Renault await verdict in race-fixing hearing

Nelson Piquet Jr. during practice for the Singapore Grand Prix in September last year
Renault are awaiting punishment in the race-fixing saga as the World Motor Sport Council held an extraordinary meeting in Paris on Monday to consider the latest scandal to hit Formula One.

The 26-strong council met for 90 minutes to discuss allegations by former Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr. that he was ordered to crash deliberately during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. Renault initially denied the allegations, but last week team chief Flavio Briatore and chief engineer Pat Symonds sensationally quit. Renault are not contesting the charges and hope the departures of Briatore and Symonds will act as mitigation. The team, one of the strongest in Formula One, could face being expelled from the championship or a heavy fine and points deduction. The major players — including Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone and FIA president Max Mosley — arrived to a media scrum ahead of the hearing but refused to talk with reporters. But in earlier comments, Ecclestone hinted that the resignations might be enough to avoid the ultimate sanction of expulsion. “I think we need to show balance,” said the 78-year-old “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.” Renault president Bernard Rey gave evidence at the hearing as well as Piquet Jr.

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Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who went on to win the Singapore Grand Prix for Renault after the alleged fake crash, also addressed the council. The saga comes in the wake of last year’s ‘spygate’ scandal which saw McLaren fined a record $80 million and a row between leading teams and world governing body FIA (International Automobile Federation) over a budget cap for next season. The first grand prix held under lights in Singapore last year proved an eventful affair and Alonso won the race — the first for Renault in two years — despite starting from 15th on the grid. Just two laps after Alonso came in early to take on more fuel, Piquet’s crash forced the deployment of the safety car and the subsequent pit stop of nearly all other drivers, an action that promoted Alonso to fifth from where he went onto to secure victory. Piquet attributed the crash to a simple error at the time, but subsequently changed his story after falling out with the French team and being sacked.