22 Sep 2009

Renault gets two-year suspended ban for race-fixing

3:29 pm on 22 September 2009

The French Formula One motor-racing team Renault has escaped an immediate ban from the sport despite admitting that it fixed a race.

Motor racing's governing body, the FIA, has handed Renault a two-year suspended ban for ordering one of its drivers, Nelson Piquet Jr, to crash in order to help a team-mate win last year's Singapore Grand Prix.

The threat of a permanent ban from the sport will hang over Renault until the end of the 2011 season, and will be activated during that time if it is found guilty of a similar charge.

Renault's former team boss, Flavio Briatore, has been banned from FIA-sanctioned events for an unlimited period. Former engineering director Pat Symonds, has also been excluded for five years.

Both men parted company with Renault last week at the same time as the French car giant said it would not contest the charges.

Lives endangered by breaches - council

The World Motor Sport Council, arbitrator of the FIA's regulations, found Renault guilty of "breaches relating to the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to be of unparalleled severity.

"They not only compromised the integrity of the sport but also endangered the lives of spectators, officials, other competitors and Nelson Piquet Jr himself.

The council said it considered that offences of such severity merited permanent disqualification from Formula One but in view of steps taken by Renault to identify and address the failings within its team it would suspend the disqualification until the end of the 2011 season.

I bitterly regret my actions - Piquet

The FIA agreed with Renault's own investigation that no other team member besides Briatore, Symonds and Piquet was involved in the race-fixing but chose not to pursue action against Piquet in return for his role in uncovering the details of the scandal.

The 24-year-old Brazilian said after the hearing: "I bitterly regret my actions to follow the orders I was given. I wish every day that I had not done it."

Race winner Fernando Alonso, who attended the hearing in Paris, was also cleared of any involvement in the race-fixing scheme and the FIA thanked him for "cooperating with enquiries".

In a statement, the Renault team said: "We apologise unreservedly to the F1 community in relation to this unacceptable behaviour."

How they did it

During the Singapore race Piquet crashed on lap 14, two laps after Alonso had stopped for fuel and tyres, and a safety car was deployed to control the field while the debris from the accident was removed from the track.

With Alonso having already pitted, the timing of the emergence of the safety car - necessary while Piquet's wrecked car was removed from the track - was critical to Alonso's victory.

It meant that when the safety car came out, he was alone among the front-runners in not having to stop for fuel and tyres, and it promoted him into a position from which he was able to win.

While most of the Renault team flew out to Singapore over the weekend, the long-term future of the French team remains in doubt.

The team's main sponsor, Dutch bank ING, had already decided to withdraw its support at the end of the season while Renault itself reported losses as a result of falling car sales in the first half of the year.