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Briatore determined to overturn FIA lifetime ban
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Briatore determined to overturn FIA lifetime ban
Posted By: James Allen  |  29 Nov 2009   |  9:50 am GMT  |  39 comments

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: Not finished with F1 yet (Darren Heath)

Briatore: Not finished with F1 yet (Darren Heath)

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.

FIA FLAG
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.

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39 Comments
  1. Simon Lake says:

    James, can you think of a plausible scenario that fits the facts already known that would lead to Briatore’s appeal being successful?

    AFAIK Piquet and Symonds have already admitted that the crash was deliberate. Symonds and Witness X have admitted that the crash was discussed at a meeting where Briatore was present.

    It appears as though Briatore and Symonds are having their cases presented together, so presumably Briatore is not disputing anything that has been said by Symonds.

    So Briatore’s defense must be that Piquet hatched the crash plan himself and, despite being told in the meeting not to go ahead with it, crashed anyway.

    If there was even a hint that this could be the truth, how has Piquet not been sanctioned in any way thus far?

  2. Chris says:

    I wonder if renaults hesitancy to commit and the impending appeal, where new evidence could be brought to light are linked??? Is this a possibility James??

    1. James Allen says:

      THe hearing has happened, there wasn’t any new evidence as far as I’m aware.

  3. rpaco says:

    The irony here is that after complaining that the FIA are both the investigating and the judiciary body, he (Flav) then goes to the French legal system which operates in the same way with judges appointing approving and directing the police investigations!

    Quite frankly I wouldn’t believe a word either Flav or Max said. I think the sport is far better of without either of them. Pat on the other hand, is a sad omission, though just as guilty.

    One must wonder why Flav is asking for so low a sum in damages, is this to appear reasonable? There is something not right about that, He must have made far more than €1m per year from his FIA connected dealings, probably tens of times that, In fact if he is on 20% of Mark Webber’s fee, that alone would put him well on the way to €1m. No I suspect it is him saying look I am only asking for a pittance, I am reasonable, please let me back in.

    Suppose the French court does rule in his favour, than what? The FIA is a sporting body what influence does a court have over it? If he is allowed back who would want to work with him? I suppose anyone desperate for a drive or for money, with what used to be called LMF (lack of moral fibre) Sorry but whatever the French court is coerced into doing, in my book Renault and the FIA were both right. It’s not as if he will starve or be without a place to live, or a gin palace to pose in.

    Has anyone missed him? I have not heard a single mention of his name in any commentary or pre or post race analysis or from any of the pundits.

    I would just mention that he has already broken or at least bent, the FIA ruling by being seen with Bernie, he is supposed to have nothing to do with anything connected with FIA controlled sport and Bernie most definitely is, in fact you can’t get much more connected to the FIA than Bernie.

    If Renault do sell up I would hope that Flav is the last person they would sell to, they did sack him for gross misconduct remember. He is one of those who think they are above the law and if he is allowed to come back it will be proved that he is.

    1. James Allen says:

      Rpaco, see my reply to your comment in the post about the book, You win a free one as the person who has sent in the most comments to the site this year

      1. rpaco says:

        That’s brilliant, thanks James.

  4. Spyros says:

    Mr. Todt seemed determined to put the array of FIA/F1 scandals behind us all – and as they go, Briatore’s was a pretty big one.

    For F1′s sake, I hope they don’t do anything stupid.

  5. VicWeir says:

    I would like to comment on Pat Symonds’ role in the strategy adopted by him at the 2008 Singapore GP.
    He said at the outset it was Piquet Jnr’s idea. Since he admitted and took full blame for everything else I cannot understand why he would say that if it weren’t true. The damage in all senses was done.
    But, to my mind, more important than the incident itself at least for F1, is the underlying reason for a man such as Symonds, one of the most respected people in the sport, noted for his intelligence and integity, to have executed such an action!
    Renault was enjoying a poor year in ’08, presumably issues were brewing with its sponsors, maybe even the mother company. I can well believe there was stress within the team -but to require a driver deliberately to crash a car, endangering life? IS it possible the ‘crash’ was executed a little too well? Certainly Symonds sounded very anxious for Piquet’s condition, asking twice, urgently, how he was.
    I would be very interested, James, when you have time, to hear what you think the pressures are within F1 that make even the most honourable resort to such extremes.

  6. F1 Kitteh says:

    Nice analysis. I don’t really see the door of Renault selling to Flav as totally slammed shut though. Its a business between two businessman, dollar and cents counts for more than past grudges, especially if Ghosn knows deep down that it was Piquets’ (note ..which one?) idea and not Flav/Symonds. Besides, does anyone believe that Flav would not do a better job at running the team than some corporate type from Renault? I think its better for Renault to cut the ties and move on, its better for everyone involved, the sport, and the employees..
    Initally I though Flav’s best chance would lay with a civil court, but now it could be thrown out on technicalities. Given the circumstances lately (Toyota/Bridgestone gone, Renault non committal), maybe he should have heeded Mr E’s advice and got this done behind the scenes at the FIA who would likely have let him back in the game in order to save the team? Wouldn’t it be ironic if he does end up buying and running the team, Piquet gets a drive and Renault stays as supplier? How do we get Max to un-retire?

  7. Just a bloke says:

    For me the long term issue is that a team manager /principal/Director etc. should not be able to represent a driver. There is the potential for this to be a clear conflict on interest.

    As far as Crashgate goes if FB, who was NPj’s manager, did know about the incident in advance then he is guilty on two counts;

    -in the capacity of driver manager, he was most certainly not acting in the best interests of NPj.

    -in the capacity of team principal he was not acting in the best interests of Renault as it should have been obvious the truth would come out with consequential reputation damage.

    How I have no idea how to calibrate a punishment. Stepneygate, Renault/McLaren spy gate, Ferrari/McLaren Spygate, Toyota Rally Turbo tinkering all were serious transgressions with very different punishments.

    Any thoughts?

    1. rpaco says:

      You are dead right, the conflict is so obvious that it is strange there is nothing against it in the FIA general International Sporting code. Have to admit here that I’ve not yet read it (It not being as exciting as the tech regs or the Ludlum I am currently reading) But it seems that a conflict would be inevitable at some point.

      In theory, with team rules not allowed though why should there be a conflict? But the rules are written with the somewhat Germanic assumption that everyone will obey and be upright in their intentions.

      I would say here that having team rules banned does not allow a team fully to deploy their resources. :-)

      1. rpaco says:

        Couldn’t force myself to read it, but I have now searched the ISC but neither the word manager nor conflict appears in it at all.
        Maybe all tha tis either covered eleswhere or just not covered at all. (like wheel spinners ;-))

  8. artorwar says:

    Wow, this is really rumbling on, I didn’t expect Flav to call it a day so easily. Dont expect him to clear his name 100% but if I’m honest his ban compared to NP is a huge over reaction. Oh well, this is why we love this sport haha. Bring on the next episode of the soap opera….

  9. Richard Mee says:

    Apart from everything else. I actually find it quite distasteful that this man’s enormous ego won’t accept that he’s done racing.

  10. Josh says:

    Flavio will be back… Watch this space.

  11. Mike from Medellin, Colombia says:

    I think that Bernie is also behaving despicably in this case. There is one rule for friends and another for others. No doubt Flavio’s return will be engineered by BCE.

    Renault may want to pull out of F1 but selling the team to someone who has been dismissed by the company and condemned as a cheat would be a PR disaster for them and a terrible way to exit the sport.

    At least Symonds had the dignity to admit he cheated. Flavio has denied his involvement and then emotionally blackmailed his friend Ecclestone to find a way back into F1.

  12. raffamuffin says:

    No, no, no! I thought we were getting RID of the cheats in F1 not trying to bring them back! Let’s move forward not backwards…

    1. Andy Fov says:

      Who are you talking about here, Schumi or Flav? ;-)

  13. Mike from Medellin, Colombia says:

    James, is there any possibility of Max Mosley being called to testify? Could the FIA call Briatore to testify.

    I know that Max is a formidable debater and it would be electrifying to see him in court.

    Not to take the shine away from your book (which I ordered by the way)….but any info on when Max’s memoirs may be released? He promised to reveal whodunnit…

    1. James Allen says:

      Some time off yet. I think the case is done, no more testimony etc

  14. jose says:

    I hope they give briatore and the rest good justice. A lifetime ban is excessive. The same with mclaren in 2007. This was mosley personal vendetta, in both cases.
    Now that max is somewhere getting spanked, let’s try to act like sportsmen, for a change.

  15. Stu says:

    Going to a French court didn’t work out for Ferrari or N Technology so I’d be suprised if they went against the FIA on this one. Although he hardly had a “fair trial”.

    Out of curiosity, does Flav have any dealings with GP2 or the soon to be GP3?

    1. rpaco says:

      If you refuse to attend the trial to offer any defence you can’t then complain if you are convicted. (Unless you are a flamboyant Italian I suppose)

  16. carlm21 says:

    I hope everything stays the same and Briatore is banned, just as he deserves. It sends a big message to the formula one world, cheat and you will be heavily banned.

  17. rpaco says:

    A plea from the illiterate and those wiht dyslexic fingers.

    James is it possible to add the facility to review/edit one’s post before submitting it?

    No doubt many will have noticed that my fingers become often become disconnected from my brain when typing and seem to go off on their own adventures into the middle of a word three ahead.
    Plus they continually run th efirst letter of the next word on th eend of this one and th elas tof this onto the start of th enext.
    Thus preview/edit would a blessing.

    1. Rich C says:

      As long as they’re not disconnected from your *hand you should be ok!
      Ofc you *could just slow down now that you have won the World Posting Championship! ;D

  18. bwana says:

    F1 is really not considering its fans.
    We watch a sham of a race and the justice we get is Briatore back as a team boss + 1mil and Nelson puttering around in a Campos!

  19. Aaron James says:

    Whatever the merits of the FIA’s decision making process (and there aren’t many) I can’t help but think they made the *right* decision. Whether they reached it the right way I think is fair to debate.

    I find it very troubling that a man who put a driver’s (and even more so, one he personally managed) life in to jeopardy, those of other drivers, track marshalls and not least the public could be allowed to return to the sport.

    Briatore we know is a terribly unsavoury character. Not that that precludes someone being involved in F1. But the very fact he not only signed off on the plan to cheat Renault’s way to victory in Singapore, but particularly in the way that they did it should.

    His policy of managing the drivers that had Renault seats should never have been permitted.

    Just consider if Piquet had of been hurt. Or worse. A track marshall? As we sadly saw with Surtees and Massa, this can happen easily enough without people _deliberately_ pranging their cars.

    Briatore deserves his life-time ban. And while I have always admired him, Pat Symonds deserves his ban too. Indeed the only real travesty in all of this is that Piquet himself didn’t get punished.

    Briatore as the boss, had ultimate responsibility in all this. It’s not even like with McLaren in 2007 where there was the argument it was a rogue set of employees doing naughty things. Briatore not only knew of what Symonds and Piquet intended to do, but gave his approval.

    He should never be permitted to have anything to do with motorsport ever again.

  20. Paige Michael-Shetley says:

    Regardless of what happens in Briatore’s case, one point which very much needs to be addressed by the FIA is the “multiple hats” role that Briatore played as a team principal, driver manager, and F1 commercialite (i.e., owning the television rights in Spain, so as to capitalize on Alonso). There’s no reason for any one person in F1 to a) have so much power and b) have so many conflicts of interest.

    I can very much see Renault selling the F1 team in Enstone and maintaining their engine supply operation. They’d be foolish not to stay in as engine suppliers, especially with the guarantee that their engines will be used by what is now one of F1′s top teams, Red Bull, and that their apparent fuel mileage advantage will be a major performance one that will presumably be frozen in for a number of years. In all honesty, history has shown that manufacturers are at their best in F1 as engine suppliers, not as teams. (Exception- Ferrari)

  21. Chris says:

    James, what do you think is the real motivation of this appeal? Is it to be able to hold on to some of the priviledges that come with remaining part of the F1 circus (such as his driver management role)? Is it to score some points against the outcome that has been probably produced by Max?
    By going to a civil court probably he is making a mistake as he can not count on the support of Bernie and even lifting the ban will probably not lift the stench of this scandal meaning that he will be unemployable to F1 because of his association to the Singapore race fixing. I am sure that despite his obvious marketing abilities, a lot of the stakeholders will not want to be associated with him.

    To be honest, I would like him to remain outside F1 even if he was not the one behind the race fixing (which I am inclined to believe as I can not see the motivation for him to do it). He has given already too many indications that he is a person that should not be around a sport/business.

    1. James Allen says:

      Multiple reasons, including to clear his name, avoid problems with the ownership of the football team. He has never admitted responsibility – Pat Symonds has – and Symonds has never said Briatore was involved. Piquet and Witness X said Briatore was involved and Renault kicked him out after an internal investigation.

  22. john g says:

    this was always going to happen – britore has claimed innocence from the start, even after all the evidence came out. i just wonder, if he comes back, what happens to witness ‘come on fisi keep pushing mate’ x…?

    1. adam says:

      A little bird tells me Nigel Permane’s CV is doing the rounds.

      1. James Allen says:

        You mean Alan Permane? Of Renault?

  23. Werewolf says:

    My feeling is that Briatore has a good case against the FIA because it has exceeded its authority and probably breached the principles of natural justice. Briatore’s own guilt is, unfortunately, another matter entirely.

    The idea that Briatore’s (effective) lifetime ban is ‘administrative’ rather than ‘disciplinary’ is even more poorly founded, in my opinion. This suggests the FIA has the right to interfere with other organisations contracts and business relationships and to exercise a veto over their employees. I don’t think so.

    The FIA needs to license senior figures in much the same way as it does drivers. This would solve many of today’s problems and give a workable and visible framework for policing management and design.

    1. Rudy Pyatt says:

      Right as usual ‘wolf. For the FIA to say that Briatore’s right to cross examine witnesses and present a defense wasn’t violated is laughable. Even though the federation named Renault as a defendant, the FIA acted against Briatore; so he was obviously the real party in interest.

      Renault had a duty to protect Renault and no obligation to any individual employee (Briatore). This is THE classic conflict of interest, and the very reason why individual defendants obtain seperate counsel from that of their employers in civil and criminal cases against corporations.

      On this basis alone (as you say, putting aside ultimate guilt or innocence), he should have strong grounds for appeal, to the extent that he might at least get a rehearing – IF this does in fact violate EU laws and regulations. If and the verdict is overturned, and a rehearing ordered, must it be retried by the FIA? I’m wondering who would have jurisdiction otherwise.

      1. Rich C says:

        Since this is/was not a *legal matter, strictly speaking, the discussion of ‘rights’ really does not apply. It was an internal function by a ‘private’ organization. Which I think makes it a ‘civil’ matter. I think as such there are a limited number of grounds for action. Napolionic law systems may see it differently though.

      2. rpaco says:

        Firstly; Briatore chose not to turn up for the hearing and therefore cannot complain that he was denied the opportunity to cross examine witnesses. He could have gone and defended himself, but his advisors no doubt though (probably quite rightly) he would do his case more harm than good.

        Secondly; if you decide to make your living in an area which is totally controlled by one authority and whose very terms of admittance implicitly specify your acceptance of said total authority, then you cannot expect to be able to go outside it to complain. Flav should have gone through the FIA appeal process if he felt he had even half a leg to stand on. (a knee perhaps) The fact that rightly he may become disqualified from his position in football is incidental and a consequence of of his FIA rule breaking and bringing the sport into serious disrepute.
        If he is innocent, let him prove it to the FIA and let all the evidence be published.

        Just to clarify, the ISCode starts off as follows:

        “1. International regulations of motor sport
        The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, hereafter termed
        the FIA, shall be the sole international sporting authority entitled
        to make and enforce regulations for the encouragement and
        control of automobile competitions and records, and to organise
        FIA International Championships and shall be the final
        international court of appeal for the settlement of disputes arising
        therefrom; it being acknowledged that the Fédération
        Internationale Motocycliste shall exercise the same powers
        insofar as vehicles with one, two and three wheels are concerned.”

        Then much later after a jalfreisi with onion bhaji, bomay aloo, keema nan and pilau rice, the bit affecting Flav:

        123. Joint responsibility of competitor and driver
        The entrant (see Articles 68 and 69) shall be responsible for all
        acts or omissions on the part of their driver, mechanic, or
        passengers, but each of these shall be equally responsible for
        any breach of this Code or of the national rules of the ASN
        concerned.

        If you decide to take up sailing as a profession, do you expect to be able to overrule the established international sailing competition body? Conversely do you expect a French court to decide that you must use yellow sails or can only tack to port on Thursdays. Or for any other court to interfere.

        Suppose Flav wins (perish the thought) it means that the FIA is not in control of the sport. Ok they have made some breathtakingly bad moral decisions which are deeply disturbing and do not sit well upon their shoulders; in particular in establishing the principle that if you own up and can shop your boss and a few others you will get immunity. That obviously needs to be changed, and is a sad reflection of the American judicial influence on morality (plea bargaining/immunity) invading the sport. BUT they (the FIA) are still the governing body, if you don’t accept that, then don’t play in their sport.

  24. The Limit says:

    I can’t see Briatore’s case holding much water. The facts are that Briatore, and Pat Symonds, were found guilty of cheating and were punished. In many ways, Renault sacrificed the two of them to avoid a huge McLaren scale fine from the FIA which would have surely been handed out if they had stayed.
    Briatore’s only opportunity maybe to get back into the role of drivers manager in years to come, but that too may prove a rocky road to walk upon.

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