The stakes were raised significantly today in the case of Renault and the crash which won the team the Singapore Grand Prix.
In what is rapidly turning into the biggest in a series of damaging scandals for the sport in recent years, the leaking of confidential evidence before the World Council hearing on September 21st, has forced Renault to react.
Interestingly they were backed today by FOTA, who issued a statement deploring the way that information has been leaked not only in this case but also over other sensitive matters between teams and the governing body in recent times.
Mosley said this morning that he regretted the leaks and didn’t know where they had come from.
Briatore put it far more strongly, “I think this is really not honest, this is really damaging and this really takes the sport in dispute [sic]. We probably don’t know where it’s coming from, but this takes the sport in dispute [sic] because at the moment it is the accusation about Renault with no possibility for us to defend ourselves, because we respect our word to the FIA.”
Asked why he had taken two weeks to come out and deny the allegations, he said that it was because a) the Renault parent company was preparing the blackmail case against the Piquets and b) they understood that the FIA wanted the details of the case to be kept confidential so as not to prejudice the hearing.
It is debatable to what extent this has happened already, with the amount of evidence which has found its way into the public domain. What has certainly happened is that the weight of evidence stacked against Renault has had a hugely damaging effect on Renault’s image as a company. This is bad press that they do not need and cannot afford. They needed to put something out there to try to balance things out a bit. It’s interesting looking at the replies to this blog on the subject – of which there have been hundreds – that most people seem to think negatively of the team management over this.
The fact that the car companies can tolerate bad press far less than the FIA was a key part of Mosley’s strategy in the summer when dealing with the threatened breakaway. Today Briatore said, “The bad press I think was completely unfair – some leaks in the press to accuse somebody before they had the possibility to defend themselves. The leak, already everything is against Renault, it’s a big damage for Renault.” He added that it would make them wonder ” if they want to be part of this world anymore.”
Briatore added that he is about to publish a statement of his position and didn’t want to be drawn on details such as whether the meeting between himself, Pat Symonds and Piquet took place before the race and if so what was said, when speaking to reporters at the track this afternoon. However he did say, “I don’t feel I have any responsibility, and we don’t feel we have done absolutely anything.”
“I think that one must expect there to be more,” he said. “We originally gave them until [last] Monday to put in all the documents, and then they have asked for more time, which they have been given until the middle of next week. And, we have got no idea what they will produce. But in the nature of things, there are always two sides to a story.”
The FIA investigators, aided by independent investigators Quest, have already spoken to Briatore and Symonds and have submitted that evidence. Reading between the lines, Mosley is suggesting that Renault’s case will need to find more for their defence in the material due shortly.
“We are in a situation at the moment where we have heard one side of the story and have investigated to the best of our ability. Now we are waiting for Renault’s side of the story, and it is only when we have got both sides, and both of them have been heard, that one can actually reach a conclusion, ” he said.
Mosley confirmed that Piquet has been granted immunity from prosecution, much as Fernando Alonso was in 2007 when he was encouraged to come forward with emails which showed that knowledge of the Ferrari data went deeper into McLaren than the team was letting on.
“We have said to him that, and I don’t know exactly how it was phrased, but he has been told that if he tells us the truth then he will not be proceeded against individually. It is exactly the same as it was for Alonso.”
He also said that it is too late to change the result, even if the world council finds against Renault.
Another awkward aspect of this for Renault is that, in the material leaked to Autosport, Symonds says that the meeting did take place, but that it was Piquet who proposed the crash. If this is the case then why didn’t Renault warn the race director that their driver might deliberately crash his car?
And what if the World Council finds that Piquet’s evidence is not trustworthy? Piquet says he deliberately crashed, so surely if Renault are cleared, Piquet’s action deserves a case by itself?
Renault’s 600 employees at Enstone are entitled to feel very nervous about all of this. The team’s future has been in question at several points recently as the car industry suffers heavy losses and on the face of it Renault has the least F1 friendly CEO in Carlos Ghosn.
Once again the livelihoods of a whole team’s employees’ families hang in the balance.