Motor racing-F1 could lose more manufacturer teams

Alan Baldwin

More manufacturers could follow Honda and BMW out of Formula One before the start of next season, International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley warned on Friday.

“I think we may lose another one, might even lose two and there’s also one or two of the private teams who will find it difficult,” the Briton, who stands down in October, told reporters at the Italian Grand Prix.

“I think it’s possible. Put it around another way: If someone said ‘Will you stake your entire worldly goods on all of the current manufacturers being in Melbourne in 2010?’, I would be very reluctant to do that.

“I’d stake my worldly goods for example on Ferrari being there. But not on all the manufacturers. But I may be wrong,” he added.

Honda withdrew at the end of last season, with their team taken over by former principal Ross Brawn in a management buyout.

BMW announced in July that they, too, will quit at the end of this season.

The remaining manufacturers are champions Ferrari, McLaren’s partners Mercedes, Renault and Toyota.

Media speculation has focused on the latter two, with Renault rocked by allegations that the team ordered Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet to crash in Singapore last year to help team mate Fernando Alonso win. 

If found guilty at a hearing in Paris on Sept. 21, they could be kicked out of the championship or handed a heavy fine.

Mosley said the the FIA’s response to that affair could not be influenced by the risk of former champions Renault leaving the sport.

“We have a certain job to do which we must do correctly and fairly, and what they do is a business decision for them,” he said.

“Otherwise in a football match if one of the players says to the referee ‘I’m the great star and if you give a penalty against me I’m going to walk off the pitch”, what would the referee say? You’ve only got one possible answer.”

“Crashgate:” F1 sinks lower into the mud
John Leicester
Associated Press

When Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn next mulls how best to create buzz around France’s second-largest auto maker, he might consider simply handing out wads of cash on the streets. Surely that would generate better headlines, earn more positive bang for his buck, then throwing it down the deep and increasingly dark drain that is Formula One.

It is a measure of the gravity of F1’s latest scandal that it has managed to make this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix seem almost completely irrelevant.

Cars hurtling at 340 kilometers (210 miles) an hour down the long straits of Monza, F1’s temple of speed? Why care when there’s such sordid drama going on behind the scenes? Mixed in with the smell of gasoline and hot rubber at this famous race track is a suspiciously sulfurous whiff that F1 may be going down in flames as a credible sport.

Oh, to be reborn as an F1 lawyer. Given the extraordinary allegations of race-fixing and blackmail being thrown around F1 teams’ glistening motor homes behind the Monza pit lane, one thing those guys need not worry about in these recessionary times is running short of work.

It could hardly be worse, however, for the sport as a whole. Of all the sagas — and there have been more than a few — that have sullied F1 in recent years, nothing compares with the suspicions that the highly respected Renault team may have fixed the outcome of the Singapore Grand Prix last September — supposedly, and this is the truly horrifying part, by leaning on its young driver Nelson Piquet Jr. to deliberately crash.

If Renault is found guilty at a special hearing a week from now, F1 will survive. Sure, the hospitality that F1 teams dole out on race weekends may not be as lavish as it used to be, a few parties have been canceled. But there is still cash aplenty and legions of fans in their lurid team shirts, loyal to the thrills of F1 if not to the people who run it. The scream of F1 engines is remarkably effective in drowning out the drums of recession beating in the real world outside. A few auto makers have left, but other teams have stepped forward to take their place.

But whether F1 will still be considered a real sport — instead of simply bizarre entertainment, a WWE on wheels — will depend on how the allegations against Renault are handled.

It is the whole of F1, not just Renault and Piquet, that will be judged in Paris on Sept. 21 at a special hearing called by motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, to sort out this poisonous mess. Any ‘the show must go on’ attempt to sweep Piquet’s claims under the carpet, to let people off hooks because it might suit the powerful business interests in F1, would be as damaging as the allegations themselves. Accusations this extraordinary need equally extraordinary punishment if proved true. And if Piquet made the whole thing up, would banishment to Arctic wastes be too harsh?

It isn’t reassuring that so many details and documents from the FIA’s investigation have leaked into the public domain before the hearing. It makes F1’s policemen look clumsy just when they most need to be exemplary. The leaks raise all sorts of questions about the disciplinary process: is someone within the sport deliberately seeking to damage Renault and its chances of getting a fair hearing? If Renault is found to have done no wrong, how can the damage to its reputation be repaired? Should Renault be absolved and yet Ghosn still decide to stop financing the team, who could blame him given the mud that’s been thrown at his brand?

It is also important to remember that Piquet is a man with a grudge. Renault fired him this summer after he performed mostly poorly in 28 races. His dad, Nelson Piquet, was a three-time world champion. But the son proved somewhat accident-prone. Because of crashes or mechanical problems, Piquet Jr. completed just half of the 18 races in 2008 and finished just five times in the points. In 10 races this season, he scored no points at all. Piquet bridled at playing second-fiddle to Renault’s star driver, two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. He complained bitterly after his sacking that Renault F1 team boss Flavio Briatore had been his “executioner.”

So when he walked on July 30 into the headquarters of the FIA, overlooking the Place de la Concorde where nobles were guillotined during the French Revolution, the Brazilian clearly expected and perhaps even hoped that heads would roll. His allegations were nothing short of explosive: he claimed that his crash in Singapore, when he hurtled around a corner into a wall, wasn’t an accident at all, but was instead cooked up by Briatore and Renault’s engineering director, Pat Symonds, in a cynical and dangerous scheme to clear the way for Alonso to win — which the Spaniard did.

“Mr. Symonds took me aside to a quiet corner and, using a map, pointed me to the exact corner of the track where I should crash,” Piquet alleged. “Mr. Briatore discreetly said ‘thank you’ after the end of the race.”

If that wasn’t weird enough, Renault and Briatore this week hit back with a counterclaim of blackmail and defamation against Piquet and his father — “the two Piquets” as Briatore now calls them. Briatore is refusing to discuss specifics of the case before the hearing. Asked in Monza if he ordered Piquet to crash, he replied: “I can’t answer that.”

It is, in short, very ugly, very confusing and very incendiary stuff. For any cleanup to be believed, for F1 to still be believable, the sport’s bosses must ensure that the full truth comes out.

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