PARIS // A hearing into allegations that former Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr was ordered to deliberately crash his car during a Formula One race last year started today at the FIA's Paris headquarters. The World Motor Sport Council - the highest-ranking body within motor sports' governing body FIA - is expected to announce its verdict later today. The French marque is accused of ordering Piquet to crash during last year's Singapore Grand Prix to help teammate Fernando Alonso's chances to win the race.
The introduction of the safety car on the 13th lap after Piquet's crash helped Alonso win the race, as he had just made an early pit stop and could move up the field when the other cars had to refuel. Former world champion Alonso, who has repeatedly denied that he had any knowledge of the instructions, attended the meeting along with Piquet Jr, who has been granted immunity in the case in exchange for his testimony.
Renault could be fined, banned or even excluded from the world championship. "What they did was very serious. There can be no excuse, but they have acted quickly to get rid of the culprits, and that must be borne in mind," the Formula One rights holder Bernie Ecclestone said as he arrived at the FIA headquarters. FIA president Max Mosley refused to comment when he arrived. Renault's head of communications Jean-Francois Caubet and the Renault F1 president Bernard Rey did not speak to the assembled media.
The team is not expected to contest the charges after splitting with the team's principal Flavio Briatore and engineering executive director Pat Symonds. Both allegedly plotted Piquet's crash in minute detail. Alonso, who was not expected to attend the meeting, is likely to be questioned over Briatore's role. The scandal is the latest in a series of controversies in F1. The year began with challenges over the legality of several cars, including pacesetting Brawn GP, under new technical regulations. Soon after, reigning F1 champion Lewis Hamilton of McLaren admitted to deliberately misleading a steward's inquiry. That prompted the departure of the team's sporting director, Dave Ryan, with the team boss Ron Dennis also stepping aside.
The Formula One Teams Association also threatened to quit F1 and launch their own series, the culmination of a power struggle that characterised the often antagonistic relationship between the teams and the sport's officials. Two years ago, McLaren Mercedes was handed a record US$100 million (Dh367.3m) fine after being found guilty of using Ferrari secret data to enhance its own cars' performances.