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FIA’s Crashgate verdict is a triumph of politics over justice

Unbelievable.

That is the only word I can think of to describe the FIA‘s decision today to give Renault a two-year suspended ban from all F1 activities for asking former driver Nelson Piquet Jr to deliberately crash his car at last year’s Singapore Grand Prix, in an attempt to influence the result of a race which was ultimately won by Piquet’s teammate Fernando Alonso.

It is the equivalent of giving Renault a yellow card for an act in which team principal Flavio Briatore and engineering chief Pat Symonds conspired to manipulate a race in a manner which, although both low-speed and low-risk in the context of most F1 accidents, nonetheless introduced a deliberate degree of risk which endangered Piquet, other drivers, race marshals and spectators.

Two years ago, McLaren were fined a $100m (£62m) and excluded from the constructors’ championship for their role in ‘Spygate’, which to all intents and purposes was a case of common or garden industrial espionage in which they illegally obtained designs from Ferrari. That decision was widely criticised as excessive, with a suspicion that the scale of the punishment was fuelled in part by a long-standing vendetta against former McLaren principal Ron Dennis.

Admittedly, the circumstances in ‘Crashgate’ are different to Spygate in so far that McLaren protested their innocence throughout and attempted to brazen the affair out, whereas Renault decided not to contest the charge, and voluntarily parted company with Briatore and Symonds last Wednesday.

And yet – and this is what I struggle most to get my head around – Spygate endangered no lives; Crashgate did. This in a year in which motorsport has seen the death of Henry Surtees and serious injury to Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, both in freak accidents, and general outrage over cheating in other major sports.

A footballer would expect to receive a greater punishment for a deliberate and dangerous tackle on an opponent than he would for a ‘normal’ foul. Apparently the same common sense standards do not apply to F1.

I know the FIA were caught between a rock and a hard place. In difficult economic times where Honda have already pulled out of F1, BMW are on their way out and others are considering their position, to impose a draconian penalty today would have been the kind of decision that those in government would euphemistically term ‘courageous’ (i.e. suicidal). And I know Renault deserve recognition for admitting guilt and taking proactive action.

I understand all these arguments.

But this isn’t politics. And it isn’t a court of law.

F1, despite also being a (highly lucrative) business, is supposed to be a sport. But it is now transparent for everyone to see – as if it wasn’t already obvious – that the FIA values the political expediency of keeping the major motor manufacturers onside more than it does issuing a punishment commensurate with the crime committed.

Is a suspended ban enough to dissuade other teams from committing a similarly dangerous act of cheating when the potential rewards can be counted in tens of millions of pounds? I would like to think so, but I doubt it.

For me, F1 has now divested itself of any remaining shred of integrity, with politics winning out over any sense of justice or proportionate response. Today, I’m ashamed to be a fan of the sport.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

One Response to FIA’s Crashgate verdict is a triumph of politics over justice

  1. Anonymous says:

    You are totally right, my friend….FIA acted like they wanted to keep Renault in the championship, although 'bad' Briattore should leave as soon as possible (surely a clear enemy of FIA all those last years). He had to be punished, of course, but Renault should be hard punished too…Greetings from Greece.

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