THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sep 21, 2009
PARIS–Nelson Piquet Jr. wishes every day he had refused orders to deliberately crash at a race.
The fallout from that incident hit Monday, when Formula One spared his former team severe punishment but indefinitely banned the disgraced official who called for the crash.
Renault received a suspended ban; the team would be permanently disqualified from the sport if it breaks the FIA's rules within the next two years. Flavio Briatore, who quit as team principal last week, was banned indefinitely from F1 activities by the World Motor Sport Council. Engineering executive director Pat Symonds, who also left Renault last week, was banned for five years after expressing his "eternal regret and shame" that he participated in the conspiracy.
"We gave them a suspended sentence because Renault demonstrated that the team had no responsibility and the company even less,'' FIA president Max Mosley said.
Piquet, who received immunity from FIA, was ordered to crash at last year's Singapore Grand Prix to help teammate Fernando Alonso win.
"I bitterly regret my actions to follow the orders I was given," Piquet said in a statement. "I wish every day that I had not done it. I don't know how far my explanation will go to making people understand because for many being a racing driver is an amazing privilege, as it was for me.''
The introduction of the safety car on the 13th lap after Piquet's crash helped Alonso win the race, as he had just made an early pit stop and could move up the field when the other cars had to refuel.
Alonso, who attended the hearing in Paris, was cleared of any wrongdoing.
"He answered all the questions and demonstrated that he had no responsibility in the case," Mosley said.
FIA described the scandal as being of "unparalleled severity,'' but the departure of Renault's top two men meant the team avoided being thrown out of F1 or handed a heavy fine, although it will pay for the investigation. By comparison, McLaren Mercedes was handed a record $100 million fine two years ago after being found guilty of using Ferrari secret data to enhance its own cars' performances.
"Renault F1's breaches not only compromised the integrity of the sport but also endangered the lives of spectators, officials, other competitors and Nelson Piquet Jr. himself," FIA said.
Renault team president Bernard Rey did not respond to a question about whether Renault would stay in the sport next season, but Mosley said that the French team's representatives "gave us the impression that they will stay in the sport.''
The Renault scandal is the latest in a series of controversies in F1. The year began with challenges over the legality of several cars, including pacesetting Brawn GP, under new technical regulations.
Soon after, defending F1 champion Lewis Hamilton of McLaren admitted to deliberately misleading a steward's inquiry. That prompted the departure of the team's sporting director, Dave Ryan, while team boss Ron Dennis also stepped aside.
The Formula One Teams Association also threatened to quit F1 and launch its own series, the culmination of a power struggle that characterized the often antagonistic relationship between the teams and the sport's officials.
Two constructors have pulled out of Formula One in recent months – with Honda stopping its activities last December and BMW announcing that it will quit at the end of the season.
"We informed the FIA last week that we would not defend the charges and we accepted our responsibilities in relation to the incident in Singapore and we immediately took appropriate action inside the team," Rey said. "Today, we fully accept the decision of the council. We apologize unreservedly to the F1 community in relation to this unacceptable behaviour.
"We sincerely hope that we can soon put this matter behind us and focus constructively on the future.''
After apologizing before members of the World Motor Sport Council, Piquet said he was relieved by the investigation's outcome.
"I do not expect this to be forgiven or forgotten," he said, ``but at least now people can draw their conclusions based upon what really happened.''
The 24-year-old Brazilian driver, the son of three-time world champion Nelson Piquet, criticized Briatore.
"All I can tell you is that my situation at Renault turned into a nightmare," said Piquet, who joined Renault at the start of the 2008-09 season before being fired in July. "Having dreamed of being a Formula One driver and having worked so hard to get there, I found myself at the mercy of Mr. Briatore. His true character, which had previously only been known to those he had treated like this in the past, is now known.''
The ban could endanger Briatore's co-ownership of second-tier English soccer club Queens Park Rangers. Football League rules say that the owner, prospective owner or director of a club should not be "subject to a ban from a sports governing body relating to the administration of their sport.''