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Briatore and Symonds quit to save Renault F1 team
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Briatore and Symonds quit to save Renault F1 team
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Sep 2009   |  1:17 pm GMT  |  128 comments

Both Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds have resigned their positions at the Renault F1 team over the scandal of Nelson Piquet’s deliberate crash in Singapore last year.

Briatore: Long and controversial F1 career is over

Briatore: Long and controversial F1 career is over

A brief statement from the team at midday today said, “The ING Renault F1 Team will not dispute the recent allegations made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. It also wishes to state that its managing director, Flavio Briatore and its executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, have left the team.”

With the main architects of the ‘plot’ no longer in position and Piquet granted immunity from prosecution, the way is clear for the FIA World Council to deal with the team relatively gently on Monday.

There is no evidence that anyone else was involved. There is little reason for the hearing to take place if the team will not contest the charges and the two principals have already fallen on their swords. There is only the question of punishment. There is no question of throwing the team out of the world championship or hitting them witha $100 million fine, as McLaren was in 2007. There may be a fine to be paid or some sort of minor sentence, but as the management has changed it seems irrelevant to punish the team and other employees who were not in on the plot.

Renault itself has suffered a great deal of bad publicity over this and having now effectively pleaded guilty to the charges, the actions of Symonds and Briatore have put a stain on the company’s reputation. They were responsible for looking after Renault’s brand and reputation through competing in F1 and they did this.

Briatore has thought about stepping down in recent years anyway, but was persuaded by Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn to stay on in the job. As he said at the weekend, at 59 years of age and with so many other business interests, he hardly needs the salary.

However it will be interesting to see whether the FIA decides to ban him and Symonds from involvement in motorsport. Briatore’s company manages the careers of some significant F1 drivers including Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen. If he is banned from F1, he will have to hive off his interest in the management company. Briatore will be able to satisfy his sporting instincts with the Queens Park Rangers’ football, of which he is part owner with Bernie Ecclestone, although relations between the two have suffered over the Singapore situation. Briatore is also set to become a father soon with his wife Elizabeth Gregoracci expecting their first child.

Symonds was offered immunity from prosecution in return for evidence which would convict Briatore, but chose not to take that route, instead falling on his sword and staying loyal to his long time colleague.

For Alonso, whom the stewards have absolved of any involvement in this plot, his name is again stuck to another major F1 scandal, albeit unwittingly this time, coming two years after the McLaren/Ferrari data theft case.

As for the result of the Singapore Grand Prix, at the weekend FIA president Max Mosley said that its too late to change the results of the race.

With Briatore and McLaren’s Ron Dennis having now departed the scene in similar circumstances, there is only Sir Frank Williams of F1’s original big beasts, left in the sport. He has played a different game from his peers in recent years, sided with the FIA over the breakaway and not been a leading rebel in the FOTA breakaway.

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1

It is not just naive neglectful of the sport to say that ‘there is no reason for the hearing to take place now’. What James is completely missing – no doubt because he has been an ‘insider’ for many years and has lost perspective on how the sport looks to the outside – is the way that this looks to the outside world. F1 appears irretrievably mired in corruption now – we have had, in the past few years, Spygate, and much more minor things like Hamilton lying to officials, and now this race-fixing disaster. To suggest, with the statement that ‘the hearing doesn’t need to take place now’, because of Briatore/Symonds resigning is – sorry, but hugely un-self-aware about what has happened. The actual consequences against renault – which I suspect will be very major, if not on the ‘excluding renault from F1’ scale – will show this. You don’t get major consequences at a hearing if ‘the hearing does not need to take place’!

Also, the statement from James here is, sadly, naive in respect of the question marks over Alonso’s involvement or otherwise. Nearly all commentators are wondering if it is possible for Alonso not to have know about the plot – and the key point here is that even if he didn’t know directly about it, but, understandably, got suspicious about the way thigns turned out and didn’t act, that is very damning about him as individual. It may not be palatable for some in the media, who have spent years creating icons out of drivers like Alonso or Shumacher, to have to consider that the people they have built up may not be worthy of that level of respect, but when information suggests this is a possibility, they have to be looked at in a level-headed way. Simply to ignore the fact, as James does here, that there are serious questions hanging around Alonso now, is unfortunately a neglectful representation of the scenario. Again, Alonso has been called to appear before the hearing I understand – a reflection of the fact that suspicions and a certain amount of incredulity are hanging around him and ‘not knowing’.

2

James: Care to comment on the assertion by Planet-F1 that the WMSC currently have no power to take any kind of formal action against either Symonds or Briatore:

http://www.planet-f1.com/story/0,18954,3213_5566622,00.html

If the WMSC really can’t punish either man in any way because they’d preemptively resigned from the team (and their resignations hence allow them to jump straight into other jobs in F1, presuming they can find somebody willing to employ them) – well, then the rules very definitely need changing.

Seems to me that perhaps their resignations were nothing more than an attempt to save their own skins once they realized they’d been well and truly cornered.

3

Yes, this looks like preparing the ground for the licence system I was talking about in a recent post. If they quit they would still be liable to lse their licences under a separate disciplinary hearing. It’s got to be the way to go.

4

Hmm… I wonder how Piquets Jr and Sr feel right now…

5

Looking over their shoulder, I imagine

6

With hindsight, Renault could do little else, as their situation was indefensible.

Can you imagine them going to court with the evidence seen so far? Let’s assume that the events ACTUALLY happened the way Symonds’ leaked statement indicated: the meeting DID happen but it was Piquet’s idea, the idea wasn’t embraced by the team, who only happened to put Alonso in a suitable strategy…

Then, when Piquet shunted the car, Symonds would have known why he did it (unless he and Flav argued that they… forgot about the discussion, and then they also forgot to check the telemetry of the accident!). An honest and… righteous team manager and technical director would have then had a quick discussion, after which they would have told Alonso to retire his car, they would have fired the audacious Piquet before he had a chance to walk back to the pits and told everything to the FIA and the race director.

Everyone would have applauded, FIA would only give the team a caution and/or a suspended 1-race ban or something, while Flavio and Pat would walk up and down the pitlane with their heads held high [cut to them walking into the sunset, cue the music and credits].

I’m sure that would have been the FIA’s position of what SHOULD have happened, assuming Flav and Symonds told the truth. Instead, the Renault team got a win, and partied wildly into the night (Piquet mysteriously being excluded from the celebrations).

So, by firing those involved that were still left in the team, Renault did the only thing they could do.

If they really mean it, they should soon announce that they’re taking legal action against Briatore, Symonds AND Piquet, for tarnishing their company’s name, although I suppose they’d rather forget about it all, as soon as possible…

7

Light sentence? Are you kidding james?

This quite incredible action (by the way, can you or someone remember deliberate crashing in F1 ever before?) cost Felipe Massa the World Championship. It has a direct, measurable effect on the championship. Much, much worse than spygate in my opinion. And very sad for Lewis too.

As for Alonso… they put in a tiny bit of fuel when he starts 15th and he is supposed to “know nothing…”? Yeah, “nothing” just like Manuel in the fab Fawlty Towers episode of the horse bet…” i know nothing, no-thing! I am from Barcellona!” LOL

8

Deliberate crashing yes, team-instructed crashing, not too sure:

Prost-Senna

Senna-Prost

Schumacher-Hill (Flavio-Pat at the helm!)

Schumacher-Villeneuve (Flavio-Pat at the helm!)

Schumacher alone, rascasse

and probably many others

9

September 2008’s crime will be judged in September 2009. After Henry Surtees, after Felipe Massa, after Renault released an unsafe car on the track. That’s bad timing for Renault because safety trumps everything at the moment. The allegations are undisputed so Renault allows the WMSC to accept that the crash was planned in a conspiracy and was deliberate. Given that Renault was nearly suspended for one race for the aforementioned violation, by what factor does Turn 17 multiply the danger and, proportionately, the censure?

Alonso’s massive accident in Brazil (2003?) demonstrates that a subsequent accident can occur long after the initial one and still be potentially fatal when the debris field is confusing.

10

Im for one glad to see the back of Briatore. You can drive for Renault if i can be your manager *wink wink*, his behavior to NPJ was disgusting, i feel for the young man, hopefully the bully will not be back.

11

I feel really bad for a guy like Pat who has done his job all his life with honesty and dignity. I am still not able to believe that Pat Symonds can be a ppart of something like this!

12

Perhaps Formula One should be reclassified as “Sports Entertainment” as per the USA Wrestling where match fixing is the norm.

13

James

I wouldnt be so sure that the outcome on Monday will be light. Mclaren were well and truly beaten up by the WMSC for their behaviour in front of them – quite rightly so. But in this case, there are far more serious issues at play.

Renault are, by todays action, accepting that their management colluded with or ordered a driver to deliberately crash. That in my view would be classified as reckless endangerment under UK law. Other drivers, marshalls and spectators – let alone Junior himself – were put at risk. If, God forbid, someone had been injured or even killed, the repercussions dont even bear thinking about.

Even though Flavio and Pat have been permitted to step aside, Im not sure that is punishment enough. Renault are, afterall, liable for the actions of their senior management. Its why they insure themselves for professional indemnity. Flavio is a bit of a wild card – always has been, and Im a big supporter of the ‘no smoke without fire’ brigade. He came with a degree of shadiness (1994 launch and traction control; the fuel filter issue; the many and varied reports of bullying number 2 drivers etc) – Renault accepted that risk when they hired him, and put him in such a responsible position.

I would expect to see race bans and a considerable financial fine.

14

Yes but McLaren lied at the WMSC first time, Renault have learned from that and taken the opposite approach.

15

James, are you honestly implying that Mclaren were not punished over the spying allegations but for lying?

16

No, they were punished for being found guilty of the charge which was an anti sporting and disrepute charge. The first hearing let them off, the second one hammered them, because they had lied the first time

17

“…there is only Sir Frank Williams of F1’s original big beasts, left in the sport. He has played a different game from his peers in recent years, sided with the FIA over the breakaway and not been a leading rebel in the FOTA breakaway.”

Ha…Ha…nicely put!

In other words Mad Max had the last laugh and purged his enemies. He’s a pretty dispicanle human being is Max but he’s some operator!

I’m sad for Symonds and Briatore. Ok, they weren’t sqeaky clean but Flav in particular was such a character.

18

If Renault was going to leave F1 I would have expected the announcement today. It would have amounted to an even bigger ‘hands up’ to the WMSC and actually would have been good for PR – i.e. we recognise our employees did wrong and so we are withdrawing to take responsibility for their actions.

So I expect Renault to stay whatever the WMSC sanction. I would still expect a hefty fine along the lines of McLaren’s in 2007 – i.e. loss of constructors revenue for 2009 (and possibly last year as well as the Singapore result helped them earn more money last year).

But whether Renault will stay in its current capacity I think is uncertain. Ghosn will be asking whether he needs the hassle of being a full manufacturer team – those days are over since next year the only ‘full’ works teams will be Ferrari and Toyota. The Mercedes relationships with McLaren and Brawn are probably the way forward.

So it would not surprise me to see Reanult reduce its exposure with a joint venture with David Richards and a works engine supply with Williams. I don’t expect a Nissan engine badge.

19

I’m a bit surprised no fight was put up by Briatore and Symonds.

20

Three things:

1. Renault should take reponsability for the actions of its emplyees.

2. As for Symonds integrity, wasn’t he part of Benetton-gate where it was found that Schumacher’s car was equipped with hidden and illegal software designed for launch control?

3. Alonso didn’t know anything? Nothwithsanding his PiquetJr-like behavior during Spy-gate, being given immunity if he revealed everything he knew about a team he despised, either he knew everything, guessed it, or he is a complete moron.

21

Alonso in a recent press briefing: “I may not be the best driver in the world…”, Since when has he been so modest?

Alonso’s butt checks must be clenched so tight he could turn a piece of coal into a diamond.

It must be like a re-enacting of little boy over Hiroshima in the Alonso family bathroom everytime his name gets mentioned in the headlines.

22

I’m not surprised at Briatore. Good riddance. I’m not surprised at Piquet, although I believe this was a massive and fatal error of judgment on his part, hoping to keep his seat. I am quite surprised at Symonds’ involvement, whether he conceived the idea, or whether it was through blind loyalty, or some other pressure. Whatever happens to them now, they will forever be remembered for their involvement in fixing a race. Even their obituaries will manage a comment on “best known for ….”. Some are known for their greatest success. Others for their worst mistake. Briatore should be banned for life … Symonds suspended for some time … Renault suspended from championship next year … Piquet should be fined. Piquet has managed to sully his own name and reputation in 1 event. However bad Sr. was/is, he managed to spread it out. Sad.

23

Renault should take Briatore to court.

24

What I don’t understand is “the way is clear for the FIA World Council to deal with the team relatively gently on Monday.” Surely if there is any justice they should be hit a lot harder than McLaren who never endangered anybodies lives?

25

There has been other incidents with fuel hoses, traction control, boost buttons – this is the world the Piquet crash was born into… only this time it was a step too far (and they got caught!).

Does make you wonder how many times some form of ‘illegal’ race manipulation these two people have concocted over the years, but also provides a sordid glimpse into the fierce F1 world, for sure they are not alone.

But at what cost to win a Grand Prix? How far are you prepared to go…and how easy does it become the more times you do it?

Personally, now they have all resigned from the Renault team or are under FIA protection I cannot see the FIA WMSC meeting being anything more than a slap on the wrist, but then again this is MM quasi-judicial swan song.

As Murray Walker always said, anything can happen in Formula one…. and it usually does!!

26

Piquet’s actions probably cost Massa the title. I wouldn’t want to be around Piquet in Brazil…

27

Ferrari cost Massa the title last year – the blown engine a few laps from the end in Hungary, their mistake during the pitstop in Valencia (went unpunished but was a sign things weren’t right) and then in Singapore.

28

One can’t help wondering how Massa must be feeling about this outcome because he might have won the race and thus the championship had the safety car not been deployed….

29

No, the problem with Massa was the fuel hose and that was an operational issue. If anything it should have been a tad more relaxed pitting under the safety car

30

Adrian you have it completely right sir. Let’s be clear (though I can hardly believe it to be true) The most senior members of an F1 team devised a strategy with the full knowledge that death of somebody connected with the sport was possible (The driver, another driver, a marshall or a spectator). To not come down on the team responsible with the most severe punishment possible is to betray everything to do with safety that the FIA (and many others in the sport) have pushed for. The fact that the two protagonists have left the team is irrelevent. The crime was committed by the team as it is not possible to seperate out the actions of the two top people from the team. I relise a lot of good people are going to be badly affected by this, but remember this – Death could have been an outcome. Had that terrible thing occured, we would now be looking at a criminal investigation.

This is the most serious thing I have ever witnessed in all my years watching F1 and I’ll be honest – I’m not sure right now that I wish to continue to watch. A sport that has become so debased that its competitors can seriously consider a strategy that could quite conceivably kill somebody is in dire straights – to execute that strategy beggars belief. Just what is it that we are watching?

31

Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the FIA’s failure to investigate at the time. There was ample suspicion for them to have done so, and had they looked at the telemetry and interviewed Piquet all this may have been avoided.

Even if Piquet had lied to the FIA at that time that enquiry would have negated the subsequent uproar because Piquets denials would have then neutered any possibility of the subsequent blackmail and Daddy running to the FIA.

It would not of couse excused what happened, but in my view FIA incompetence is to blame for the extensive damage now resulting which could and should have been adressed at the time.

32

Bang on correct. The full tale will be told when sponsors, as many surely will, ask themselves that question in their terms, as in “just what is it that we are paying for?” and start pulling out in response to this sordidness.

33

There is some concensus that as Renault have dispensed with Mssrs Briatore and Symonds, their penalty will be alot more lenient as the sole culprits have now been dispensed with. I think the FIA need to be very careful with the punishment, assuming Renault are found guilty on Monday. There is a growing feeling that if you are caught, make a few sacrifices and the penalty will be much more lenient. Dave Ryan at McLaren is an example.

These people represent the team and as such, should be representing the teams best interests. Team Managers and Directors are the ultimate representatives. Acting on their own initiative is part of their job but it is the team owners that employ them who must take some of the responsibility when things go wrong.

Therefore if the allegations are found to be true, Renaults’ penalty must be significantly greater than that handed to McLaren over the Ferrari spygate affair. To expect leniancy because you have just got rid of the culprits is not on, especially when they have acted on your behalf.

34

I agree – The penalty will be a very difficult decision, especially when everyone will be comparing it to the McLaren saga. Mclaren lying to the council was a serious offence, and here we see Renault complying with the governing body, so perhaps that works in their favour, but fixing a race by crashing on purpose is so much worse than photocopying another teams blueprints.

Piquet, Symonds and Flav should be banned for life. Renault excluded from the 09 championship, plus a significant fine (25m?).

Remember that in the WRC Toyota Team Europe were banned for a year when found to have cheated with a moveable restrictor.

35

Nothing has changed with regards the allegations. No one has admitted race fixing – apart from Piquet of course – and Renault has not admitted to knowing of, nor endorsing, a conspiracy. All they have said is that they will not contest the hearing.

Indeed, one would assume that the only thing they can say is that they knew and know nothing of the conspiracy but found the evidence of their staff’s misbehaviour overwhelming.

Has Flav resigned because of Renault’s decision not to fight the allegations? It would be the thing that a lawyer would suggest he does. He would need to show that he disagreed with the decision not to fight the charge so much that he felt it was the only option open to him. He has much to lose.

Some people might think that Renault have been offered a deal in the matter and they’ve accepted.

Did the offer of immunity light Pat’s fire? If not, was it more attractive to Renault. Was it a case of a simple: if we plead no contest then they’ll go light? Renault have the corporate damage to consider. They must be ‘hoping’ that the WMSC might say that the conspiracy stopped at Flav.

Mosley has made it very plain that Renault would be punished to a greater extent than McLaren. He was hardly equivocal on the point. McLaren, we are told, was fined £100 million, £50 million or some other figure. What flexible fine was going to be aimed at Renault? We don’t know but I bet Renault was fully aware of what the ballpark figure was.

Is this the end? Will Flav go quietly?

There was an allegation against Piquet of blackmail. Renault capitulation, or even Flav admitting partaking in a conspiracy (which he hasn’t done) would not be a bar to the offence. If it happened of course.

I must admit that I can’t see any way Renault would wave the white flag without knowing full well what the WMSC decision as to penalty would be. Exclusion for the balance of the season and loss of points? M Schuey was punished just as lightly for something that in my opinion was much more dangerous – as with Piquet, deliberately causing an accident, but in his case he didn’t choose a concrete wall.

Who would bet against Renault having seen a full transcript of the decision the WSMC will make on Monday?

I wonder which side is the most relieved that the full facts will now not be released to the public.

Deal or no deal? As in the television game, it’s pretty pointless asking.

I feel drained.

36

I’m with you son. Thanks as usual for your great posts.

The no contest plea by Renault Corporate is distasteful. If you are not guilty, you should put the prosecution to its proof.

Regardless, this does not automatically let Symonds or Briatore off the FIA hook. Corporations throw employees, ESPECIALLY senior managers, to the wolves all the time. Whether they quit on their own, or were given an offer they couldn’t refuse by the Board, B/S are now in that position. The FIA (I can’t BELIEVE I’m defending them) would be wholly justified in calling them to Monday’s hearing. Notwithstanding their now ex-employee status, they can, and should, be subject to trial in their individual capacities.

Even though the sporting/regulatory issues are the limit of FIA jurisdiction, this episode is NOT just about race fixing. Lives were put at risk. That’s reason enough to prevent B/S (and P) from riding into the sunset unscathed except for $, embarrassment and a ban from the sport. Putting them to the further embarrassment of answering embarrassing questions at the hearing is the LEAST that can be done. As a matter of fact, it would be nice if they could be made to do so live on TV — exactly as most of the participants in the original (Water)gate. And remember, we have yet to hear whether or not Singapore authorities have or will open a criminal investigation on this business.

In the end, that the Pirahnna Club has just about eaten itself up is a good thing anyway. Time now to restock the pond. Of the fish currently left in the pond, who now eats whom? di Montezemelo and Ferrari will survive; without them F1 = F3 in terms of prestige. My guess is that Bernie will be Max’s next meal: He’s lined up opposite Max one too many times in the last couple of years. Three-to-one he pulls something out of his hat at the 11th hour to invalidate Bernie’s 100-year lease of commercial rights.

Up until he feels Max’s teeth, though, Bernie’s probably loving the publicity. This scandal made the national evening news here in the U.S. Better ratings than he gets for the races themselves, surely.

37

I heard that James was thinking of taking on the team himself! is this true James.. because if so I know my way around an F1 car lol.

38

I’m happy with what I do in F1, thanks

39

Just occurred to me: What are the chances of Renault F1 becoming Nissan F1? Renault aren’t really known for high-performance, and Nissan with the GT-R would to be a better fit.

One can dream eh? 🙂

40

Wonderful blog James, keep up the nice work.

I wonder if he also has to sell his interest in QPR due to the Fit and Proper Persons’ Test? http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/eng_prem/6923831.stm

I can only imagine the legal troubles Briatore/renault would be in if this grand prix was somewhere in Europe…

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