Formula 1 commercial right holder Bernie Ecclestone has said that he fears the Renault board may decide to quit Formula 1 following allegations that Nelson Piquet was asked to crash his car so that his team mate Fernando Alonso could win last year’s Singapore Grand Prix.
With car sales well down for all the manufacturers in Formula 1, this is a delicate moment in their participation in the sport anyway. Renault recently announced heavy losses and Toyota is expecting to lose up to $8 billion this year. The feeling in the Spa paddock before the bombshell about the Singapore enquiry was that it could not be taken forgranted that both would remain in the sport beyond the end of the year.
Ecclestone has weathered one crisis in the sport this summer, averting a breakaway series by the teams’ association, FOTA and has seen Honda and BMW decide to withdraw in the last nine months.
“This is not the sort of thing we need at the moment,” said Ecclestone in the Times. “I think it will p*** off Renault for a start. Them leaving the sport is a danger, obviously. I mean, I hope that it isn’t like that, but it’s the sort of thing that might happen.”
“What I know, I can’t say, to be honest with you. All I know is that Flavio is insisting that he knows nothing about it. I think the FIA are looking into everything. They are trying to find out the reality. I suppose they would be upset if they found out that what people are assuming is true, is in fact true, I suppose.”
I’m not quite sure what he means by, “What I know, I can’t say, to be honest with you,” but this is a particularly awkward problem for him personally because Briatore is a close friend, who is usually to be seen in Ecclestone’s company in the evenings at race meetings and regularly travels into the circuit with him. The two hit it off almost as soon as Briatore first walked into the paddock in 1989.
However Ecclestone’s other close ally and confidant, Max Mosley, clashes with Briatore and that must have been a delicate balancing act over the years.
As for Nelson Piquet Jr, whom Ecclestone appears to suspect of ‘blowing the whistle’, he believes that he will find it hard to get another F1 drive,
“You can safely say that he’s sort of in trouble now . . . you’d have to wonder what next, wouldn’t you?” Ecclestone said.
This too is an awkward situation on a personal level. Nelson Piquet senior won two world championships for Ecclestone’s Brabham team and remains a friend, while his friendship with Briatore, for whom he also raced, was part of the reason his son got the drive in the first place. Now the whole thing appears to be falling down like a pack of cards.
Renault survived an FIA enquiry 18 months ago into allegations that an engineer had taken McLaren technical secrets to the team. One wonders what evidence there is in the Singapore case.
But until the case is heard the mere association with suggestions of cheating will be hurting Renault’s image and causing some serious reflection at board level, not least with the team slipping to eighth in the constructors’ championship.
Should the manufacturer decide to quit, it is quite possible to imagine Briatore taking over the team, as Ross Brawn did with Honda.