Renault sure got off easy today in Paris when the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council issued its ruling on "Crashgate," especially as compared to McLaren, which was fined $100 million for its role in the "Stepneygate" affair two years ago.
(As you may recall, in "Stepneygate" McLaren was caught with 750 pages of Ferrari technical data.)
Renault, for all intents and purposes, didn’t even get a slap on the wrist. A two-year suspended ban from the sport for compromising the integrity of F1 and endangering lives? Naughty, naughty.
There was no fine (okay, Renault agreed to make a "significant contribution" to the FIA’s automobile safety programs) and no condemnation in the form of a tongue-lashing (the FIA’s language in its press release is almost serene). In fact, it looks to be pretty much business as usual.
French hero Alain Prost will undoubtedly be named to succeed the disgraced Flavio Briatore (who took the full rap here; he’s suspended for life from having anything whatsoever to do with FIA-sanctioned motorsport) and everything should be back to normal by the time the circus arrives at the scene of the crime, Singapore, this weekend.
I don’t suggest for a moment that the FIA should have made life so difficult for Renault that the company would have been forced from the sport.
But when comparing the two cases, it makes you wonder just how personal the McLaren ruling was. There is no doubt that FIA president Max Mosley and ex-McLaren head Ron Dennis hated (and hate) each other. And it’s obvious there is no such level of animosity between the FIA and Renault.
But a $100 million fine for industrial espionage as compared to officially zero for endangering lives? Hmmm.
The FIA also has some other ‘splainin’ to do.
For instance, Nelson Piquet Sr. insists that he told Grand Prix race director Charlie Whiting about the deliberate accident after it happened last September and Whiting didn’t do anything. How come?
And why – at the last minute – was two-time world champion Fernando Alonso summoned to appear in Paris today, only to be thanked for his cooperation (presumably for showing up)?
Was there some sort of a veiled warning there?
Alonso has been a thread in these last two F1 scandals – he was driving for McLaren when that scandal broke and he was the recipient of Nelson Piquet Jr.’s largesse in this incident.
He insists that he knew nothing in either case. Maybe Perry Mason should be called in to do the cross-examination.
Having said all this, Renault apparently did everything it should have when it discovered skullduggery in its midst. According to its sworn statement today, as soon as it became aware of Piquet Jr.’s allegations, it conducted its own investigation and acted swiftly and accordingly by terminating Briatore and chief engineer Pat Symonds (who was banned for five years today) and throwing itself on the mercy of the court.
McLaren’s Dennis, as we all know, decided to tough it out and deny all knowledge of anything and everything. The penalty for that obstinance? $100 million.
There’s something else lingering here.
Did the FIA miss an opportunity today? To say, in its statement, that it is officially tired of this nonsense and, from now on, anything that even comes close to failing the smell test will be subject to immediate investigation?
Yes, I think so. Which is a shame.