What now for Renault?

After deciding not to contest charges of fixing last year’s Singapore Grand Prix, Renault must wait for Formula One’s governing body to decide their punishment.

The main question now is whether, with flamboyant team boss Flavio Briatore falling on his sword, Renault have done enough to escape the ultimate sanction of being kicked out of the championship.

Another concern is whether, given all the negative publicity over ordering Brazilian Nelson Piquet to crash his car to help team mate Fernando Alonso win, the French manufacturer will remain committed to the sport even if allowed to continue racing.

“Out. Total. Exclusion forever, gone, finished.
That’s the worst that could happen,” International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley said last week when asked what was the toughest possible penalty.

That is no idle threat. Toyota were excluded for a year from the world rally championship in 1995 for using an illegal turbocharger.

The departure of Briatore and his unflappable director of engineering Pat Symonds may act in Renault’s favour however. Precedents suggest being honest and apologising unreservedly will also help.

Mosley has said the Renault cause is potentially more serious than that of McLaren, who were fined $100-million and stripped of all their constructors’ points in 2007 for having Ferrari technical data in their possession.

However, the FIA came down particularly hard on McLaren because it felt the team had not been honest.

“One of the bad things about McLaren was that they did not tell the truth, so that went against them,” Mosley said.

McLaren took a very different tack in April when they were again hauled in front of the FIA on charges of lying to stewards at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

McLaren’s British world champion Lewis Hamilton made a public apology, team principal Martin Whitmarsh doing so unreservedly in front of the FIA members. Sporting director Dave Ryan was dismissed and former team boss Ron Dennis distanced.

The FIA highlighted the “open and honest” approach and dealt the team a suspended three-race ban.

The argument that 600 to 700 innocent Renault employees risk losing their jobs because of the actions of individuals who have since left the company will also have weight.

“If we’d excluded McLaren from 2007 and 2008, the business was finished. Shut down, 1 400 people lose their jobs. There’s no way they could have survived that,” said Mosley.

“And so the truth of the matter was that the 100-million… was actually a very light penalty.”

Counting against Renault will be safety issues, with Piquet not only risking his own life and limb but also that of spectators, marshals and even other drivers.

The result of the 2008 championship cannot be changed but the fact the crash may have cost Piquet’s Ferrari-driving compatriot Felipe Massa the title could also be taken into consideration.

Massa, who lost out to Hamilton by a single point, had been leading in Singapore before Piquet’s crash brought out the safety car. He failed to score points after a nightmare pitstop.

The FIA also have to show they are not biased, even if a heavy fine could prompt Renault to follow Honda and BMW out of the sport.

“If we just said we would ignore it then the whole world would turn around and say Formula One is not a sport, it’s a business,” said Mosley.

“[People would say] ‘Because this is a big car company they’re not going to do anything’; ‘Because [Formula One supremo] Bernie [Ecclestone] is friends with Flavio and they’ve got a football club, they’re not going to do anything.’

“The world would see us as corrupt.”—Reuters

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