Flavio Briatore has a beautiful wife and enormous wealth: why isn’t he on top of the world? Fintan Collier explains
The former managing director of the Renault Formula One team, Flavio Briatore, looked daunted as allegations of race fixing in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix emerged. Former Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr claimed he had been ordered to crash his car, in a bid to give then-teammate Fernando Alonso a clearer path to the chequered flag and to victory. Renault “will not dispute” the claims, surely a de facto admission of guilt.
When the stakes are as high as they are in professional sports, it is no wonder that teams and sports people go to such lengths in order to get the competitive edge. Cheating occurs in many disciplines. From the Spanish paralympic basketball team in 2000 competing with ten players that weren’t disabled, to a Blades of Glory-style incident in which figure skater Tonya Harding hired someone to strike fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan on the knee before the 1994 Winter Olympics. It seems foolish that competitors would go to such lengths to cheat when the risks outweigh the perceived advantage.
Renault won the Grand Prix, but at what cost? Briatore, along with Director of Enginering Pat Symonds, helped develop the scheme that put Piquet’s life in danger. On turn 17 of lap 14, Piquet pressed hard on the throttle and let his car drift out, endangering his own life as well as those of fellow drivers and marshals, simply to ensure Alonso’s victory. Formula One’s governing body, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, have come under criticism for the soft punishments handed down to the involved parties.
Renault were given a two-year suspended ban, which will commence after the 2011 season. The diluted penalty may be due to the FIA’s fear that a hefty fine would leave Renault unable to justify the mammoth finances required to take part, and drive the team out of the sport, following the lead of BMW. Such measures have been rendered moot, however, with the news that Renault’s title sponsor, Dutch bank ING, have withdrawn their sponsorship with immediate effect.
Briatore has been banned from F1 activities indefinitely, in what will be perceived as a major loss to Formula One. Briatore was one of the sport’s most high-profile figures, a staunch campaigner for the rights of the drivers, and consistently a colourful character. Symonds, for his part, has also been suspended from the sport, though only for five years. Piquet, who admitted to contributing to the scandal, claimed immunity from prosecution for his part in exposing the affair.
Moreover, the industry will no doubt lose the support of their fans as the integrity of the sport comes under yet more scrutiny. This latest scandal adds to Lewis Hamilton’s deceit in withholding information earlier in the season, which led to him being docked championship points, and also the 2007 ‘Spygate 2’ debacle.
After two decades in Formula One and a career which oversaw four world drivers’ titles, Briatore’s status as an international sporting tycoon could now face further repercussions. His ownership stake in Queen’s Park Rangers FC is also under threat; the Football League now consider him unable to pass a ‘fit and proper persons test’ in the aftermath of his F1 banishment.
Overall it is Symonds, however, who has suffered the most in this scandal. He has lost the admiration of his peers in motor racing circles, and has to face the shame that ultimately comes from cheating. It is now up to the FIA to ensure that cheating and fraud are firmly stamped out, to ensure both the safety of the participants as well as a viable future for F1.