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Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Briatore steps down amid scandal news services

LONDON -- Renault parted company with flamboyant Formula One team boss Flavio Briatore and his deputy Pat Symonds on Wednesday after accepting allegations that last year's Singapore Grand Prix was fixed.

The two men were due to appear before the governing FIA in Paris on Monday to face charges, unprecedented even in a sport often mired in controversy, that the team ordered Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr. to crash deliberately to help Spanish teammate Fernando Alonso win.

Renault said in a statement it would not dispute the allegations.

"[Renault] also wishes to state that its managing director, Flavio Briatore, and its executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, have left the team," the team added.

Italian Briatore led the team to two Formula One constructors' and drivers' championships with Alonso in 2005 and 2006 after also winning titles with Benetton and Michael Schumacher in 1994 and 1995.

A business partner of Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, with the two co-owning English Championship division soccer club Queen's Park Rangers, Briatore is also Alonso's manager.

Ecclestone said he felt sorry for the Italian.

"Obviously, I'm surprised at what has happened, and I'm taken by surprise today that they've decided to walk away," Ecclestone said. "I've no idea what will happen. We'll have to wait and see."

A familiar face in celebrity magazines, with a jet-setting lifestyle, the perma-tanned nightclub owner is also a leading figure in the Formula One Teams' Association. which threatened a breakaway series until recently.

While Briatore focused on business and the bigger picture, Symonds effectively ran the race strategy side and his departure will be a major blow for the team.

No replacements for either man were named.

International Automobile Federation president Max Mosley had already said he considered the case to be more serious than the 2007 spying controversy that cost McLaren a $100 million fine (which was later reduced) and the loss of all their constructors' points.

The FIA's world motor sport council can impose various penalties for fraudulent conduct, including permanently excluding a team from the championship.

Piquet, 24, was dropped by Renault in August after failing to score a point in 10 races. He has testified to the FIA that he was told when and where to crash during the night race.

In a statement subsequently leaked to the media, he told FIA investigators he met Symonds and Briatore before the Sept. 28 race in the team boss's office.

"Mr. Symonds, in the presence of Mr. Briatore, asked me if I would be willing to sacrifice my race for the team by 'causing a safety car,'" said Piquet, who was promised immunity from prosecution by the FIA if he told the truth.

The Brazilian added he had been "in a very fragile and emotional state of mind" at the time because of uncertainty about the renewal of his contract for 2009 and hoped his agreement would improve his position.

"Mr. Symonds took me aside to a quiet corner and, using a map, pointed me to the exact corner of the track where I should crash," said Piquet in the July 30 statement.

Alonso, who has denied all knowledge of any plot, pitted for fuel on lap 12 and Piquet then crashed at a place where his car could not be easily moved, bringing out the safety car.

The Spaniard went on to win after rivals were penalized for pitting when the safety car was deployed, a rule that has since been changed. The crash caused considerable speculation at the time among rival teams and drivers.

Symonds was evasive in an interview with FIA investigators at the Belgian Grand Prix that was also leaked to the media.

Asked if he had been aware there was going to be a crash on lap 14, he replied: "I don't want to answer that question."

Symonds declared at a later stage: "I have no intention of lying to you. I have not lied to you but I have reserved my position a little."

Renault and Briatore had in turn accused Piquet Jr. and his father, three-time world champion Nelson Piquet, of false allegations and attempted blackmail and initiated criminal proceedings in France.

Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.