FORMULA ONE supremo Bernie Ecclestone has expressed his sadness at close friend Flavio Briatore’s sensational exit from the sport.
Ecclestone’s comments are unsurprising given the bond forged over the years between himself and Briatore, who first stepped into F1 in 1988.
Twenty one years later and Briatore’s relationship with the sport is at an end as he yesterday left his position as team principal with Renault, along with his number two, Pat Symonds, their executive director of engineering.
The shock announcement was made by Renault, who also confirmed in a statement they “will not dispute the recent allegations made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix”.
Briatore asserted on Friday, during the course of the Italian Grand Prix weekend, there was no wrongdoing, and that he, the lawyers and Renault were confident of success in their case.
But the subsequent departure of Briatore and Symonds now raises new questions regarding the incidents that unfolded on September 28 of last year.
Ecclestone, a long-time ally of Briatore and who is a co-owner of Coca-Cola Championship side QPR with the 59-year-old, admitted his surprise at the events of ‘crashgate’.
Asked for his thoughts on Briatore’s demise, Ecclestone replied: “Well, I feel sorry for him actually.
“Obviously, I’m surprised at what has happened, and I’m taken by surprise that they’ve decided to walk away.”
Despite this latest twist in the scandal, the extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council scheduled for Monday at the FIA’s headquarters in Paris will still go ahead.
As Briatore and Symonds are no longer with the team it is almost certain that will be taken into account when the WMSC decide on what sanctions to impose.
The FIA charged Renault with “conspiring with its driver, Nelson Piquet Jnr, to cause a deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix with the aim of causing the deployment of the safety car to the advantage of its other driver, Fernando Alonso”.
Alonso went on to take the chequered flag at Formula One’s first night race, his first victory for two years, and at a time when Renault were considering quitting the sport.
The French manufacturer will most likely plead for clemency from the FIA, hoping the actions of two men will not adversely affect the employment of nearly 700 other staff within the team.
Although the FIA have it within their power to exclude Renault from the championship, it is anticipated such a strict penalty will not be administered.
Eddie Jordan, though, feels there must be “clear-cut evidence” of wrongdoing for Briatore and Symonds to leave, and for the team not to contest the charge.
Jordan said: “Renault, by suggesting they’re not going to contest the allegation, it is in itself an admission – or that’s how I see it.
“Legally there may be a different argument of course, but as a normal person on the street I think this is a clear-cut admission, and I am surprised.”
The evidence against Briatore and Symonds appeared damning in the wake of Piquet Jnr providing the FIA’s investigation team with two statements with the details of what transpired in Singapore.
The 24-year-old claimed that in a meeting with Briatore and Symonds a few hours before the race, he was told to crash his car, and in a further discussion with the latter, at what point on the circuit.
Piquet Jnr, fearing for his future with the team, followed through with the order on lap 14, and at turn 17 of the Singapore track, a point where no crane was on hand, so forcing the intervention of the safety car.
As Alonso had pitted two laps earlier, the safety car period played into the double world champion’s hands, allowing him to claim the victory.
It is imperative the FIA are seen to act, especially given the gravity of what Piquet was asked to do, and there was no guarantee neither he, a marshal or a fan would have avoided injury.
It also remains to be seen what happens to the criminal proceedings commenced in France on Friday against Piquet Jnr and Nelson Piquet Senior concerning the making of false allegations and a related attempt to blackmail.
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