x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Ben Sulayem: Renault decision is fair

The Emirati FIA vice-president says the integrity of Formula One had to be protected.

Track marshals recover the crashed Renault car of Nelson Piquet Jr during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.
Track marshals recover the crashed Renault car of Nelson Piquet Jr during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

Mohammed ben Sulayem, the vice president for sport at the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), believes justice has been done after the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) handed Renault a suspended two-year ban for their role in "Crashgate" - the race-fixing scandal during last year's Singapore Grand Prix.

"It is a fair verdict," said ben Sulayem. "It's good for the FIA, the World Council and motorsport in general." Nelson Piquet Jr has admitted, under the FIA's blanket of immunity, that then-team principal Flavio Briatore and chief engineer Pat Symonds ordered him to crash, and even told him when and where to do so. The incident was designed to allow Fernando Alonso the best chance of winning the night race, which the Spaniard duly went on to do.

"We are not here to hang teams, we did our negotiations before and everybody is happy with the result," added ben Sulayem. "Everybody wants harmony and teams behaving - hopefully we have encouraged that." Briatore and Symonds, who resigned last week, both received lengthy personal punishments. The Italian was banned from FIA-sanctioned events for an "unlimited period," while Symonds was handed a "five-year" ban.

"We couldn't just punish all of Renault," said ben Sulayem, the president of the Automobile and Touring Club (ATC) of the UAE. "There is no evidence they [apart from Briatore and Symonds] did anything wrong." The team were facing the possibility of a ban from the grid next season, and a statement from FIA illustrated how close the team came to being excluded. "The council considers Renault F1's breaches relating to the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to be of unparalleled severity," said the statement.

"They not only compromised the integrity of the sport but also endangered the lives of spectators, officials, other competitors and Nelson Piquet Jr himself. "The WMSC considers that offences of this severity merit permanent disqualification from the FIA Formula One World Championship." However, the exits of Briatore and Symonds - widely viewed as individual admissions of guilt - seemed to have convinced the Council to opt for leniency.

The statement added: "The steps taken by Renault F1 to identify and address the failings within its team and condemn the actions of the individuals involved... WMSC has decided to suspend Renault F1's disqualification until the end of the 2011 season." Ben Sulayem offered further insight into the WMSC's decision. "The verdict is fair and everyone is a winner," he said. "The decision could not be made just on emotion, it needed to be credible. The Council's decision showed a credible result."

Folllowing the verdict, the Renault F1 team president, Bernard Rey, stressed the team's desire to move on from an incident he described as "unacceptable." "We are very sad to find ourselves in front of the Word Motor Sport Council today," said Rey. "As a result of our own enquiries, we informed the FIA last week that we would not defend the charges. "We accepted our responsibilities in relation to the incident and we immediately took appropriate action inside the team. We fully accept the decision and ... apologise unreservedly to the F1 community in relation to this unacceptable behaviour. We sincerely hope that we can soon put this matter behind us and focus constructively on the future."

As part of his ATC UAE remit, ben Sulayem oversees all domestic motorsport competitions, and, with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix just over a month away, he revealed the capital's F1 debut weighed firmly on his mind during the meeting to decide the fate of one of the big teams in the sport. "I had to be loyal to my country as well as motorsport," said ben Sulayem. "Protecting the investments Abu Dhabi has made into Formula One is my duty; it is a big show and it needs teams. But this is the pinnacle of motorsport and it needs teams to follow the rules."

The former rally driver also praised FIA president Max Mosley's handling of the case. "In the current crisis, you cannot go around hitting people and causing severe damage," insisted ben Sulayem. "Everyone needed to come to their senses, and I am happy. Max handled it in the best way. I'm sorry if people have personal issues [with him], but we all want to see Renault [in F1]. This is the result everyone wanted," he added.

emegson@thenational.ae