Renault's F1 team is up against the wall as it faces the sport's governing body on charges it deliberately fixed a race last year. With Renault cash-strapped and F1 reeling from corruption scandals, the implications for motor racing could be huge.
Renault's future in Formula One hung in the balance Monday as the French carmaker's race team faced the sport's governing body, the International Automobile Federation (FIA), on charges it fixed last year's Singapore Grand Prix.
Some fear that a stiff sanction could push the French manufacturer, which has been hit like the rest of the car industry by a sharp drop in sales due to the recession, into following Honda and BMW out of Fomula One.
Outgoing FIA boss Max Mosley last week raised the spectre of a total and permanent exclusion of the team, which is a central player in a sport whose reputation has suffered from repeated cheating scandals.
"Out. Total. Exclusion forever, gone, finished. That's the worst that could happen," he said when asked what the toughest sanction could be.
Ari Vatanen, a former rally champion who is in a run-off with Mosley's preferred candidate Jean Todt in next month's FIA presidential election, told UK newspaper the Sunday Telegraph that corruption was so entrenched in Formula One a total break from the existing system may be the only way forward.
"What is happening here with Renault is more than just the tip of the iceberg, it is symptomatic of a wider problem," he told the newspaper.
"The image of the sport has been battered recently. Look at all the leaked dossiers. We have gone from 'Spygate' to 'Crashgate' with many other things in between. What the public see is a corrupt sport. They do not trust it and who can blame them."
In 2007 British team McLaren-Mercedes was fined 100 million euros for spying on Ferrari, a fine that would surely sink cash-strapped Renault’s Formula One ambitions given that the company has suffered heavily from falling sales.
No contest from Renault
Renault has said it will not contest accusations that the team ordered Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet Jr to crash his car into a wall so that Spanish team-mate Fernando Alonso might win, in a case that has been dubbed the "crashgate".
Team boss Flavio Briatore and engineering head Pat Symonds have already quit and will not attend the hearing at the FIA headquarters. Piquet has been offered immunity from prosecution.
The FIA has said it has no reason to suspect that double world champion Alonso, who is widely expected to move to Ferrari next year, knew anything of the plot seemingly agreed upon by the two team bosses and Piquet.
The FIA could decide to permanently exclude the former world champions, but a heavy fine or a suspended ban appear more likely despite the unprecedented nature of the offence.
Date created : 2009-09-21