Rigging a race, be it whispered, is not an altogether palatable thing to do, particularly in the light of Renault’s admission today that it will not be contesting accusations that it encouraged Nelson Piquet junior to crash deliberately in last year’s Singapore grand prix in order to help team leader Fernando Alonso win the inaugural night race on the Marina Bay street circuit.
However, whether or not you believe that it is a hanging offence depends what you think about FIA presidential candidate Jean Todt’s decision – in his previous incarnation as Ferrari team principal - to to order Rubens Barrichello to hand victory to Michael Schumacher in the 2002 Austrian GP. Or the couple of occasions McLaren told David Coulthard to defer to Mika Hakkinen.
Rigging the race? Or just applying a bit of team strategy? The dividing line between the two is precariously slim.
Clearly, the Renault top brass decided to capitulate ahead of the flood of volcanic lava which threatened to overwhelm it. Renault has confirmed that Flavio Briatore, the high profile managing director, and Pat Symonds, the executive director of engineering, have left the team ahead of next Monday’s meeting of the FIA world motor sport council which will convene in Paris to discuss what penalties should be imposed on Renault going forwards.
This has been a fast-moving saga which has run from the first tentative rumblings of speculation, fuelled by the embittered Piquet who was dropped from the team last month, through to the symbolic sacrifice of their leading player, Briatore, which dramatically mirrors the way in which McLaren chairman Ron Dennis and his lieutenant Dave Ryan were sidelined following the so-called ‘Liargate’ controversy involving Lewis Hamilton at this year’s race in Melbourne. Both Ryan and Symonds were caught in the crossfire, not the main targets of the FIA’s ire.
What happens next? The FIA could equally suspend the team from the world championship, although insiders believe if that were to happen then Renault might withdraw from the sport after the remaining four races of 2009. That would reduce the field to 12 teams and make room for the recently sold BMW squad.
Or am I just becoming too cynical in my old age?