Renault F1 Team Receives Suspended Sentence

PARIS — The Renault Formula One team received a metaphoric slap on the wrist at a hearing at the International Automobile Federation in Paris on Monday for asking its driver, Nelson Piquet Jr., to purposefully crash in order to help another driver, Fernando Alonso, win a race.The FIA ordered the team disqualified from the Formula One championship, but the sentence was suspended until the end of the 2011 season pending any further incidents. The team was also asked to pay for the costs of the F.I.A.’s investigation into the affair.

“The world motor sport council considers Renault F1’s breaches relating to the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to be of unparalleled severity,” the F.I.A. said in a statement. “Renault F1’s breaches not only compromised the integrity of the sport but also endangered the lives of spectators, officials, other competitors and Piquet himself.

“The world motor sport council considers that offenses of this severity merit permanent disqualification from the F.I.A. Formula One world championship,” the statement said.

But it said the lighter decision suspending the sentence was made because the team fired its two leading directors responsible for the incident, Flavio Briatore, the managing director, and Pat Symonds, the chief of engineering, and for cooperating in the investigation.

The team penalty was minor compared to the $100 million fine and exclusion from the points standings given by the F.I.A. to the McLaren Mercedes team in 2007 for possessing a rival team’s technical data in the so-called spy scandal. But it appeared designed to appease Renault at a time of crisis for the automobile industry after a sudden withdrawal from the series last March by Honda and an announcement over the summer that BMW would withdraw from the sport at the end of the season.

Briatore and Symonds, however, have been banned from participating in any motor sport series under the aegis of the F.I.A. — for the next five years for Symonds, and for an unlimited period for Briatore, according to the F.I.A.

The council said that Briatore was given a heavier penalty because he continued to deny his involvement despite the evidence. Symonds, however, was given the lighter penalty because he told the council that it was to his “eternal regret and shame” that he participated in the conspiracy.

Piquet, the driver who crashed his car on Lap 14 of the Singapore Grand Prix last September, was granted immunity from sanctions by the F.I.A., however, and the other Renault driver, Alonso, who won the race, was deemed to have known nothing about the cheating incident.

“I bitterly regret my actions to follow the orders I was given,” said Piquet in a statement. “I wish every day that I had not done it.

”All I can tell you is that my situation at Renault turned into a nightmare,” he added. “Mr. Briatore was my manager as well as the team boss, he had my future in his hands but he cared nothing for it. By the time of the Singapore GP he had isolated me and driven me to the lowest point I had ever reached in my life. Now that I am out of that situation I cannot believe that I agreed to the plan, but when it was put to me I felt that I was in no position to refuse.”

The Renault team said in a statement that it fully accepted the decision by the world council.

“We apologize unreservedly to the F1 community in relation to this unacceptable behavior,” said Bernard Rey, the president of the Renault team in a statement. “We sincerely hope that we can soon put this matter behind us and focus constructively on the future. We will issue further information in the next few days.”

Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s promoter, who attended the hearing, had said to the media beforehand that the case had to be handled with care.

“I think we need to show balance,” said Ecclestone. “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.”


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