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. As I dislike the main players in this case, such as Briatore and Mosley, I am trying to stop it from clouding my views, as part of me is thinking, good this is on in the eye for Mosley.

    The issue here seems to be what the FIA can and can’t do, if you were to read some reports from the media in general you would think that the French Court had found Briatore innocent as opposed to it declaring that the FIA could not punish him the way it did.

    I realise that the law is different in every country but can a governing body for a sport only punish people if they have to be registered with the governing body? I am thinking about bans and fines the FIA hand out to drivers and teams and when sports such as Football and Rugby fine or ban players and managers.

    If this is the case then the only solution seems to be to that more people require a licence to work in motorsport, but the question is how far down this should go, only the team principles, only people who will work for the team at races or everyone at the team down to the cleaners, and then how far should it go with regard to outside contractors.

    Personally I don’t think there is much wrong with a sports governing body having the power to ban people from events they sanction, but the extent of this ban may have been too far reaching as one example I remember reading at the time was something like, if a company Briatore was involved with did as much as supply toilet paper to a Grand Prix it would breach the terms the FIA had set down.

    If the FIA don’t have the power to punish Briatore is there anything stopping them taking the case to the criminal courts?

    It was bad enough that Piquet was granted immunity and that Renault got a slap on the wrist, but for no one involved in this case to receive any punishment, as Keith says in the article, would be a disgrace.

    • HounslowBusGarage said on 7th January 2010, 15:12

      “If the FIA don’t have the power to punish Briatore is there anything stopping them taking the case to the criminal courts?”
      What could they be charged with? Is there an offence of “match or race fixing”? I know it has happened in horseracing, but that was in relationship to defrauding the bookmakers. What criminal offences could they be charged with?
      Another problem is that the burden of proof is much higher in any criminal court than it was in the FIA ‘court’. Also, a criminal case would have to identify Witness X or however he was styled, and he might not be prepared for that to happen.

  2. F1 needs to clean is image, all problems between FIA and the teams have affected and damaged the sport.
    As an F1 fan for more than 25 years, i consider all these events sad and above all not necessary, we assist everyday to a battle for power in F1.
    F1 is the biggest sport on Earth and i love it, but people who just wants to make money with it, starting with Eclestone, need to go away not to damage the sport even more!
    We assisted to races in some new tracks that were so borring that is difficult to imagine anyone new and with some interest for the sport to start following regularly and even like it, as we guys and girls!
    A new mentality is needed, one that brings the real fans closer to the tracks, where opinions are listened and taken in consideration, otherwise F1 as we know it will die one day!
    I believe that we can start making the difference, independently from the drivers or teams we support, starting from making the teams and associations involved in the sport, that this should be fun, fans, should be put first, because in the end, we are paying all that.

  3. theRoswellite said on 7th January 2010, 15:24

    For openers, the FIA certainly should have a better legal foundation regarding their own powers. Hopefully the post Mosely era will be much less imperial in action and edict.

    It would be nice if the guilty trio felt too..embarrassed…to continue any connection to F1. Very unlikely.

  4. A-Safieldin said on 7th January 2010, 16:26

    If the FIA were to punish Briatore and Symonds they should have just suspended them and taken them to court, that way they wouldnt be over-stepping their authority…. In court they can argue that briatore and symonds tarnished the reputation of Formula 1 therefore they should no longer be allowed to participate…. thats alot more civilized then shunning people.. and to be honest this hole crashgate isn’t really that big a deal in my opinion….

  5. A-Safieldin said on 7th January 2010, 17:14

    As someone rightly pointed out earlier this scandal was pointed out to the in 2008 FIA to be honest it seems they didnt really care- only when it came to briatore trying to overthrow the FIA with his breakaway series was the issue brought to light…. The fact that this happened does not bother me stuff like this has been sprikled on various parts of the sports history which only proves its magnitude as huge sport. For example back in they day sometimes theyd slip balls of lead down in the car after the race so they can run under wieght, Tyrell would top there car with lead shot water during pit-stops- and im pretty sure mclaren did get these papers through somesort of dishonest way- my point is its a competitive sport F1, so yes ppl cross the line the whole piquet incedent was relativly harmless I mean formula 1 nowdays is sickeningly safe so he wouldnt have harmed anyone and im sure this has happened before in other teams. My point being this all shows clear bias on the FIA’s part- in my view the scandal isnt the problem, Piquet’s clear role in this, Biratore and Symonds’ punishment, and they way everyone blew the whole thing out of proportion is the problem.

    • Oliver said on 7th January 2010, 17:40

      Precisely, Apparently there are more saints walking on the face of this earth than there are in heaven. :-)
      Not saying one condones such acts, but I’m increasingly alarmed at the willingness of individuals to condemn their fellow men simply based on heresay.

      At the end of the day, Piquet, Symonds or Briatore may either all be guilty or many not all be guilty, but the actual problem was the way Max Mosley ran the FIA which was a disgrace for an international body. The FIA needs to be cleaned up, and proper proceedures and governance adopted.

      • Oliver said on 7th January 2010, 18:50

        hearsay is more like it.

        • Exactly – if I am ever on trial for something, I’d hate to have some people here on the jury ! Hearsay – yep, admissible ! Outraged opinions – yep, admissible !Speculation – why not? Biased judge & jury – yep, no conflict of interest there ! Sheesh.

  6. Hallard said on 7th January 2010, 18:40

    Can the FIA now be fined for “bringing the sport into disrepute”? I cant believe what a mess they made of it. Also, I am quite surprised that no criminal charges have been brought against the guilty parties. Isnt the fixing of a sporting event a crime, in and of itself? And intentionally crashing a car puts spectators and fellow competitors at risk. I cant comprehend how the most disgraceful conspiracy (in a scandal-laden sport, mind you) ever committed in F1 goes completely unpunished.

  7. Blame Fernando Alonso. He was behind this, anyway.

  8. The bottom line here is that Max and Renault concocted a way out for the team if Flabio and Symonds were made sacrificial lambs. They even came up with an alleged nameless “Witness X” to back up their sordid deal.

    They may all be guilty but Max pushed his tyrannical methods of punishment on the FIA and here we now sit.

    No matter how they change their regulations they will not be allowed to retroactively reapply the same sanction.

    Thank you Max. Even after the fact we all pay the price for your injudicious application of personal power and probably vendetta.

  9. Icthyes said on 7th January 2010, 21:57

    Reform its statutes to give it the power to hand down punishments to individuals?

    That this wasn’t in place already shows how strangely reluctant the FIA is for the rules to make sense.

    Take Spa 2008. The rules were clarified after the event, but had they been known before, the rules would never have been broken. Now, the FIA will have to change its statutes in reaction to its current ones having been shown to be inadequate.

    Having read opinions, it seems to me that Mosley and the FIA are to blame for a lot of this, but I’m sorry, I can’t gleefully see his and their nemesis turn to hubris when the worst cheats in the sport’s history go free. If Piquet Snr or Flavio buy a team, or both buy their own, we have the prospect of 1, 2, or all 3 coming back to F1 (in Symonds’ case, before his 5-year ban was up). That shouldn’t even be a possibility.

    • Icthyes said on 7th January 2010, 21:58

      Take Spa 2008. The rules were clarified after the event, but had they been known before, the rules would never have been broken. Now, the FIA will have to change its statutes in reaction to its current ones having been shown to be inadequate.

      To which should be added: “When anyone could have told them that before this mess started.”

  10. wasiF1 said on 8th January 2010, 2:18

    I agree with many people that if Reanult were given a penalty then they would have left the sport leaving only Ferrari the only manufacture in F1 at that time.

  11. Ronman said on 8th January 2010, 7:11

    What i think the biggest chink in the whole process is getting nelsinho to get out scot free. that decision compromised the FIA’s credibility in general.

    I understand what happened in 07 with spy gate and the drivers getting off without a penalty. but with Crash gate the driver was directly responsible for carrying out the plan, regardless of who came up with it or ordered him. the co-conspiratirs, especially because they are high in the team should get a severe penalty as well, but letting Nelsinho off free is the biggest problem.

    the team, as Renault I imagine got a fair deal from the whole S***storm.

    To finish off my point…if Nelsinho was also on the cutting board, the FIA (along with Renault possibly) would have been able to use a civil court to charge the three in bringing the sport and team into disrepute.

    Then the three would have been charged with negligence and conspiring to cause a crash…possibly injuring people and a civil fine with possibly some jail time would have been in order…after that i doubt anyone would want to deal with any of the three regardless of a ban or not….

    because, in my opinion jail is order for at least two of the three, and that so called witness X, which I really think is Alonso (judging by his Teflonic history)should be divulged…enough shenanigans every-time someone does something wrong in F1, heads should roll, we the fans deserve that much.

  12. Puffy said on 8th January 2010, 9:09

    I don’t know, this whole thing confuses the hell out of me and just furthers my view that the law is not about justice but ridiculous technicalities. Why the hell can the FIA not ban an individual from participating in events it runs? Plenty sports have handed down life time bans. How can we expect any credibility for our sport if we allow blatant cheats and criminals to participate? And with everyone saying that they should have punished the team collectively instead of the actual people who committed the act, I’m no lawyer but I’m pretty sure law should be founded on not punishing the collective for the acts of individuals?

    It’s incredibly clear the Briatore blatantly endangered people lives and in my opinion a life time ban was a light sentence, he deserved to be triad in a criminal caught for negligence that he knew could potentially lead to death. Piquet as well put people lives in danger and should have gotten just as much, although I can’t help feeling more disgust towards Briatore, as he was happy to risk other people lives from the cushiness of the pit garage.

    • Puffy said on 8th January 2010, 9:13

      My goodness, apparently I can’t spell while ranting, that last post is littered with poor spelling.

      Triad = Tried
      Caught = Court

      Will the ability to edit comments be available with the redesign?

  13. My last take on all this is total agreement with the comments of countless others, RE; the gross injustice of the FIA allowing “Piquet the Rat” off Scott free because of his claim “I was only following orders”. Does that excuse sound familiar? Many a war criminal has suffered prison terms or worse using that same excuse. But the high and mighty Max led FIA will let the perpetrator of the crime go free in order to nail the hide of a political opponent to the wall.

    Life as we know it under the Max led FIA, hopefully Todt will bring the transparency most seek to the arcane ways of the ruling body.

  14. Well if they say the FIA can’t impose bans on people, then we have to accept that. They can however give out penalties than affect Briatore and Renault within the Sport, such as voiding all their points and victories from 2009 (similar to McLaren with the Spy affair). I imagine that’s what will happen in the end.

    However, crashing intentionally and dangerously is probably some kind of criminal offense in Singapore. But Singapore won’t sue anyone because it would adversly affect their F1 relations. The spectators could but since nobody was hurt, nobody will bother with all the associated fuss and risk.

  15. “What are the consequences for F1?” —- a lot more publicity perhaps as the story gets dragged out.

    The FIA’s biggest mistake was not going after Renault hard (like McLaren) and letting the rest take care of itself, or perhaps a token meaningless suspended sentence or sucklike for Flavio and Pat as an additional secondary measure…

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