Tricky decision for FIA in Renault “Crashgate”

REN2008040470129 PVWhy Renault probe could mean unprecedented action from the FIA.

In the next few weeks the F1 world will discover if Renault fixed the result of the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix last season.

It is alleged that Renault senior management ordered junior driver Nelson Piquet Junior to crash deliberately at a particular part of the racetrack, in order to cause a Safety Car, which then helped his team-mate Fernando Alonso to win the race.

The Renault hierarchy will come before the World Motor Sport Council on September 21st, when the truth will presumably emerge. But questions surround the issue. If Renault are guilty, how big will their punishment be? Would that cause them to leave the sport? And where does that leave Flavio Briatore, one of the sport’s great personalities? On the other hand, if they are innocent, there are no fewer things that fans will want to know. Why did Nelson Piquet seek such vengeance on Renault? And what about the telemetry, which reportedly shows that Piquet kept his foot down even though he was spinning?

Today, Max Mosley has spoken darkly of the various punishments that could await the Anglo-French team should they be found guilty of race-fixing. It is, he hinted, a much more serious crime than the one McLaren were punished for in 2007, for which they received a world record £100million fine. So presumably exclusion from next year’s world championship is on the cards; a fate which, should it come to pass, would surely shake the very foundations of the team.

The Renault team is widely expected to be losing its prize asset, Fernando Alonso, next season. They have not shown any particular signs of competitiveness this season, and definitely none of the verve that late last season appeared to portent. Moreover the parent company have made noises about leaving the sport; they have been bailed out by the French government, and car sales are yet to recover to the executives’ satisfaction. One cannot help but surmise that any punishment of significance would tip Carlos Ghosn and Bernard Rey, the top dogs, over the edge; a year’s exclusion would presumably turn into a permanent one.

But the thing is that the FIA doesn’t want that, you wouldn’t have thought. It is an organisation that fought tooth and nail earlier this year to impose swingeing cost cuts in the name of keeping the big manufacturers in the sport, remember. With Honda and BMW gone and Toyota a matter of time, they are dropping like flies – and Renault was the most recent non-Ferrari/McLaren champion constructor.

The FIA must be hoping that those memories of glory will be enough to keep Renault in. Therefore it might only opt for a warning shot punishment, like a two-race ban or something, that will deliver a warning to the teams without scaring them off. It’s all a very delicate exercise for the governing body, if Renault do turn out to be guilty.

Meanwhile it remains to be seen if Nelson Piquet will be tarred with the same brush as was Alonso himself when he turned against his team. They might well have done wrong, but no one likes a sneak.