Where now for Briatore and Symonds?

REN2008101715901 PV“The fact that Renault has been investigated is a tribute to the health of the sport and not an indictment.” Forumula1.com’s Hugh Podmore assesses the impact of Renault’s decision not to challenge the allegations made by Nelson Piquet.

Today the F1 world has been left reeling by the news that team principal Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds have left the Renault team. Although next Monday’s hearing charging the team with race-fixing will go ahead, the pair’s departure is being seen as an effective admission of guilt.

Yesterday the future appeared grim for the two, as Symonds’ interview with the investigating powers became public. In that interview Symonds failed to deny the allegations levelled at him, chiefly that he instructed Nelson Piquet Jr to crash his car in order to help his team-mate to win the Singapore Grand Prix.

Renault bosses, perhaps spying an opportunity to limit the damage, have probably sacked the pair. This seems to confirm the fact that Renault perceive them to have done wrong. The team issued a statement in which they said they would “not dispute” the allegations; but it is unclear if they mean they will simply still attend the hearing, or whether the phrase is a mea culpa.

This all appears to mean that what Nelson Piquet alleged did actually happen. This raises all sorts of questions about the team and the sport that the press will enjoy immensely, but more importantly about Briatore and Symonds. The news is not confirmed of course, and it is necessary to talk hypothetically. But if it is true, what persuaded them to take such a step? How could they then sack Piquet, knowing that he knew potentially incriminating things? And where do they go now?

It is relatively uncomplicated to hypothesise about probable motivation for the stunt. Briatore and Symonds probably took into account that Fernando Alonso was still undecided about his future – and he being their star asset, wanted to keep him by persuading him the team could still be winners. Equally, the big boardroom bosses at Renault were running an open referendum whether to stay in F1, and the two racetrack bosses thought that victory would be a good sweetener.

But after that the story becomes hazy. An underperformer though he was, and blessed of no talent of which to speak, Nelson Piquet Jr nevertheless would have known a large number of very incriminating things about Briatore and Symonds, all of which could be verified and proved. So why did the normally politically astute Briatore get rid of him in such an acrimonious manner?

So in the event that they are found guilty by the World Motor Sport Council, where does this leave the two? They will surely both have futures in the sport – both are clever men who know an awful lot about producing fast cars and managing F1 teams. They are both winners, as well, and potentially invaluable to the new crop of teams. But their period of banishment would have to be considerable too, one would have thought.

The fact that they have been investigated, however, is a tribute to the health of the sport and not an indictment.