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How main rivals got Renault out of trouble
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How main rivals got Renault out of trouble
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Aug 2009   |  1:10 pm GMT  |  22 comments

The FIA has published the reasons behind the decision of the Appeal Court to reduce the one race ban imposed on Renault for the unsafe release of Fernando Alonso’s car in Budapest with a loose wheel.

And it seems that four of the team’s main rivals on the grid, Ferrari, McLaren Red Bull and Toyota, helped them by writing letters of support, even outlining that their own pit stop procedures would need to be revised. “It could have happened to any of us” appears to be the message.

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There is certainly a bit of FOTA unity going on here and this is an interesting example of how it can spill over onto the field in terms of ‘fair play’. There was a suspicion among some of the more cynical members of the paddock that part of the motivation for such a severe sentence in the first place was payback for the outspoken part Renault team boss Flavio Briatore had played in the proposed FOTA breakaway.

The court statement is a very interesting document as it shows the appeal process very clearly. In the past there have been question marks about the independence of the appeal court, but here the thing seems to be above any doubt.

The main point of interest, which was the severity of the sentence, is dealt with by the court in a very methodical way and it doesn’t make great reading for the stewards. They added two and two together and got five, in the eyes of the judges, who say that the level of sentence imposed was not consistent with previous similar offences. It suggests that the stewards were influenced by the recent events with the death of Henry Surtees and the injury of Felipe Massa, both from flying objects.

“It is the Court’s view that the penalty imposed in the present case appears to be significantly inconsistent with any penalty previously imposed (or not imposed) in broadly comparable cases. After viewing the video evidence submitted to it, the Court does not accept the FIA’s submission that real potential danger did not arise in all or any of these incidents, ” it reads.

As for the help from the four teams, it says, “The Court notes that it has taken account of the letters of support which the Appellant has received from Red Bull Racing, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, and Toyota F1 Team and which it has submitted to the Court.

“These letters confirm that two of the above-mentioned teams lay claim to having followed improved procedures precisely in order to avoid the very serious safety risks which unquestionable arose in the present case.”

As to Renault’s case, they admitted that they released the car, but claimed that they had no knowledge in that split second moment that it was not raceworthy, “The Appellant (Renault) argues that the Stewards failed to adduce any evidence of Renault’s knowledge of these factual breaches, as they did not mention how or when the team acquired this knowledge, or even who in the team had the relevant and requisite knowledge.

“…In this regard, the Court accepts the submission that there was no
conscious wrong-doing on the part of anyone. Notwithstanding its respect for the Stewards, the Court considers that the use of the term “knowingly” in the Contested Decision was not appropriate in this case because, notwithstanding the powerful arguments of the FIA, it is the Court’s view that the use of that term in this context clearly suggests conscious wrongdoing and implies a finding that the “release” of the car from the pit box was allowed despite actual knowledge of potential danger on the part of the individual who made the decision to release it.”

It all happens so quickly in a pit stop. Cue one up on your PVR box and watch it in real time; it’s a blur, especially the last bit. Many times in recent years split second happenings at the end of pit stops have had massive repercussions. Massa would argue, with good reason, that he lost the world championship last year because of the ten points lost over the split second blunder, which meant he was released with the fuel hose still attached.

These crucial moments will always be prone to human error, no matter what lights system or lollipop is used. It’s the human capacity to make mistakes under pressure which is such a compelling part of sport.

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22 Comments
  1. john g says:

    off-topic but have you heard any more about the plight of BMW Sauber? the latest i’m hearing is that they did sign the concorde agreement guaranteeing that they would be involved until 2012. this makes the team a lot easier to sell and promises the team a good wallop of FIA money, but it was widely reported at the time that they *didn’t* sign the CA, and that the FIA were to re-open the selection process for the replacement team. (The FIA need to re-open the selection process anyway to make it credible but that’s another story)

  2. Kirk says:

    Isn’t this the second time Renault have done this kind of thing though? I remember in Turkey they sent Piquet out for his final qualifying run knowing the brake duct on the front left had broken – and as expected half-way round the lap the front left seized and sent him spinning.

    I believe NP wasn’t too impressed with that one, as his answer to the pitwall was not too warm “thanks for that”.

    1. Snail says:

      Wow. Thats interesting. If the above is true then you have to come to the following conclusions:

      1 Renault deliberately putting their driver at risk.
      2 Renault deliberately putting the car and the potential rebuild cost at risk.
      3 Renault deliberately putting the driver relationship at risk.

      Whichever way you want to look at it, thats really shoddy. Even if you don’t care about your driver (which it appears, they didn’t) you are still risking (2).

      Whatever, knowingly risking someone’s safety with (1) is appalling.

      The more I read about Renault the worse my opinion of them gets, particularly of the team boss.

  3. ozzmosis says:

    Presumably refuelling is still banned for next year, making quick tyre changes all the more crucial. Hopefully we won’t see a spate of unsafe releases. I suppose the banning of refuelling makes it one less thing the “lollipop man” has to keep an eye on.

  4. Racing not politics says:

    Thanks for the insight James

  5. Andy Gibson says:

    Nice analysis James.

    The stewards got this badly wrong and it is good to see the appeal court calling them out on it.

    It is also great to see some team unity to ensure fair play. The quicker all teams are back within FOTA the better so this kind of thing can continue.

  6. Nicollers says:

    I’m happy the race ban has been overturned. James, do you have confirmation of the fine imposed (if any) on Renault?

    It’s great that Alonso gets to race in front of his home fans.

  7. Leon Allen says:

    …and that’s why removing refuelling from the pit-stops from next season is a serious mistake by the FIA. Again, they forget the vital ingredients that make F1 compelling for the vast majority of enthusiasts.

    There is ALWAYS drama in the pit lane. It’s where most mistakes are made because there are so many humans working extremely fast in a very confined space. You couldn’t devise a more testing situation for a team of very stressed people.

    And you can always depend on pit-stops to provide the excitement when we have an exceedingly dull ‘procession’ race.

    FIA. Keep the refuelling in the mix.

    Another first class post, James.

  8. artorwar says:

    Really is an interesting read and it’s great to see inside the machine (even if a few screws seem to be loose at times haha.) I think the Surtees effect is something that needs to be addressed, regulations need to be independent of events to remain balanced. We will see how the decision is reflected in any rule changes that occur. I can’t wait for the weekend, this has been a long three weeks (and a lot of sunday afternoon arguments with my girlfriend! Withdrawl is horrible)

  9. phil says:

    So let me get this right, it is now in the hands of FOTA to make sure fair governance is applied to the sport?
    Can someone please explain to me again what the fia do for F1?

  10. Paul Mc says:

    James i wonder why Renault did not receive support from all of the FOTA members? Why only 4 of the teams? Does this show an inherent weakness in FOTA that when certain incidents arise the teams cannot come together as one voice? I notice Ferrari and McLaren appear to agree on almost everything these days, what has the F1 world come to :)

    Another incident was the Schumi testing ban, when some teams were in favour and others were not.

    Brawn GP obviously dont want Renault racing in Valencia presumably due to the fact that Alonso will go light to get pole and try to take points from Button.

    I would love to be a fly on the wall in FOTA meetings.

  11. Dave P says:

    Hmm.. I note no support from Williams. I have become very disillusioned by Williams lately. It seems Frank has become a bitter and twisted person and that is sad to see… Any time he could act for the unity of the teams he does not… only thinking of himself..

    1. Robert McKay says:

      That’s quite a leap, given there were 5 other teams who decided not to write such a letter…

      I tend to think the letter writing teams were individually very magmanimous rather than FOTA-collectively-ordered, and hopefully Renault will acknowledge that over the Valencia weekend.

      1. Dave P says:

        My comment reflects not just this incident, but also:

        His arrogant reply that he would use send his reserve into battle without testing – this shows how little he cares for his drivers
        Failing to allow Michael schumacher to test
        Not sticking together with FOTA ( his explanations were baseless – the FIA and MAX were never going to sue him, and Brawn stood to losse more )

        If Williams can be a pain in the a**s at the moment … well the seem to want to be.

        The very fact that they got themselves into a position of leaving FOTA was their own making by signing up to a ‘special deal’ with the FIA in the first place

      2. Robert McKay says:

        “His arrogant reply that he would use send his reserve into battle without testing – this shows how little he cares for his drivers”

        Subjective – I personally didn’t really see the comments as arrogant.

        “Failing to allow Michael schumacher to test”

        They weren’t the only objectors. It wasn’t the most sporting gesture in the world, but I don’t think it’s somehow indicative of the arrogance of Williams.

        “Not sticking together with FOTA ( his explanations were baseless – the FIA and MAX were never going to sue him, and Brawn stood to losse more)”

        With the best will in the world, that’s easy for you to say: it’s not your business, and you don’t know the small print of the contract they have.”

        “The very fact that they got themselves into a position of leaving FOTA was their own making by signing up to a ’special deal’ with the FIA in the first place”

        That’s about the only point I agree with, and again they weren’t the only ones to do it.

        At the end of the day what it comes down to is Frank protecting his racing team. He’s only there to go racing. He’s not propped up by a wealthy benefactor and he’s not there as a massive advertising billboard for energy drink or cars.

        This means that there will be occasions when the decisions he has to take are, almost by definition, different.

  12. Patrickl says:

    “These crucial moments will always be prone to human error, no matter what lights system or lollipop is used. It’s the human capacity to make mistakes under pressure which is such a compelling part of sport”

    Exactly. Which means that setting up a safe procedure for the pit stop is extremely important.

    Unfortunately, Renault set up their pitstop procedure in a way that the wheel gun man puts up his hand after he is done putting on the wheel nut (signalling that the wheel is ready) while another mechanic still needs to actually do some work on the wheel. Like fitting a mandatory safety device which is the wheel nut retainer.

    Obviously this does not allow for fixing any problems for the second mechanic fitting the retaining device.

    How can you have a procedure that doesn’t allow for problems fitting the wheel nut retainer and then claim that you couldn’t prevent suffering when a problem in that area did arise?

    It’s a deliberate attempt to shave a few milliseconds off pit stop times with a complete disregard for the safety that the wheel nut retainer offers.

    I’m absolutely shocked that they didn’t punish Renault for that. At the very least they should have been given a heavy suspended sentence to make sure they get their priorities straight. Safety FIRST!

    I don’t even see where the court states that Renault should fix their faulty procedure.

    Maybe FIA should monitor pit stop procedures and proactively hand out fines or demand changes. Like with the Ferrari pit lights debacle.

  13. The fact that the other teams learned from Renault’s mistake and improved safety procedures implies that it won’t happen so easily again and the punishment was too severe.

    I wonder why Williams, Brawn and Force India chose not to support Renault in this case?

  14. Ricky says:

    This may be just me picking up on something that isn’t there, but is there any reason Toyota have changed from “Panasonic Toyota Racing” to “Toyota F1 Team” in FIA releases?

    Good read.

  15. Bert says:

    For me the issue is not the error done by the mechanic per se. Everyone makes mistakes. What gets me in a knot is that the mechanic could (did?) inform the pit wall of a potential problem and then the team decided to do nothing with that information.

    When the “hubcap” flew off, it should have been quite obvious to everyone on the pit wall that there was a serious problem. The order to pull over should have been given.

    When the tire layed in at 30-40 degrees, it should have been quite obvious to both the pit wall and the driver that there was a serious problem. The order to pull over should have been given or the driver should have had enough common sense to pull over.

    There should be some sort of “super-meatball” flag that flag marshals can use, as opposed to the regular meatball that is available at the start-finish line. When shown the Super-Meatball (pat. pend.) the driver must immediately pull over at the next safe area. Ignore 3 S-MBs (i.e. 3 mashall stands) and you are taken out back and summarily shot. The system can even be hooked in to the ECU, as the yellow flag is now, so that the driver cannot miss the notification.

    Yes, errors happen, but we must learn from our errors and correct the problem so that it does not happen again. It’s about time for stupid things like this NOT to happen.

  16. Harveyeight says:

    Well there’s a first. It would appear that the appeal court was trying to conform to the standards of real courts. There is a certain irony in the fact that they get rid of a lawyer and all of a sudden legal procedures raise their head. The use of precedents is remarkable, not to say obvious and fair.

    One in the eye for the head of the stewards, that Donelley chap. He’s a Mosley implant and one would assume – not to say hope and pray – that he will lose his influence once we get a new president. Didn’t he replace someone who had some knowledge of motor racing? And a reputation for fair play? Now there’s a good idea.

    The ban was largely seen as a political move. Whether that is true or not is not the point. Under the old regime these suspicions were the norm. The new incumbent has a lot of work ahead of him trying to slough off this suspicion of underhand play. A good start would be to remove those who have been tarnished by their previous decisions.

    We should not, of course, forget that there is still apparent danger from wheels in lower formulae. Banning Renault and then not banning them does not solve the problem. We must, at said above, learn from mistakes. What lessons have been learnt from Surtees’ death?

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