Flavio Briatore and his former Renault colleague Pat Symonds have won their court case against the FIA in Paris. The judge has ordered that the bans against both men must be lifted and has ordered the FIA to send out a message to all teams to that effect. It has 15 days in which to do so. The FIA has indicated that it may well appeal.
The subsequent FIA hearing into the affair ended with Briatore being banned from motor sport for life and Symonds for five years. But Briatore felt that the case was not handled correctly by the FIA, then under the control of Max Mosley and rather than appeal through FIA channels, as his friend Bernie Ecclestone urged him to do, he took his case to the Tribune de Grande Instance in Paris. Briatore said his right to a fair defence to the charges was flouted.
Although Briatore has won big, he has not been awarded the damages he was hoping for. He was seeking €1 million in damages from the FIA but the judge has awarded him €15,000 and Symonds €5,000.
Although the verdict is made public, under French law the reasons are kept private, but more details may emerge later if Briatore’s lawyer speaks to the media.
Briatore is likely to return to F1 immediately through his driver management business which looks after Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Lotus F1’s Heikki Kovalainen. The question is whether Briatore will be satisfied with that or whether he might move to take control of another team. With the cost control agreement, for which he fought so hard, now in place it is possible for a well run team to be profitable and Briatore has always been good at finding sponsors.
Although the ban has been lifted, the question of his guilt over the crash fixing allegations remains. The court said that the sanction was lifted. If he is neverthless guilty what will the sanction be?
Unlike Symonds, who admitted guilt, Briatore always denied the allegations and there is only the word of Piquet and Witness X to implicate Briatore. Although an internal Renault investigation is thought to have concluded that Briatore was responsible and he and Symonds left the team before the FIA hearing, it will be interesting to see how the FIA perceives his status now. The lifting of the ban will help him maintain his director’s role at his football team QPR.
A few hours before the verdict was announced, Renault took the step of announcing that 36 year old Frenchman Eric Boullier has taken over Briatore’s old role as Renault team principal.
Boullier is rising star of French motorsport management. He has worked at DAMS GP2 team and was the boss of the French team in A1 GP. He moved to Gravity Sports Management last year, which is linked with tech investor Gerard Lopez, who acquired a controlling interest in the UK based team at Christmas.
Boullier revealed that the budget is fixed for 2010 and that the second driver would have to be someone “able to score points and challenge Robert Kubica.”
Kubica’s manager Daniele Morelli revealed yesterday that his concerns about the new owners of the team had been answered and confirmed that his driver would stay with Renault despite the change of ownership.
“We are going in the right direction,” said Morelli. “There were no doubts, really, but it was very important we understood who were in the key roles in the team and of course also the budget – it is fundamental you have that for the updates to the car.”
The second Renault seat is now probably the most competitive seat still open for the 2010 season. Gravity has some drivers under contract but they are probably all too inexperienced at this stage, with the possible exception of GP2 driver Jerome D’Ambrosio, who was ninth in last season’s GP2 series with no wins. Bertrand Baguette, the Belgian driver who tested for Renault at the Young Guns test in November and who won last year’s World Series by Renault (as Kubica did) remains an outside chance.
BBC revealed before Christmas that Lopez had introduced Boullier to the staff and he has now been at work for a few weeks. “When I started in the job it quickly became clear that the staff’s morale had been affected by the end of the 2009 season and that the last few weeks had been quite challenging, ” said Boullier. “However, the team is now very motivated thanks to the new philosophy that the Renault F1 Team wants to implement.
“I will concentrate solely on the sporting and performance aspects. Bob Bell will oversee the Design Office, Production and the technical development of the car.”