Renault's future under the spotlight

Formula One’s governing body held a one-and-a-half-hour long hearing on Monday into the conduct of French team Renault at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix following the assertions of driver Nelson Piquet that he was ordered to crash during the race.

The famous team could face being expelled from the circuit or a heavy fine and a suspended ban or points deduction as the International Automobile Federation (FIA) seeks to salvage the badly tarnished reputation of the sport.

The Brazilian Piquet, as well as Spain’s former world champion Fernando Alonso, who also drives for Renault, arrived early at the Paris headquarters of FIA where the World Motor Sports Council was meeting.

The hearing lasted for 90 minutes, after which the council’s 26 members met separately to decide what action to take. A decision was expected later in the day.

Renault, which is not contesting the charges, hope that the resignations of flamboyant team principal Flavio Briatore and engineering chief Pat Symonds, following the allegations that they ordered Piquet to deliberately crash in the Singapore race, will guarantee clemency from the council.

The affair dates back almost a year to the Singapore Grand Prix of September 28 when Piquet and Alonso were the two Renault drivers.

Alonso began the race in 15th position, but after making a very early pit stop to refuel, Piquet crashed into a wall, prompting the safety car out.

As Alonso’s rivals then gradually disappeared into the pits to refuel, the Spaniard catapulted himself up into the virtual lead to go on and win his first race in a year.

Piquet subsequently fell out with Briatore and was dismissed from the team.

It was after this that he and his father, three-time world champion Nelson Piquet Snr, claimed that Renault’s Briatore and Symonds had conspired to fix the outcome of the race.

In response to the allegations Renault accused Piquet of blackmail and announced they were launching criminal proceedings against him and his father.

Briatore denied all the accusations against him—notably conspiring with team management and Piquet to cause a deliberate accident—saying they were “outrageous lies”.

The FIA ordered Renault to appear before the World Motor Sports Council in Paris on September 21 to respond to the allegations of cheating, with FIA chief Max Mosely saying they could be kicked out of the world championships if the accusations were proved.

Briatore and Symonds subsequently quit Renault and the team announced they would not contest the allegations.

Renault’s future in Formula One has been the subject of speculation for a long time and the loss of another manufacturer would be hard to stomach following last year’s withdrawal of Honda and the impending departure of BMW.

Renault’s title sponsor, ING, will pull out at the end of the season while their parent company reported losses of €2,7-billionin the first half of this year.

Former world champion Alonso, meanwhile, doesn’t come cheap with a salary of about $25-million although the Spaniard is widely expected to move to Ferrari in 2010.

Renault’s form on the track this season hasn’t created any great optimism.

After 13 races Alonso is trailing in 10th place in the drivers’ standings while the team are eighth of ten in the constructors’ title race—126 points from leaders Brawn GP.—Sapa-AFP

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