Controversy is a given in any sport, and although not always welcome, should be considered an inevitability when people are competing for the same thing and adhering to the same set of rules. Sometimes the controversy is trivial and inconsequential, other times it erupts in to an issue that engulfs the sport, takes away from the actual competition and sours the enjoyment for all those who watch, follow and admire. Although expected in the multi-million-dollar pursuit of the illusive tenth, Formula One has recently become a little sour to the taste.
What Renault may have done at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix is serious and most certainly not trivial. To plan and ask for a driver to crash in order to benefit the team mate’s chances of victory is simply wrong and should be dealt with a heavy hand. If Pat Symonds and Flavio Briatore did indeed ask Nelson Piquet Jr to slam his R28 into the barrier just after Fernando Alonso’s pitstop last year, then the trio should simply not be allowed to return to motor sport. If what Piquet says is true, the decision is unsporting of the highest order.
Of course, we do not yet know this is the case, as the hearing into Formula One’s latest controversy will not be held until tomorrow. However, the sudden departure of Symonds and Briatore from the Renault team looks from the outside to be an admission of guilt. If the Renault management are innocent, there would be no reason to leave. It is interesting to note though, the FIA have not yet singled out Symonds and Briatore and instead have called the hearing with Renault, implying that the pair’s leaving will not yet change anything.
To also add further to that, it is of course plain and clear that Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds asked Nelson Piquet crash. Bernie Ecclestone has spoken of the sadness of the affair and how Briatore’s career has ended poorly, and the Italian himself has briefly spoken of having to make the moral decision and save the team by standing down. While no official judgment will be made until tomorrow at the earliest, it would appear that Piquet has told the truth.
So why should Briatore, Symonds and Piquet be banned from motor sport should the hearing favour Nelson’s statement? Or perhaps more to the point, can they be banned? In 2008, Nigel Stepney went before the FIA to defend himself against allegations of sabotage and espionage. As it turns out, the FIA said they could not prevent Stepney from seeking employment in Formula One because he is not a licensee of the governing body. Instead, the FIA sent out a strong warning to its licensees telling them to be very careful and to use due diligence should they be looking to hire the ex-Ferrari employee.
Therefore, if Stepney was not a licensee of the FIA, one can only presume Flavio Briatore, Pat Symonds and Nelson Piquet Jr are not either. Perhaps even more so now that all three are not working within the sport. It would also be a great shame if Renault are punished severely too (assuming the decision was only between the three currently implicated), particularly if that led to the withdrawal of the team. Of all the recent squads in the sport, Honda and BMW included, Renault seemed to have the most flakey outlook with regards to continued participation. And while team bosses do not wish to discuss the team’s future involvement in Formula One at the moment, questions are being asked. If a race ban gets handed down to Renault, even if it’s just until the end of the year, I can see the squad packing up and selling on. Hopefully, the evidence will only concern the management and their resignations will be taken into account.
And why, you may be asking, am I throwing Piquet in with Briatore and Symonds, especially as the Brazilian has been given immunity by the FIA for making a statement? Well, because in my view Piquet is just as guilty as the instigators. If a boxer is approached by someone with a suitcase full of cash and told to go down in the third round, and consequently does go down, both people are guilty of match fixing. And more often than not, it is the boxer who everybody remembers and receives the most damage to the reputation.
Although there was probably no suitcase of cash, Piquet states clearly that he felt complying to the demands of Briatore and Symonds would ensure him a better position to get his contract renewed for 2009. Just because the cash is electronically transferred from one account to the other in the form of a salary does not make it any less shady when it results from doing something wrong and damaging to the sport.
And so I think that is just about all I want to write on the recent Renault scandal. BlogF1 has been quiet these past few days simply because I am sick to the core of the controversies that seem to embroil the sport every six months or so. Many of us felt that when Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlin were caught sharing information, the sport would be rocked. Quite simply, it was. Although Formula One recovered, the time spent dealing with the issue filled me with a sadness I had hoped would not return.
Of course, this wasn’t the first big moment to affect the sport, but it is the one I remember the most in my time of watching Formula One and the one I consider the first for me. Since then, it seems the sport has been put through the blender several times, with notable thanks to Max Mosley, Lewis Hamilton and Dave Ryan, the stupid budget cap idea and resulting breakaway threats (that one is Max again) and many, many more. The controversies seem to be never-ending in a sport that is actually about going around a race track as quickly as possible.
Controversial moments are inevitable, as I have already mentioned, and you cannot really prevent them from happening. A driver will cut across a chicane and not receive punishment, or will receive a punishment that is perhaps unjust. A team will design a radical new part that fits the rules as they are written and the other teams will throw their toys out of the pram. These aren’t a big deal in the long term. Unsporting behaviour from some the sport’s most respected managers and engineers is, and although Ecclestone may revel in the headlines his commercial asset is generating, we really only want to watch the racing.
People say its been a torrid year but it always is in F1. There’s always something going on. It’s never peaceful. Bernie Ecclestone.