and Renault could also ask for an incapacitation to act as senior managers (?) given the gravity of their actions.

        The problem (IMHO) is FIA has been managed by Mosley just as a personal organization, to reach personal goals and or interests.

        He wanted Briatore out of F1, but he wanted to be him and no other, who execute the punishment.

        And for this reason (IMHO), Max only requested Renault for the resignation of those guys. Very cheap price for the gravity of their actions.

        Other fact that indicate me Max Mosely was looking for just personal revenge was, why Max Mosely didn’t start all the proceedings to investigate, when they were warned ending 2008?

        He just waited to start all of this just when Piquet was able to sign a full declaration accusing Briatore. And he paid a big price for that.

        This fail, is not about Briatore, this sentence is just about FIA cannot run the organization as Max were used to.

        And I’m happy to see somebody is sending them a clear message about that. It’s time to see FIA acting as they should, and I hope Jean Tod starts to change things.

        Anyway, in a practical aproach, hardly to say everybody has gone “scot free”:

        Piquet Jr, Symonds and Briatore will probably not be involved in F1 again.

        Renault is no longer Renault. 75% of the team has been sold to an “opaque” investor group. (And I sincerely hope not to finally discover the shadow of Briatore behind that unknown “Rodriguez”, but one never knows when talking about “el Trebula”)

        • Icthyes said on 7th January 2010, 21:49

          Bravo! I hate that Briatore might get away with it, but if it institutes real reform…it might be enough to swallow this whole farce.

    • Martin said on 7th January 2010, 14:36

      You are yet to get over McLaren’s punishment (which you recall below, in mixing apples and hand grenades).

      The Singapore crash was not a corporate conspiracy. As it has been found, this crime was committed by three individuals. There was no evidence, and there never will be, that Carlos Ghosn nor anyone at Renault F1′s management knew that Piquet had been asked to wreck his car.

      Besides, unlike in the McLaren story, it was only a question of one race, one weekend, one driver, one car.

      Renault received a two-year suspended ban. This is a punishment, and you admit it.

      They accepted the sentence. So did McLaren, who chose not to appeal.

    • These cases must be punished by not getting any poins for 3 races or sthing similar. Everything would be over by now. And chase nelsinho to a space trip onto Neptunus.

    • Achilles said on 9th January 2010, 6:56

      Although I disagreed with the judgment, and the fine against Mclaren, I did think the penalty so stringent that it would discourage other teams from risking being found out if they were cheating, the FIA were pragmatic about Renault’s financial situation, and tried to keep the team whilst getting rid of the individuals involved, upholding Briatores appeal, brings the rights of the FIA’s ability to mete out any kind of punishment into question. The perception will now be that if you are caught cheating, there is an opportunity to use the courts to, in effect, not cheat! The attitude of the people who are prepared to ‘win at all costs’ means that for the true sportsman there is little opportunity for genuine success, thus we all lose…

  2. A bunch of crooks. Moesley, piquet, symonds.
    The penalty was over the top, this forced briatore to take actions, and now the fia is forced to do something.
    The best way to act, after mosley’s mess, would have been to make a deal with jean todt, which everybody could live with, like ecclestone said. But the egos do not let them be pragmatic.
    One way or another, the fia are going to punish briatore, and we the fans can not put this rubbish behind us, and focus on the sport.
    Shame on you all.

  3. Prisoner Monkeys said on 7th January 2010, 11:10

    Briatore himself has said he may bring further lawsuits.

    That’s just boasting. If Briatore has any sense, he’ll go off with his tail between his legs and hide. He knows how much he’s gotten away with in the past and I for one cannot believe that the FIA and the paddock in general are going to have much patience with him. He might want to sue the Piquets, but all that’s going to do is open up a very nasty situation because Briatore was not found innocent – he just got off on a technicaility. If he sues them … baaaad mojo, cat. Whatever the Piquets’ motivations for blowing the whistle, if there is evidence of wrongdoing on Briatore’s part – and there was certainly enough for the FIA to ban him for life (he’s only the second person that has ever happened to after Bruno Sassetti, which tells you what kind of company Briatore is in) – then the whole thing could blow up in Briatore’s face.

    Flav likes being things that he’s not. He likes the idea of being a superstar in Formula One, but he isn’t. He likes the idea of being an Italian sporting hero, but again, he isn’t. Almost every time Briatore says or does – particualrly if he’s having a go at someone, as he did with Jenson Button – he likes to tell the Italian press these things. He’s created a character for himself, one where he is some champion in his own right. After all, the only time he has not claimed Formula One was in grave trouble was when Renault were winning races. Between 2005 and 2006, everything was just peachy. For onece the sport was going the right way and its future was all milk and honey – at least according to Flavio. As soon as 2007 came around and the team was in trouble again, he was on the warpath about how it was all doom and gloom for Formula One and the sport needed to have a good hard think about its future. It’s little wonder that he was so desperate for glory that he rigged a race.

    The reason I’m saying this is because while most human beings are something like 98% water, Flavio Briatore is 98% hot air. He knows he’s gotten away with it, and he knows his luck has to run out sooner or later. He’s dodged a bullet here, but if he pushes his luck, the FIA is going to come along and blow him to kingdom come. It won’t be hard. All they have to do is create a system where team bosses and driver managers must be licenced – the Football Association has a similar practice – and then deny Briatore one. In fact, they may just go ahead and do it anyway.

    Like Whitty, I agree: someone needs to be held accountable for this. And that man is Flavio Briatore. He’s gotten away with a lot in the past – traction control in 1994, Ferrari documents in 2007, an uusual and unethical realtionship with his drivers as their manager and team principal – and sooner or later, there is a line that has to be drawn. From the outset, Nelson Piquet insisted his accusations were correct. And Pat Symonds fought them. And Renault co-operated fully. But what did Flavio Braitore do? He didn’t even deny them, he just blew them off. No dobt he was hoping the FIA would give him the benefit of the doubt again.

    I have no problem with Nelson Piquet being given immunity; by the time he made those accusations, he’d already done enough damage to his career to see that he would never race in Formula One again. And likewise, I have no issue with Renault being given a slap on the wrists; the team has been involved in the sport for nearly twenty years, and supplied engines for about as long. They also support the GP2 series and the World Series by Renault, two major feeder series for Formula One. To ban them would end all of that, and, as stated, they co-operated freely. They didn’t even deny Piquet’s claims. But Flavio Braitore needs to be called into account.

    In cases like this, I’m an ends-justify-the-means kind of guy. Yeah, I can be a bit of a tyrant. But there is absolutely no way that Flavio Briatore can be allowed to walk away from this without punishment. To do so would be a blind miscarriage of justice.

  4. SkinBintin said on 7th January 2010, 11:10

    So long has Piquet walks away free, then so should everyone else involved. That’s my opinion anyway.

  5. Agree with your statement SkinBintin

  6. I can’t quite believe how far this has came. It was bad enough discovering that Piquet hadf crashed on purpose and put himself and others including spectators at risk (we’ve seen what bits of debris flying about can do) and now everyone walks away free. I’m just as angry at the FIA in all of this.

    We always whinge about the incompetence of the stewards in races when someone strays off track etc but this is an absolute farce when the sport’s governing body cannot deal with a deliberate act of cheating and stains the entire sport.

    This wasn’t the French courts fault at all. They put right another wrong, the FIA had absolutely no power to issue such a punishment. It makes you wonder just what the FIA were doing-getting carried away in looking out for the sport or just doing what they wanted. It almost makes you laugh incredulously that the FIA put in so much effort; gave Piquet immunity for evidence against Flavio, went to the pains of getting this mysterious Mr X just for it all to fall apart a few months later.
    Why didn’t they see this coming?

    Now it may appear mad that any of the 3 will ever return to f1 but who would have thought things would come this far? Even if they don’t return then that is little consolation in my view when they are unpunished.
    F1 was dragged through the mud in the media too juust for having a race fix and now the governing body has messed up. Not really selling the sport is it?
    It was appalling that Piquet chose to crash and that Symonds and Briatore were involved too. But everything since has made theb situation worse.

    I know many feel Piquet was young and under pressure and we need characters like Flav. But both have hurt the reputation of this fine sportm, fixed a race and caused a situation which could have potentially caused innocent spectatoprs physical harm. Don’t know about you but I can do without men like that in F1.

    Good luck to Todt and the FIA as their next moves will be closely scrutinised. Not sure how they or the sport can win now in all of this.

  7. I have no problem with Nelson Piquet being given immunity; by the time he made those accusations, he’d already done enough damage to his career to see that he would never race in Formula One again.

    By that same logic, Bernard Madoff shouldn’t have been jailed as nobody in their right mind would trust him with a penny of their money after his fraud was exposed. Piquet is currently free to shop himself to any team in any FIA-sanction series he wants, regardless of whether any team would want to employ him; his punishment is an indirect one, and that simply isn’t right

    At an extreme end of the scale, committing murder under duress is not a legally valid defence for committing murder. Piquet deliberately crashed his car, whether he was pressured to do so or not, and he must be punished for having done so. As Keith suggests in the article, his entitlement to a superlicence ought to be brought into question as he has demonstrated that he should not be in possession of one

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 7th January 2010, 12:08

      Piquet was given immunity, because without his testimony, the FIA had no case. Without a case, no-one would have been punished. In a perfect world, Piquet, Symonds, Briatore and Renault would have all been punished – but it’s long been established that this is not a perfect world.

      Your comparison to Bernie Madoff is a poor one: Piquet was not the ring-leader here; Briatore was. Briatore is the Bernie Madoff of this situation. Piquet is just an underling who did his bidding.

      • The WMSC verdict states, unambiguously,

        However, in light of Mr. Briatore’s vehement denial of any knowledge of a plan to crash deliberately, the Stewards do not consider that they are in a position to draw any definitive conclusion regarding Mr. Briatore’s knowledge or involvement.

        (emphasis mine)

        Symonds maintained that it was Piquet’s idea to crash and refused to shop Briatore despite being offered immunity if he did so. You cannot assert that Briatore was the ringleader of the plot when even the WMSC were unable, by their own admission, to find concrete evidence that he was.

        I have my own opinions on what happened, but this isn’t about opinions – it’s about evidence.

  8. sumedh said on 7th January 2010, 11:39

    I read an article on James Allen’s blog regarding the same issue. He points out how Briatore has successfully used a loophole in the rules to overturn his ban. I tend to agree.

    Analyzing closely, the entire thing seems to be a scam. FIA asked Renault to get rid of Flavio and Symonds or get punished. As Renault let go off the two, FIA handed Renault a minimal punishment and automatically lost the right to punish Flavio.

  9. I can’t believe how everyone said this was the worst scandal in F1 or even sports history! And the punishment…

    nothing

  10. Adrian said on 7th January 2010, 11:52

    What strikes me as incredible is that the FiA didn’t even think to check the legality of its own punishment before handing it out. If only they’d had a Barrister in charge…oh wait…

  11. Macca said on 7th January 2010, 12:01

    The FIA had no right to place a life time ban on him.

  12. Ned Flanders said on 7th January 2010, 12:06

    I know all of us are huge F1 fans, so I think it might be interesting to consider the views of casual observers.

    The night that the news broke last week, I was listening to Talksport, a football orientated radio station here in the UK. The presenters were basically asking how anybody can take F1 seriously anymore, and questioning whether it is truly a sport. I’ve heard them say similar things after all the controversies of the past 12 months.

    Now I understand that those two presenters probably had a bit of a chip on their shoulder over F1- they’d certainly be the sort to come to the conclusion that F1 is all about the cars. But when the general public has this perception of the sport, you know that F1 has a big image problem

    • HounslowBusGarage said on 7th January 2010, 15:06

      Absolutely right, Ned. And I think the sponsors might be about to respond to the public’s perception and move out of the sport as well.

  13. Peter Rippon said on 7th January 2010, 12:18

    The court is absolutely correct in its ruling. Lest we forget, the FIA new all about “crashgate”six months before at Interlagos, yet chose to ignore it. Moseley ruled to suit his own agenda, double standards and hyprocrytes with no democratic process as the transcript of the FIA kangaroo court plainly shows.
    Todt must quickly and firml put this aside and let us all get on with 2010 season.
    I for one would love to see Briatore walking the grid at the first race, just to rub Moseleys nose in it but I cannot see any team wanting him as the Principal!

  14. Jonesracing82 said on 7th January 2010, 12:31

    i find it obsurd that such an action has gone completely unpunished in the end!
    who cares if Renault may/may not leave the sport, if thier performance doesnt pick up within the next couple of years they’ll just up and leave anyway. if it was williams, force india or any other independant team they’d have been fined properly and the case would be over. in ’07, McLaren should have said they could be leaving the sport and they’d maybe have had a reduced sentance for the same thing…….

  15. It really is a shame that Nelson Piquet jr did not have the integrity to not crash deliberately. All the problems
    in this matter for both F1, Renault and individuals involved begun with his crash.

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