x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Briatore quits Renault

Flavio Briatore has sensationally quit Renault after deciding not to contest allegations that he conspired a crash at the Singapore GP last year.

Flavio Briatore at last weekend's Italian Grand Prix in Monza - his last as team principal of the Renault team.
Flavio Briatore at last weekend's Italian Grand Prix in Monza - his last as team principal of the Renault team.

Managing director Flavio Briatore and engineering chief executive Pat Symonds have sensationally quit Renault. The news comes as the team have decided not to contest the recent allegations made against them, that they conspired with then driver Nelson Piquet Jr to cause a crash at last year's Singapore Grand Prix, in order to help his teammate at the time, Fernando Alonso, win the race. Despite Briatore's assertion during last weekend's Italian Grand Prix of no wrongdoing, the departure of the team's managing director and executive director of engineering would now appear to point to their guilt. Renault said today it "will not dispute the recent allegations made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix." The team added: "It also wishes to state that its managing director, Flavio Briatore, and its executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, have left the team."

Despite this latest astonishing twist in the scandal, the extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) scheduled for Monday at the FIA's headquarters in Paris will still go ahead. Although Briatore and Symonds have fallen on their sword, and their actions will be taken into account, the WMSC may still impose severe sanctions on the team now they have chosen not to launch a defence. The FIA charged Renault with "conspiring with its driver, Nelson Piquet Jnr, to cause a deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix with the aim of causing the deployment of the safety car to the advantage of its other driver, Fernando Alonso". Alonso went on to take the chequered flag at Formula One's first night race, his first victory for two years, and at a time when Renault were considering quitting the sport. The French manufacturer will almost certainly plead for clemency from the FIA as they will claim the actions of two men should not affect the employment of nearly 700 other staff within the team. The FIA have the power to exclude Renault from the championship, although it is anticipated such a strict penalty will not be administered. The welter of evidence against Briatore and Symonds was damning in the wake of Piquet Jnr providing the FIA's investigation team with two statements detailing what transpired in Singapore. The 24-year-old claimed that, in a meeting with Briatore and Symonds a few hours before the race, he was told to crash his car, and, in a further discussion with the latter, at what point on the circuit. Piquet Jnr, fearing for his future with the team, followed through with the order on lap 14, and at turn 17 of the Singapore track, a point where no crane was on hand, so forcing the intervention of the safety car. As Alonso had pitted two laps earlier, the safety car period played into the double world champion's hands, allowing him to claim the victory. Although suspicions were roused at the time, the matter did not start to surface until just over a fortnight ago at the Belgian Grand Prix. The claim is Nelson Piquet Snr, in the wake of his son being axed by Renault after the Hungarian Grand Prix at the end of July, informed the FIA of what unfolded. The FIA's investigations led them to offer Piquet Jnr immunity against prosecution in return for his testimony. Telemetry data was especially significant as it showed Piquet Jnr accelerating into the crash, rather than braking as a driver would ordinarily do. It is understood the FIA also offered Symonds immunity; however, it is now clear he declined, opting instead to follow Briatore out of the exit door. Briatore's departure brings to an end the career of one of the sport's most colourful characters. The flamboyant 58-year-old Italian started out at Benetton in 1988, overseeing Michael Schumacher's world title triumphs in 1994 and 1995, again in the role of managing director. In 2005 and 2006, as team principal at Renault, Briatore helped the French manufacturer and Alonso become world champions.

* PA Sport with AP