"I did it for Renault"
Today the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris, France has decided in favor of Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds.
Former Renault team principal Briatore and director of engineering Symonds had both taken their case to the French court in an attempt to overturn the ban the Formula One's governing body, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), had imposed on them after the Renault crash-gate scandal. The race-fixing scandal also involved young driver Brazilian Nelson Piquet, who crashed his Renault deliberately to cause the deployment of the safety car during the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008, which resulted in a win for the other Renault driver, Spaniard Fernando Alonso, currently employed by the Ferrari team.
The court decision was reached on the same day that Renault confirmed new team principal: Eric Boullier. Bob Bell, who took over the team principal role after Flavio Briatore was ousted for the crashgate scandal last year, will return to his former post as technical director.
The drama unfolded after Piquet was replaced by Frenchman Romain Grosjean in August 2009. Piquet made it clear he wasn't happy at all with the decision made by Briatore, and subsequently went straight to the FIA to reveal the details of the crash-scandal. Piquet's father, Nelson Piquet, a three-time Formula One champion, had already talked to FIA officials during the last race of the 2008 season, the Brazilian Grand Prix, but was told by FIA deputy Charley Whiting the FIA could not do anything unless his son was prepared to give evidence and sign a statement.
At the time Piquet didn't want to jeopardize his Formula One career and wanted to continue to race for Renault, and father and son decided not to go ahead and the whole thing was forgotten, until the day Briatore replaced Piquet. Father and son Piquet this time paid a visit to the FIA headquarters in Paris, and in exchange for his testimony, Piquet was granted immunity by the FIA. The whole scandal became world news, and caused a shockwave that hit everyone who was involved in Formula One.
Briatore tried to limit the damage and initially vigorously denied the charges, and accused the Piquet's of lying and cheating, and announced he would go to court to sue the Piquets for damaging his reputation. But the ball was rolling, and nothing could stop it anymore. Briatore couldn't convince his employer, car manufacturer Renault, of his innocence, and the Renault board of directors announced five days before the FIA hearing that they would plea guilty. Renault also decided to fire Briatore and Symonds with immediate effect. Again Briatore and his co-conspirator Symonds tried to wriggle themselves out of the situation by claiming the whole thing was the idea of Piquet, and not their idea.
But it didn't matter anymore who's idea it had been, the scandal was exposed, the FIA had solid evidence and sworn statements, Renault pleaded guilty and Briatore didn't even deny the allegations anymore. He actually confessed his crime by stating his now famous last words: "I did it for Renault." They were not present at the hearing of the FIA World Motor Sport Council on September 21 last year, and that probably saved Renault from revealing even more embarrassing facts regarding the whole scandal, because until this day we still don't know which other members of the team were involved, everyone in Formula One simply refuses to believe that only Briatore, Symonds and Piquet were involved or knew about it.
The strategy of Renault worked, at the hearing the WMSC decided that Briatore was banned indefinitely from any events sanctioned by the FIA, Symonds was banned for five years, and much to everyone's surprise, Renault was only handed a suspended race ban until the end of 2011. Although FIA president Max Mosley had stated before the hearing that the crash-gate scandal was even worse than the McLaren/Ferrari spy-scandal, the Renault team only got a slap on the wrist, while McLaren was fined $100 million in 2007, Renault didn't even have to pay a penny to the FIA and were allowed to continue their activities in Formula One.
Briatore and Symonds were outraged about the ban imposed by the FIA, and claimed that Max Mosley had abused his power to get rid of them, and claimed they did not have had the chance to defend themselves and were not treated fairly and called the decision a 'legal absurdity', the Paris court has now decided in their favor.
Briatore is also the chairman and co-owner of the British football club the Queens Park Rangers, and could have also lost that position, after a number of scandals in the world of football, the British Football League decided that anyone who has been involved in similar scandals in other sports are no longer welcome in football, and Briatore could have been forced to sell his stake in the QPR team to his old friend and other co-owner of the club, Bernie Ecclestone.
The Formula One crash-gate scandal was the story of the flamboyant Italian Flavio Briatore, a typical 'bella figura' as the Italians like to say, who had everything, but has now found his Waterloo and nearly lost it all.
Well, he would not have lost anything except possibly a damanged reputation and credibility, he is a very wealthy man, and doesn't have to work for the rest of his life if he doesn't want to. He has business interests in the fashion industry, he owns the Billionaire fashion brand, which presents a line of exclusive sportswear, and a haute couture line, the Billionaire Italian Couture, is the owner of the Cipriani's restaurant in Mayfair, London, and owns one of the world's largest yachts, the $110m Force Blue.
He also owns a Tuscan beach club, the Billionaire club at Sardinia, and owns the holyday resort 'the Lion in the Sun' in Kenya. He has dated the world's most beautiful women, like Naomi Campbell and Heidi Klum, and is currently married to 30 year younger Italian model Elisabetta Gregoraci.
Unfortunately, Briatore has also another mar on his reputation, apart from the fact he is now famous as the brains behind the Renault crash-gate scandal, in 1999 he was arrested in Kenya on charges of real estate fraud, but was released after paying a bail. At the end of the 1970s he was involved in - and sentenced for - card game fraud, he was involved in the bankruptcy of the Italian company Paramatti and was convicted on a number of counts of fraud, and sentenced to 4 years and 6 months in prison. He escaped imprisonment by fleeing to the Virgin Islands. He never went to prison and a few years later he returned to Italy.
He was also involved in many controversies in Formula One, unauthorized software (traction control) was found while he was team principal of the Benetton team and components were removed from the Benetton refueling equipment. More recently Renault ran their cars with the front suspension mass-dampers, which was claimed to be illegal by the other teams, and were caught by the FIA with information illegally acquired from the Ferrari team.
This is what Briatore said about the McLaren spy-scandal, before he himself was caught with the illegal Ferrari data: "Here is a team that acquired an advantage illegally. Just read the regulations: for intellectual property theft the punishment is exclusion."
Even though he won the "ban" appeal, will he return in some capacity to Formula One? If he does not return to F1 and to complete our story, the only question that remains is: will Formula One miss Briatore or not?
Of course, like most controversial decisions in F1, it is not over yet as the FIA might yet appeal the court decision.