x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

'F1 cannot take any more hits'

As the Formula One Crashgate saga rumbled on, Flavio Briatore admitted he felt duty-bound to resign as Renault team principal "to try to save the team".

Despite the departures of Renault team principal Flavio Briatore, right, and chief engineer Pat Symonds, their fate on the F1 grid is not secure.
Despite the departures of Renault team principal Flavio Briatore, right, and chief engineer Pat Symonds, their fate on the F1 grid is not secure.

As the Formula One Crashgate saga rumbled on yesterday, Flavio Briatore admitted he felt duty-bound to resign as Renault team principal "to try to save the team". However, with the departures of Briatore and chief engineer Pat Symonds widely viewed as an admission of guilt by the under-fire team, Mohammed ben Sulayem, vice president for sport at the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), revealed their fate on the F1 grid is far from secure.

"We as the FIA, and myself as the vice president, feel very strongly about our position on safety and Renault must take the blame," said ben Sulayem. "It was a bad decision and we must now find a way to protect Formula One. It is a new era and we must look to avoid these problems." Despite his close associations with Briatore - the pair were part of a committee which, in February 2007, revealed Abu Dhabi would host a Grand Prix in 2009 - ben Sulayem insists Renault should be wary of severe punishment when the FIA meet for their hastily-arranged extraordinary meeting on Monday in Paris.

"Flavio is a friend, I know him well. He's won world championships with Benetton and Renault; he's had an extravagant career. So it's sad it ends like this - but that doesn't make it right. It's a crime," said ben Sulayem, who added the FIA and their partners are intent on turning negative talk about F1's tumultuous times into positivity about its future. "Motorsport has seen a lot of bad times recently and the last 18 months have been the worst we've had in the last 10 years. I hoped these problems were over and the bad times had passed, and then this issue comes around," said ben Sulayem. "I wish we could have avoided it, but now we have to deal with it and find a solution. The three pillars of F1 - the FIA, FOM (Formula One Management) and FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) - need to find a fast solution, because this situation is not good for our supporters."

Ben Sulayem, as president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, has a pivotal role in November's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He reiterated the importance of cleaning up the paddock to ensure countries continue seeking lucrative associations with motorsport's glamour competition. "I am shocked and F1 doesn't need shocks like this; especially as we look to branch the sport out into new markets like Abu Dhabi. [Abu Dhabi] is a huge project and our circuit will be the icon of all the other circuits; it will not be bettered for 15 years - we need to protect it and F1," he said.

"F1 cannot take any more hits. We have to have good years again. It's wise what's happened [the resignations], the fall guys have gone but it's not finished and we'll know more after the meeting." Renault could suffer a ban for the remainder of this season, all of next year, or, in light of the senior departures, escape with a hefty fine. The punishment must not only fit the crime, but should only be directed at the guilty parties, according to ben Sulayem.

"We need stability and harmony in F1, and the FIA needs credibility - so the punishment needs careful consideration. We cannot punish the whole team for the faults of one or two persons. We must carefully consider the final outcome," he added. "I can only speak for myself, but we need to see the will of Renault. We don't want to lose good teams, like Renault, but there must be a punishment which fits the crime - there has to be something."

Renault have already dodged FIA punishment this year. They successfully appealed a ban from the European Grand Prix imposed after Fernando Alonso's tyre came loose and bounded down the Hungaroring track only moments after a pit-stop. Ben Sulayem was a steward at that race and Renault's casual approach to that incident weighs on his mind. "After Hungary we discussed the safety issue of the tyre and [Renault] didn't see it as a big issue. We didn't like that. As a former rally driver I know how important safety procedures are and I agreed with the punishment.

"We knew it would be overruled in the Court of Appeal - that wasn't the point. We needed to set an example, for Renault and all the F1 teams, and send the right message to prevent this happening again. "But this is different, this is an instruction to crash. It's a crime." @Email:emegson@thenational.ae