Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Briatore steps down amid scandal
ESPN.com 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
"[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.