The dust has not settled on yesterday’s announcement that Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds have left the Renault F1 team. In fact that was merely a turn of the wheel, albeit an important one. There is a lot more still to happen.
Clearly if they did act themselves it was as a result of a fait accompli from Renault. It amounts to the same thing really. What will have happened here is that Renault, together with its lawyers, will have conducted their own internal investigation into the matter and looked at the information the FIA has amassed in its prosecution case.
At the conclusion of that they will have decided that the best way forward was to tell the FIA that the company would not contest the charges next Monday and made Briatore and Symonds leave the team.
By leaving, rather than clinging on as Ron Dennis did in 2007, the hope is that the team will not be destroyed either by a permanent ban from the sport or by a huge fine.
The signs are that Renault wants to carry on in F1, which is encouraging, and part of their submission on Monday would likely be an indication of commitment to the sport. It’s a tough road ahead, though. They have no title sponsor for next year, as yet, although I understand that Total is set to increase its involvement and the signs are that they are going to lose their champion driver to Ferrari.
Renault learned from the McLaren Spygate saga in 2007 that the World Council doesn’t like being lied to. If you recall, the first time McLaren appeared at the WMSC they got off. It was only when the WMSC learned that it had been lied to that it threw the book at them second time around.
At the end of 2007 Renault had its own spy scandal, regarding technical data from McLaren which had gone with an employee to Renault. Renault played a straight hand on that and the WMSC came to the same conclusion as it had with McLaren first time around.
So now, Renault knows how to present itself on this latest scandal. It is acting responsibly, it has shown that it’s done a thorough enquiry, put its house in order as a result and will seek to demonstrate on Monday that it is committed to the sport, which has been open to question lately, and throw itself on the mercy of the WMSC. I don’t know who will represent them on Monday. Bernard Rey, the president of Renault Sport will probably lead the representation, with possibly Bob Bell the team’s technical director.
As to what punishment Renault receives, this will be very tough for the WMSC and due to the huge media glare worldwide the right decision is critical. On the one hand they will want to recognise the efforts Renault has made to put its house in order, but on the other hand they have to be seen to deal firmly with what is clearly one of the worst pieces of cheating in sporting history, made worse by the fact that it endangered lives.
It is up to the WMSC to show the world that F1 is not a sham, that the public can have confidence that what they are seeing is real. That is the greatest threat in all of this and it is a threat not just to the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone, but to every team and every company involved in it.
Even for people like me it’s important. Why would I want to leave my family every two weeks and hawk around the world, putting loads of passion and effort into it, if what I was covering was all smoke and mirrors, a sort of high speed WWE Wrestling?
Another thing I fancy might come out of this episode is a licencing scheme for key team members. This was discussed in 2007 and may well come up again on Monday.
Drivers have to have a superlicence to race, so why not have F1 licences for team principals and senior engineers, people in positions of responsibility. If you transgress you lose your licence. It also has a ‘fit and proper person’ side to it in the first instance.
As to the complaint of blackmail against the Piquets, which was filed with French police and announced by Briatore on Friday, it was perhaps significant that Bernard Rey was not at Flavio’s side when he announced it, so one wonders how much of the whole thing was Flavio and how much was done in Renault’s name.
It’s a serious charge, though. Apparently, if convicted, the perpetrator faces 7 years in prison.