Sadly, race-rigging is nothing new in motorsport, where filthy lucre and arrogance often take precedence over sportsmanship...The Renault “Crashgate” affair has left me with a hollow feeling. Not because I believed Flavio Briatore was a pillar of integrity. Or Nelsinho Piquet for that matter. But Pat Symonds was a man whose opinions I trusted. The archetypal F1 backroom boffin, if Pat Symonds said something, it made perfect sense, and you believed it.
I suppose it’s understandable, therefore, that the point of no return in the investigation came when Symonds who, obviously suffering the pangs of guilt that an essentially honest individual would experience in the wake of something like this, admitted to investigators that Crashgate had taken place. Interestingly, Symonds also claimed that Nelsinho himself had suggested crashing his car, but since he was forced out of the team and thus missed the hearing in Paris, we’ll probably never get to the bottom of that.
Briatore, on the other hand, has steadfastly denied that there was any kind of plan, and claims he left the team to save the jobs of the 700 employees at Viry and Enstone. His obduracy in the face of damning evidence means he’s copped the sternest sentence of the three alleged protagonists, being banned from involvement in FIA-sanctioned events for life.
Cynics will point out that Max Mosley, hardly a shining example himself, has finally lopped off the head of another opponent: Briatore follows Ron Dennis and Michelin into the Formula One wilderness. At least we’ll be shot of Mosley soon, too, when he retires before the senate elections in October. (Hopefully outsider Ari Vatanen will win that one, though it’s more likely that Jean Todt, a known Mosley man, will take the position.)
But, getting back to the Renault affair, it’s probably ended in the best possible way. Those calling for a stronger sentence – even exclusion – should look no further than Michael Schumacher, the most successful F1 driver in history, and a man still venerated by millions of fans. When he “parked” his Ferrari at the end of qualifying at Monaco a couple of years ago to disrupt Alonso’s potentially faster qualifying lap, surely that was just as bad as Piquet deliberately crashing his car? Of course, Schumacher’s ploy was exposed immediately, and he got a slap on the wrist for his actions.
And then there was the famous “lottery” grand prix at Tripoli in 1933, in which it was strongly suspected that the winner, Varzi, along with Nuvolari, Borzacchini , Campari and Chiron, had conspired to rig the result. The decision by the governing body? A simple reprimand, as it would have apparently been “unthinkable” to impose heavy sanctions on five of the finest drivers in Europe!
All these wrongs don’t make a right, of course. But it is somehow comforting to know that skulduggery is as old as motorsport itself. Hopefully the Renault affair will make authorities – and fans – more vigilant about the possibility in a sport where, sadly, money and egos tend to take precedence over sportsmanship.