Flavio Briatore was not present in court this week in Paris to hear the case from his lawyer as to why his lifetime ban from F1 should be overturned. The former Renault F1 team boss is also seeking damages of €1 million and his former executive director of engineering Pat Symonds is seeking €500,000 and a reversal of his five year ban over the Singapore race fixing case. So will they get their way?
Briatore’s case was heard by the Tribunal de Grand Instance. His lawyer argued that the FIA World Motor Sport Council was both the investigating and judging body and based much of his case on the statement by Abu Dhabi WMSC member Mohammed Bin Sulayem that the decision was made before the WMSC hearing took place.
“In 2009 there were so many problems in F1 that it was hard not to imagine a settling of scores,” said the lawyer, Philippe Ouakrat, referring to Briatore’s prominent role in the FOTA breakaway threat and calls for a change of governance at the FIA. The lawyer said that the evidence against Briatore was not conclusive spoke about the crucial role of the mysterious Witness X, believed to be one of the senior Renault engineers, in condemning Briatore. Witness X was not present in court and so could not be cross examined.
As for Renault’s own internal investigation, on the strength of which both Briatore and Symonds were dismissed, Ouakrat referred to a series of letters between the FIA and Renault in which he alleges that the FIA steered Renault into agreeing to Briatore’s involvement under pressure.
Briatore denies strenuously that he was involved in the Singapore crash plot and claims that this is a settling of scores by former FIA president Max Mosley. Since the case was heard the FIA has a new president in Jean Todt and it will be interesting to see how the FIA plays this one, given that a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the WMSC reached its decision.
For a while he and Bernie Ecclestone fell out over the matter, Briatore unhappy at the lack of support from his old friend, but things seem to be well and truly patched up now. I’m reliably informed that the pair were out together this weekend enjoying a Friday night on the town in London, dining at Cipriani restaurant in Mayfair. Ecclestone advised him not to go the legal route but to use the FIA appeal court route.
Symonds position is different from Briatore’s; he wrote a letter to the WMSC admitting his guilt, albeit saying that it was the idea of Nelson Piquet Jr at the outset and expressing his regret at ruining his reputation.
In response to Briatore’s case, the FIA lawyer said that Briatore’s right of defence had not been violated as Renault had been the defendant, not the team boss. He said that the appeal court route was open to them if they wanted to prove that they were not involved. He said that it had been an “administrative decision” by a sporting body, not a disciplinary matter.
The judge will take a month and a half to consider all of this and will publish his decision on 5 January.
Briatore is anxious to clear his name. Should he be cleared, what would his next course of action be? Renault has already said that it wants to move on, to re-establish the Renault brand in F1, which had got lost beneath Briatore’s brand. But at the same time Renault president Carlos Ghosn has been sounding a negative tone on the sport lately. A decision on its involvement is due at the end of the year. After all that has happened and the damage caused, would he sell the team to Briatore to ‘do a Brawn’ and let the team race as an independent? Surely not. Renault is apparently committed to building and supplying engines nest season, which is a relief to Red Bull.
If Briatore can clear his name this is not the moment for a man like him to walk away from F1. There is money to be made, with the prospect of teams being able to operate at a profit due to reduced costs and increased revenues. Briatore has the road map for F1 and would see the next five years as a great opportunity.
Certainly the team is a more saleable set up than Toyota, which is offering a lease deal on its facilities to a Serbian group and a sale of Renault’s Enstone operation would avoid the difficulties of the company extricating itself from its obligations under the Concorde Agreement.
Renault did not contest the charges of race fixing and is living with the collateral damage to its brand image from that admission of guilt. The difficulty of finding sponsors as a result and the ongoing difficulties in the world car market may drive them out of the sport. Also Renault’s strategy seems to be a strong move into electric vehicles and sustainable transport and F1 is not particularly well aligned with that.
Meanwhile the FIA has had some success in court already this week, winning the case brought by N Technology into the way that the new teams were selected.