Flavio Briatore has struck an out of court deal with the FIA whereby the governing body withdraws its appeal against his successful challenge of a lifetime ban over the Singapore crash affair and allows him to return to F1 in 2013.
In return he accepts responsibility for the Singapore crash as the boss of the Renault team, but accepts no personal guilt. Former Renault engineering director Pat Symonds has a similar deal, even though he accepted guilt at the time. He has made it clear, however that the deal allows him to act as a consultant to a team in the interim.
A statement from Briatore this evening said that he had “Informed the FIA of his intention not to undertake any operational role in Formula One before the end of 2012, nor in any other FIA Championship, before the end of the Racing Season 2011.
“He confirmed his acceptance to bear his share of responsibility in the Singapore events in his capacity of Managing Director of the Renault F1 Team, at the time they happened, without any admission of a personal guilt in these events and without any recognition of the fact that the decision of the World Council rendered against him would have been well-founded. ”
According to the FIA, Briatore was, “Recognising his share of responsibility for the deliberate crash involving the driver Nelson Piquet Junior at the 2008 Grand Prix of Singapore, as “Team Principal” of Renault F1 where Mr Flavio Briatore is concerned, they have expressed their regrets and presented their apologies to the FIA. ”
The key to the breakthrough in the case possibly lies in the final paragraph of the FIA’s statement, where it says, “The FIA President has considered that it is in the best interests of the FIA not to allow the perpetuation of these legal disputes, which have received a great deal of media coverage and which, regardless of the outcome, are very prejudicial to the image of the FIA and of motor sport, and thus to accept this settlement solution, thereby putting an end to this affair. ”
This looks like another piece of Jean Todt pragmatism and of his light touch, in contrast to his predecessor as FIA President. As a long time survivor in the Piranha tank of F1 politics, Todt knows that, as it says in the Art of War, you only pick the battles you know you can win.
Although the FIA World Council mandated Todt to pursue justice in this case at its most recent meeting in March, clearly this was going nowhere and was only going to cause more damage, so both sides have reached a deal. The FIA has also agreed to drop the case against the pair in perpetuity, so even if new evidence comes to light in future there will be no further prosecution.
This is an unsatisfactory outcome in many ways as it means that no-one has been properly prosecuted for the worst piece of cheating in the sport’s history. The FIA has had to accept that this has more to do with the unusual way in which the FIA disciplinary system was structured under Mosley than anything else and take it on the chin.
The driver, Nelson Piquet walked away with immunity and the FIA could find no evidence of anyone else involved beyond Symonds and Briatore, who has always denied it. Symonds pleaded guilty in a statement during the trial and said that the incident had destroyed his reputation. But he has since benefitted from Briatore’s chutzpah and legal challenge. He is known to be keen to get back into F1 as soon as possible and one would imagine teams will be fighting over themselves in two years time to hire one of the most savvy operators in the sport.
Todt, hosted a press meeting in Bahrain, which I attended, at which he and one of his deputies, Graham Stoker, made it clear that the new regime planned to make the disciplinary process more transparent than it was under Max Mosley, who prosecuted Briatore in this case. The crucial separation now is that the president can call for a disciplinary process, but can have no part in the judging of it.
The timing of the end of Briatore’s exile is interesting and possibly significant, as the current Concorde Agreement runs to the end of 2012 and a new one will be in place by the start of the 2013 season. Quite how (and if) Briatore fits into that picture either on the team side or on the commercial side, will be interesting to see.