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Renault hope to turn around race ban tomorrow
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Renault hope to turn around race ban tomorrow
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Aug 2009   |  11:38 pm GMT  |  26 comments

Renault will face the International Court of Appeal tomorrow (Monday) in the hope of reducing their one race ban for releasing Fernando Alonso from the pits with an unsafe car in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The stewards threw the book at them after the race for knowingly sending the car out on track in racing conditions with a loose front wheel and making no attempt to stop it.

When I first heard about the punishment, it seemed extremely harsh, especially as this kind of thing has happened in the past and no-one got banned for a race for it.

On reflection there was certainly an element of paranoia in the air, as happens in motor sport following a death, in this case Henry Surtees a week earlier, from a head injury caused by a flying wheel in an F2 race. The mood of anxiety was heightened the day before the Hungarian Grand Prix with the head injury to Felipe Massa, from a loose spring. So the last thing anyone needed was for a team to be seen to be taking unneccessary risks during the Grand Prix.

The stewards have presented the appeal court judges with a tricky one here, as this is not an area which has been clamped down on so severely in the past – although Red Bull was fined $50,000 in Australia this year for not complying with an instruction to bring Sebastian Vettel’s unsafe car in after it was damaged in a collision. So the question facing the judges is not about establishing guilt, but “Does the punishment fit the crime?”

Complicating things further is the risk of making F1 look manipulated, as though rules can be enforced or not depending on whim or circumstance, by letting them off. The presence of Renault and Fernando Alonso is very important to the promoters and fans in Valencia. It would be very cynical if, through sheer pragmatism, the penalty were rescinded to allow Alonso to race. F1 needs to move on from situations which open it up to ridicule and insinuation.

Interestingly the appeal court is one area which FIA presidential candidate Jean Todt did not address in his recent manifesto. He made two sensible suggestions, in my view, one that the sport should have a commissioner who reports to the president and the other that disciplinary matters be heard by a disciplinary panel, rather than the world council. He talked about changes to the stewarding system, but not the appeal court. It will be interesting to see what detailed changes he might make to this often derided institution if elected.

The FIA is looking to the future; with Max Mosley effectively seeing out his final three months as president and Todt’s agenda in the air (we await the other candidate, Ari Vatanen’s), this is an interesting test case and it will be fascinating to see what mood takes the appeal judges.

Common sense would suggest that they will commute the sentence to a big fine and a suspended ban, but presenting that in a way which makes it look like it was not a response to desperate pleas from Spanish race promoters will be tricky.

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26 Comments
  1. Andy Gibson says:

    Common Sense and the FIA Court of Appeal must be about as far apart as 2 things can be.

    I would think they are just as likely to extend the ban to multiple races as they are to commute it to something sensible that fits the “crime”.

    Will be interesting to see.

  2. Dave Hguhes says:

    Interesting blog James.

    If only you were to spout your thoughts live on the BBC.

    Dave

  3. Rudy Pyatt says:

    The penalty is entirely appropriate. Sorry folks, but, “they didn’t do it to them,” is no excuse here; that others have previously gotten off with lesser sentences does not make Renault any less culpable. There is no question of what happened, or why. While the failure to secure the wheel was an ordinary error in the heat of competition, the team deliberately sent their driver out KNOWING THAT THE WHEEL WASN’T SECURED, and they did so DESPITE Alonso asking, repeatedly, what was wrong with the handling of the car. This was not accidental, and, speaking as an ex-prosecutor, worse than negligent.

    1. phil says:

      Sorry but cant agree with that. Why would the team deliberately send alonso out on three wheels and knowingly reck his race? Alonso repeatedly told them their was something wrong after he left the pit lane.

  4. Carlos says:

    It’s the part about INTENTIONALLY releasing an unsafe car that I disagree with. If the lollipop man had known, he would’ve waited, and if the guys at the wall had known they would’ve told Alonso to stop. For all we know, the mechanic who worked on the wheel that came off thought it was on well enough.

  5. Paul Mc says:

    In my view, Renault should be fined for the incident. Although in the wake of tragic events it was a stupid error from the team, no one was injured or hurt from Alonso’s wheel.

    After the stalled Schumi comeback which saw an increase in ticket sales, the last thing the Spanish fans need is their local hero not being able to drive. I think for the sake of the fans the FIA need to let them race.

    Heavy fine, a Renault apology and lets get on with it!

  6. RF1 fan says:

    Can you make a post about Romain Grosjean please James?

  7. CarlitosF1 says:

    It is your point what really looks tricky to me, James: the ban for Renault seemed arbitrary enough in the first place, so if it is suspended let’s not label that as arbitrary too just because of the Alonso-Spain factor, and let ourselves enjoy that we’ll see a full grid for the race…

  8. Sam98 says:

    It might be tricky, but this is where both Max & Bernie excel (no matter what you think of them as individuals).

    They’ll kick off a classic pincer movement, one hitting the press with articulate logic and the other with common sense so direct it seems rash and “off the cuff” to the uninitiated.

    When Max has gone F1 will struggle even more with incidents like this – I can’t imagine the Todt and Bernie show being anywhere near as accomplished.

    It’ll be like puttng Jeanette Krankie with Ernie Wise and expecting a hit.

  9. Cabby says:

    I always had the impression that the the whole Stewarding thing is a way for Fia presidents (we did not have so many different in the past years) to reward loyal local motorsport “dignitaries” or other people, like “vote for me I make you steward next year, so you get a paddock pass and can tell all your friends how important your racing knowledge is”. This leads to seemingly inconsistent decisions which seem to be influenced by other forces aims and interests. In other sports, too, you have different referees being more lenient or strict, and they make mistakes too, but in F1 there surely is a lot of room for improvement in theses matters.

  10. Stephen says:

    I was up at the factory in Enstone on Wednesday for a tour. I spoke to some of their mechanics about the ban and they said the team is pretty confident it will get overturned. The trucks are all packed, ready to go.

  11. Red Andy says:

    Renault should have lied about it afterwards, after all as we know that’s only worth a suspended ban.

    1. Snail says:

      “The wheel didn’t fall off, you must have imagined that. Then we tried to make the wheel fall off, so that you wouldn’t need to imagine that. Then realising our error in trying to make the wheel fall off, we did actually prevent the wheel from falling off, so you must have imagined it. It didn’t happen. More Red Bull anyone?”

    2. PaulL says:

      Good call! So true too.

    3. Jeff Pappone says:

      Brilliant! One pithy line points out the complete madness of this situation.

  12. Loti says:

    Nit picking I know but the team didn’t know, the front right wheel man may have known but by the time he had said something the car would have been out of the pit lane. When Fernando asked on the radio if he had a puncture, the telemetry would have said not.I know one man and the ‘team ‘ are the same thing in the eyes of the FIA but in that case Brawn should go too as they sent Rubens out knowing there was something wrong with the back of the car….. and that did serious damage as opposed to the lose wheel which didn’t.

  13. john g says:

    “…rules can be enforced or not depending on whim or circumstance…”

    taken out of context, but this appears to be the case with the FIA. there are no set punishments for most infringements of the rules so it’s up to ill-advised and poorly trained stewards and officials to decide what they want to do. there is absolutely no reason to enforce a one race ban on the grounds that loss of constructor / driver points and a fine would not be sufficient.

    in my opinion, Flav tried to get rid of max, alan donnelly took exception to that, and therefore hit back where it hurt, with an extreme punishment for renault and also spanish viewing figures for the valencia GP (doesn’t flav own spanish F1 tv rights?)

    1. Snail says:

      My “outlandish speculation” meter has just trembled and then gone off the scale.

  14. Werewolf says:

    There is no doubt a potentially disastrous error was made but everything has a context both in place and time. The former was initially an F1 pitlane during a stop and under pressure in a race, then a decision (or non-decision) from the pitwall in the same circumstances. Many errors have been made by probably every team in this situation.

    The timing is unusualy significant because of recent unfortunate events. That there would be heightened sensitivies seems obvious and surely Renault, as much as the stewards and everyone else, should have been aware of this and ought, perhaps, to have been in a similarly heightened state.

    It is normally as a result of serious accidents
    that key safety changes are made; prior to 1994, there were no wheel tethers, pitlane speed limits or carbon fibre helmet prototypes. The question is, are we looking at an exaggerated response to a single incident or are we entering a new phase of enforcement in F1′s timeline where cars with potentially unsafe damage or mechanical issues will not be tolerated on track? In the latter scenarion, the first punishment will always be a precedent and reference to similar evens of the past can only be tenuous at best.

    Incidentally, iIn terms of punishment, is it possible for a ban to be served at a race other than the one immediately following the sentence? If so, banning Renault from, say, Spa or Monza provides the same level of sanction as set by the stewards and could be presented by the FIA as an exceptional delay granted out of consideration for F1′s Spanish fans.

  15. Paul says:

    I don’t see how a suspended sentence would be good “common sense” James. Given the rarity of such events it’d be the same as letting them off and telling other teams you have one freebie. Surely after recent events it is “common sense” to make it clear to all teams that if there car is manifestly unsafe (ie heavy parts of the car are unsecured) they should get the thing off the track.

    A suspended sentence wouldn’t do that because any team would reasonably think that the chance of such a thing happening again within the “suspended” period would be vanishingly small and they could just do the “right thing” then if it did.

    I suppose one might argue that the suspension could be seen as a warning to all teams and that other teams might not expect to get the same treatment in the future but is it fair to let Renault off just because they did it “first”?

  16. AC says:

    meh, if the FIA has to “avoid ridicule” by being consistent then they should make it a penalty like was handed to Red Bull. As Carlos above said, the FIA needs to prove that Renault knew at the time of release that something was wrong.

    But I guess people can always blame Briatore in a pinch :o)

  17. Patrickl says:

    The problem is that people keep repeating that Renault knowingly sent Alonso out with a loose front wheel. From then on people start claiming it was an accident and that similar accidents have occurred before.

    This was not an accident. This was also NOT about a loose front wheel. It was much more than that.

    The mechanic fastening the wheel nut was in fact ready. So “Renault” would have though the wheel was properly fastened.

    They sent the car out assuming that all 4 wheels were fastened, but they failed to install the wheel nut retainer.

    The wheel nut retainer is there to ensure that the wheel is a) fastened and b) doesn’t come off even if the wheel nut fails.

    Renault knowingly did not install this SAFETY DEVICE.

    Look at the replay of the pit stop and see how the right front wheel mechanic puts his had up after he puts on the wheel nut. That action signals the car is ready to go. Obviously the wheel was not ready since the other mechanic was still working on the wheel fairing (and nut retainer)

    Their disregard for safety in their pit stop procedure and knowingly sending out an illegal car (car is signalled OK, when clearly it’s not) is what brought this race suspension on them

    McLaren got disqalified for “lying” in the first race. Seems pretty logical that Renault should be disqualified for disregarding safety procedures.

  18. George says:

    Either a fine or a suspended sentence would work, I dont think it’s in anyone’s interest to ban the team from this race especially since the punishment is considered harsh already.

    The crime didn’t seem to be a great one to me, we’ve seen a lot of those wheel covers fly off this year and as far as I know no one has been punished. To be honest I think this something of a consequence of the lack of testing, the teams dont have so much chance to iron out these faults in private.

  19. T Jones says:

    Renault deserve the ban, tbf

  20. john g says:

    renault are allowed to race at valencia – the right decision but should not have come to that in the first place. i wonder if schumacher was back, whether that decision would still have been overturned – not because of any ferrari bias, but just because that with michael back, the race wouldn’t have been such a flop without alonso.

    1. Patrickl says:

      Indeed if Alonso had raced on it would have been hilarious to see his silly 3-stop strategy fail completely (again!).

      I’d have loved to see him stuck behind Trulli for 16 laps.

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