The Renault team has been summoned to appear before an extraordinary gathering of the World Council on September 21st, the Monday before Singapore, to answer a charge of bringing the sport into disrepute.
It is alleged that the team conspired with its number two driver Nelson Piquet, to crash his car at last year’s Singapore Grand Prix to help its lead driver Fernando Alonso, win.
It is a very serious charge and one which carries a range of punishments from fines to exclusion from the world championship. McLaren faced a similar charge over the Ferrari spy allegations and was fined a record $100 million.
The way this works is a bit like the Crown Prosecution service in the UK, which liaises with the police service to assess whether there is enough evidence to prosecute. The FIA has had an enquiry force looking into the Renault case for some time, I understand. This is not something which has been launched in the last few weeks.
To proceed in this way the FIA must feel that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute. To get a conviction, the evidence must add up to prove that the competitor has committed, “Any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally.” This is quite a wide definition, but the burden of proof is on the FIA’s side, not on Renault to prove that it is innocent.
‘New evidence’ came to light recently which seems to have hastened the move to hear the case in front of the world council. With Nelson Piquet being dropped from the team amid acrimonious circumstances, there is a suspicion that he may have acted as a “whistle-blower”. But no evidence of this has been made public so far.
Interestingly both candidates to replace Max Mosley as president of the FIA, advocate a total change to the disciplinary system and will not use the World Council for hearing cases like this in future. So it could be the last time that an extraordinary world council is called for this purpose.
There are some suggestions that, as part of its investigations, the FIA has been looking at other instances, involving Renault, but these were not mentioned in today’s statement.
With Ferrari on the verge of announcing Fernando Alonso as one of its drivers for 2010, either in Monza next week, or possibly at the end of the season, it will be very interesting to see what whether Alonso was a knowing participant – should the case be proven – and what would happen next.