The World Motor Sport Council meets today to consider what punishment to hand out to Renault for asking its driver Nelson Piquet Jr to deliberately crash his car in Singapore last year.
Renault’s deputation is headed by Renault Sport president Bernard Rey and Fernando Alonso has also answered the summons to give evidence. He has not had a lot of time to prepare and it will be interesting to see what line the WMSC takes with him. The FIA investigators concluded that Alonso didn’t know anything and it appears he was surprised to be called. One wonders whether the FIA wishes to get under his skin, to see if he did know anything about the plot and, following on from that, he may be asked more wide reaching questions about Briatore’s stewardship of the team.
Symonds has not been requested to appear, which is strange, but there is the possibility that there may be a further written submission from him, as FIA investigators concluded that he appeared to want to say more than he was able to at their interviews with him. It all depends on what might be in it for him to do so and whether he has been persuaded to break ranks with Briatore.
Piquet attended the hearing. There have been dissenting voices from within the FIA about whether he should have been offered immunity from prosecution and it will be interesting to see whether any of the members of the WMSC raise this issue during the hearing.
“I think we need to show balance,” said Bernie Ecclestone, as he arrived at the hearing in Paris. “What they did was very serious. There can be no excuse, but they have acted quickly to get rid of the culprits, and that must be borne in mind.”
Ecclestone knows that the WMSC has to get the judgement right today and more important, be seen to get it right. Because this scandal has resonated far beyond the normal reaches of F1 stories. People who know little or nothing of the sport are aware of a terrible act of cheating in F1 and whereas the McLaren theft of Ferrari data was quite complex to understand and the consequences in racing terms quite hard to establish, the Renault case is very easy to understand and it shows the sport in a bad light.
So the WMSC cannot let the company off, simply because it has fired the two management figures behind it. There has to be a further sanction. One possibility is disqualification from last year’s world championship which means that the company would have to pay back the money it won for finishing fourth in the constructors’ championship, which is something like $50 million. There is also likely to be some kind of personal ban for Symonds and Briatore.
This would echo the way the FIA arrived at its judgement on Michael Schumacher’s deliberate accident with Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez in 1997. They punished him retrospectively, setting the precedent that you prevent people from making any gain from that kind of cheat, rather than banning them for a future period while allowing them to keep the proceeds or benefits of their actions.
There is an appeal open to Renault after today’s judgement. It may be that Flavio Briatore, who has declined to appear today, may choose to make his case at the appeal, should one take place.