Renault's worst nightmare has materialised, with the official confirmation from the FIA that the French manufacturer's Formula 1 team is to be called before the governing body's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) later this month regarding the circumstances of Fernando Alonso's victory in last year's Singapore Grand Prix.
The Spaniard won the event – the inaugural race to be held around the Far Eastern city-state's Marina Bay street circuit – by pitting unusually early and then benefitting from a timely safety car period shortly afterwards that sent his rivals similarly scurrying for the pit-lane to re-fuel and vaulted him into the lead, having started a lowly 15th on the grid following engine woes in qualifying.
The safety car period was prompted by an accident for Alonso's then Renault team-mate Nelsinho Piquet, who had shunted his R28 heavily into the track's unforgiving barriers. Whilst at the time the Brazilian had claimed that he had simply been pushing too hard, causing him to lose the rear of his car, new evidence has since come to light to suggest that he was ordered by the team to crash and thereby provide Alonso with an entirely unforeseen opportunity to jump from the back of the field to the front in one fell swoop.
The son of three-time world champion Nelson Piquet was recently sacked by the Enstone-based outfit, with both sides subsequently going on to publicly slate the other in the media. The former described Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore as his 'executioner' and a man who 'doesn't know sh*t' about the sport, whilst the Italian accused his former driver of constantly making excuses for his lacklustre performances, and vehemently denied that there had ever been any disparity in equipment between Piquet and Alonso as the 24-year-old had alleged [see separate story – click here
Now, the FIA has confirmed that 'representatives of ING Renault F1 have been requested to appear before an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris on Monday, 21 September 2009.
'The team representatives have been called to answer charges, including a breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code, that the team conspired with its driver, Nelson Piquet Jr, 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.'
Article 151c of the International Sporting Code outlaws 'any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motorsport generally'. If found guilty, the penalty for bringing the sport into disrepute in such a way could even extend as far as expulsion from F1.
'The ING Renault F1 Team acknowledges the FIA's request for representatives of the team to appear before the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris on the 21st of September 2009,' added an official statement from the Régie
. 'Before attending the hearing, the team will not make any further comment.'
The hearing will take place just six days before the 2009 Singapore Grand Prix, and marks the second time Renault has courted controversy this year following Alonso's wheel-shedding incident at the Hungaroring. That indiscretion saw the squad initially suspended from the following European Grand Prix in Valencia, before a meeting of the International Court of Appeal overruled the original decision.
Senior team members including Briatore, Alonso and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds are understood to have been interviewed over the weekend of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, with data-collecting devices taken away for investigation.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Felipe Massa – who was on-course for glory in Singapore last year before he exited his first pit-stop with the fuel rig still attached to his Ferrari – had his doubts about the authenticity of countryman Piquet's accident at the time. Brazilian television station Globo
reported that Massa approached Briatore after the chequered flag had fallen and said 'this crash was not right – it happened because you wanted it to'.