PARIS, September 21 – The International Automobile Federation (FIA) on Monday handed the Renault Formula One team a suspended ban from the sport for ordering Nelson Piquet junior to crash in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.The FIA told the French team that the threat of a permanent ban from the sport will hang over them until the end of the 2011 season and be activated during that time if they are found guilty of a similar charge.
The verdict was announced by the the sport’s governing body after a one-and-a half-hour hearing at the FIA’s Paris headquarters.
Renault, who have been involved in F1 since 1977, were in the dock for conspiring with Piquet junior to cause a deliberate crash to help the Brazilian’s teammate, Fernando Alonso, win the race.
The team which won two drivers’ titles in the 1990s were facing permanent exclusion from the sport over ‘crashgate’ as the affair became known. Renault escaped that ultimate sanction after owning up to the conspiracy after the departure from the team of Piquet, team boss Flavio Briatore and chief engineer Pat Symonds.
Briatore himself was given an "unlimited" ban from the sport while Symonds was suspended for five years.
Piquet, having acted as ‘whistleblower’, went into the hearing with the promise of immunity while Alonso was cleared of any involvement.
Both Piquet junior and Alonso attended Monday’s hearing with Renault F1 president Bernard Rey but neither Briatore nor Symonds showed up.
The WMSC thanked Alonso for "cooperating with the FIA’s enquiries and for attending the meeting", adding that "Mr. Alonso was not in any way involved in Renault F1’s breach of the regulations".
Explaining its decision not to kick Renault out of the sport for life, the FIA said in a statement: "The council considers Renault F1’s breaches relating to the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to be of unparalleled severity.
"They not only compromised the integrity of the sport but also endangered the lives of spectators, officials, other competitors and Nelson Piquet Jr. himself.
"The World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) considers that offences of this severity merit permanent disqualification from the FIA Formula One World Championship.
"However, in particular the steps taken by Renault F1 to identify and address the failings within its team and condemn the actions of the individuals involved, the WMSC has decided to suspend Renault F1’s disqualification until the end of the 2011 season."
The affair dates back almost a year to the Singapore Grand Prix of September 28.
Alonso began the race in 15th position, but after making a very early pit stop to refuel, Piquet crashed into a wall, prompting the deployment of the safety car.
As Alonso’s rivals then gradually disappeared into the pits to refuel, the Spaniard catapulted himself up into the virtual lead to go on and win his first race in a year.
Piquet subsequently fell out with Briatore and was dismissed from the team in August.
It was after that that he and his father, three-time world champion Nelson Piquet senior, claimed that Renault’s Briatore and Symonds had conspired to fix the outcome of the race in Singapore.
In response to the allegations Renault accused Piquet of blackmail and announced they were launching criminal proceedings against him and his father.
Briatore denied all the accusations — notably conspiring with team management and Piquet to cause a deliberate accident — saying they were "outrageous lies".
But last week Renault dramatically announced they would not be contesting the charges and that Briatore and Symonds wre leaving.
Renault, who will pay the cost of the FIA investigation, as well as contributing to its safety-related projects, said it accepted the council’s decision.
"We are very sad to find ourselves in front of the World Motor Sport Council," a team statement said.
"We apologise unreservedly to the F1 community in relation to this unacceptable behaviour.
"We sincerely hope that we can soon put this matter behind us and focus constructively on the future."
Piquet, 24, said after the hearing: "I bitterly regret my actions to follow the orders I was given. I wish every day that I had not done it."
By a quirk of fate Renault and the rest of the grid next race in anger on Sunday – in Singapore.