PARIS, January 6 – A Paris court on Tuesday ruled in favour of former Renault boss Flavio Briatore, overturning a lifetime suspension from motor sports imposed by Formula One's governing body, FIA.
The high court "ruled the sanction illegal," citing "irregularities" in FIA’s decision in September to ban Briatore for allegedly ordering Nelson Piquet junior to crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.
The scandal centred on driver Piquet junior’s claims that the team had ordered him to crash deliberately at Singapore to enable teammate Fernando Alonso to go on and win.
Briatore, who said he felt "immense happiness" at the news, had fiercely denied any involvement in the scheme, dubbed ‘Crashgate’.
"I must express my immense happiness after the decision handed down by the tribunal in Paris," said Briatore.
"Today’s decision gives me back my dignity and the freedom which they arbitrarily tried to take away from me."
The court said it judged "irregular the September 21, 2009 decision of the world council of the FIA regarding its rulings concerning Messrs Briatore and Symonds."
"Clearly this is an exceptional result for my client. We have obtained practically everything we asked for," said Briatore’s lawyer Philippe Ouakrat.
Ouakrat had, in his submissions to the court in November, queried the discretionary power of the FIA to ban Briatore.
"The FIA must withdraw its decision as it is an illegal order, both in its results and in the manner in which it has been elaborated," said Ouakrat.
The court duly found that the FIA had overreached itself in handing down the ban.
Ouakrat said he was unaware if Briatore, who did not attend the court hearing, would seek to return to an active role in Formula One, where he has produced championship-winning performances with both Benetton and Renault.
Briatore was not giving much away.
"There’s time for that. I just want to thank those who stood behind me during difficult times," he said
The court found that even if the FIA were able to sanction officials in the sport "it cannot take, with regard to third parties, measures tantamount to sanctions."
For Ouakrat, "Briatore did not wish to see imposed upon him a completely scandalous decision – a decision in his absence and without his being able to defend himself.
"This decision will mark motor sport and I think it will also influence to a great degree the way justice is served in the World Council," added Ouakrat, who noted the poor relationship between Briatore and former FIA president Max Mosley.
The court noted that the decision to discipline Briatore came while the council was chaired by Mosley, "who was known to have been in conflict with Mr Briatore," it said.
Jean-François Prat, the FIA’s counsel, said that "our client will most likely appeal" Tuesday’s verdict.
Briatore had insisted that the punishment he received last September from motor sport’s governing body, the FIA, had no legal basis.
The World Motor Sport Council had found Renault breached its sporting code, adding the affair comprised conduct of "unparalleled severity".
The Paris court awarded Briatore, who had been seeking a million euros in damages from the FIA, a mere 15,000 euros while former Renault technical director Pat Symonds, who had been handed a five-year ban, also had the suspension overturned.
Symonds had sought 500,000 euros in damages but received just 5,000 euros.
The court also called on the FIA to notify its members of Tuesday’s judgment within 15 days or face a daily 10,000 euro penalty.
Representatives of Symonds and Briatore insisted that the procedures followed in the investigation into Crashgate contravened the FIA’s international sporting code.
The FIA did not take action against Piquet after he blew the lid on the affair.