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Rival teams helped Renault to escape Valencia ban

Renault owes a debt of gratitude to four of its competitors, it has transpired, as letters from four rival teams played a part in the French outfit's success in overturning its European Grand Prix suspension at the FIA Court of Appeal on Monday.

Double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso looked set to be forced to miss his home race in front of his adoring partisan supporters in Valencia this coming weekend until the FIA's change of heart, and the governing body has revealed that letters in support of Renault from Red Bull Racing, Ferrari, Toyota and McLaren-Mercedes played a pivotal role in reversing the Régie's ban.

Two of the four teams explained that they had altered their pit-stop procedures following the incident that led to the suspension, when Alonso's wheel was not properly fitted during his first pit-stop in the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring, causing the errant wheel to part company with his car two-thirds of the way around his 'out' lap. It was alleged that the team knew the wheel was ill-attached, and yet had failed to prevent the Spaniard from leaving the pits.

The error came just a week after FIA Formula Two Championship front-runner Henry Surtees had been killed by a loose wheel from another car at Brands Hatch. In that case, the wheel had become detached from the car following a collision with the circuit's barriers, bounced back across the track and struck 18-year-old Surtees – the son of 1964 F1 World Champion John Surtees – on the head.

Race stewards were also mindful of the incident involving Ferrari star Felipe Massa only the previous day at the Hungaroring, when towards the end of the Q2 phase of qualifying, the Brazilian had been hit on the helmet by a flying piece of suspension that had come adrift from the Brawn GP of compatriot Rubens Barrichello ahead of him, leaving the Brazilian hospitalised and requiring emergency surgery for a fractured skull and eye injuries.

Acknowledging that there was no proof that Renault had acted deliberately, the FIA converted the original ban into a reprimand and $50,000 fine and reasoned that it would 'be wrong in the circumstances of this case to ignore the other teams' views'.

'The Court endorses the FIA's view that it is always necessary to have regard to the potential dangers which arise from a situation, as recent tragic incidents have proved,' added an official statement. 'However, in assessing the penalty which is appropriate in an individual case, great care must be taken not to equate potential danger with conscious wrong-doing.

'It is the Court's view that the penalty imposed in the present case appears to be significantly inconsistent with any penalty previously imposed (or not imposed) in other broadly comparable cases. After viewing the video evidence submitted to it, the Court does not accept the FIA's submission that real potential danger did not arise in all or any of these other incidents.'

Earlier this month, Williams and Red Bull Racing blocked Ferrari's request to allow record-breaking seven-time F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher from testing the Scuderia's F60 ahead of the German's planned – and ultimately aborted – return to the grand prix grid in Valencia.

To see the FIA statement in full, click here

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Paul Buckland

August 19, 2009 8:02 PM

As I have commented before, neither Renault nor Alonso could know the wheel would fall off, only that it wasn't properly on. If we start punishing teams for genuine mistakes by mechanics, where will it end ? Has the FIA tried to punish Brawn for the spring falling off Ruben's car, and causing a near fatal accident ? No, although it probably considered it and it would have been wrong to do so for the same reason. The FIA, and some of the people commenting above, must consider that a team will do everything to ensure the safety of its drivers, so to ban a team for a mechanic's error is unnecessary. If a driver crashes because of his own error, do you suggest the FIA ban him ?

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