The first heads have rolled in Formula 1's 'Singapore-gate' scandal, with Renault confirming that its F1 managing director Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds are no longer with the team - and agreeing 'not [to] dispute the recent allegations made by the FIA' regarding the top flight's inaugural night race twelve months ago.

The R?gie is due to face the governing body's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) on Monday (21 September) charged with bringing F1 into disrepute over allegations of 'race-fixing' by ordering former driver Nelsinho Piquet to crash out of last year's Singapore Grand Prix to prompt a safety car period that was instrumental in team-mate Fernando Alonso's entirely unexpected triumph in the sister R28. If found guilty, Renault could face sanctions extending as far as an outright ban from the sport, or at the very least - as McLaren-Mercedes discovered over the espionage row two years ago - a hefty fine.

'The ING Renault F1 Team will not dispute the recent allegations made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix,' read a team statement. 'It also wishes to state that its managing director, Flavio Briatore and its executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, have left the team.

'Before attending the hearing before the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris on 21 September 2009, the team will not make any further comment.'

Only hours before the announcement was made, it was being surmised in some quarters of the grand prix paddock that Renault may have to offer up Briatore as a sacrificial lamb if it was to have any chance of coming out of the WMSC reunion still with a place in F1. The FIA had accumulated a substantial degree of evidence against the flamboyant Italian, who it would appear has ultimately been unable to convince the parent company in France of his innocence.

It had been widely presumed that the governing body was gunning for Briatore's head, particularly in leaving him in an exposed position by offering immunity from prosecution to Symonds should the Englishman disclose everything he knew of the incident [see separate story - click here] - but now both men have been led to the guillotine by their employer. A similar guarantee of protection from punishment had already been afforded to Piquet.

Further suspicions that there was no smoke without fire were aroused when Symonds refused to either answer or deny a number of key questions and allegations when interrogated by FIA investigators over the weekend of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps - most notably regarding the issue of whether or not Piquet had indeed been instructed by both himself and Briatore to crash - ostensibly tipping the scales firmly into the 'guilty' position. The 53-year-old is described by The Times as having left the interviews 'a broken man', facing a choice between betraying his team and saving his own skin. Now, it seems, he has opted for the neutral option.

"It certainly looks damning," FIA President Max Mosley had acknowledged, quoted by the Daily Mail, "but one thing I have learned is that there are always two sides to every story. We must see what evidence Renault have for us."

Piquet's evidence, from a leaked statement that he gave to the governing body on 17 August and published by The Times, claimed that the 2006 GP2 Series championship runner-up has been told by Symonds and Briatore to deliberately crash his car at a certain part of the circuit where, due to the lack of cranes and removing equipment, he would have the highest probability of causing a safety car period.

"After ensuring I was on the designated lap of the race, I deliberately lost control of my car," testified Piquet, who was uninjured in the high-speed impact that saw him spin across the circuit and slam sideways into the concrete wall, ripping the entire right-hand side off his car and strewing debris all over the track. The German-born ace added that the telemetry and data 'clearly demonstrates' that he applied the throttle significantly harder at turn 17 on the lap that he crashed than he had done on previous laps.

"I did this by pressing hard and early on the throttle. As I felt the back end of the car drifting out, I continued to press hard on the throttle, in the knowledge that this would lead to my car making heavy contact with the concrete wall. Once the back end of the car had begun to drift out, the only way of recovering control of the car and avoiding contact would have been to back off on the throttle.

"However, I did not back off the throttle to any material extent. Rather, I pressed hard on the throttle beyond the moment at which the back end started to drift out and, indeed, right up to and beyond the point of impact with the concrete wall. Again, the fact that I did not back off the throttle is apparent from the telemetry readings of the incident."

Briatore has initiated criminal proceedings for attempted blackmail in France against Piquet and his father, three-time F1 World Champion Nelson Piquet - who also drove for him at Benetton at the turn of the 1990s. Since 'Nelsinho' was sacked by the Enstone-based outfit back in late July, a bitter and very public war of words broke out between him and his former manager, in which he described Briatore of being his 'executioner' and a man who 'doesn't know sh*t' about the sport, with the latter hitting back by accusing the Brazilian of constantly making excuses for his lacklustre performances, and vehemently denying that there had ever been any disparity in equipment between Piquet and Alonso as the 24-year-old had alleged.

During his two decades in F1, Briatore led Renault to back-to-back drivers' and constructors' crowns with Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006, having previously also overseen Michael Schumacher's 1994 and 1995 titles in the team's former guise as Benetton. Under his leadership, 46 victories have been achieved. Often dogged by controversy, the 59-year-old is also a co-owner of London football club Queens Park Rangers (QPR) alongside Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, who is fearful that even if Renault escape a ban in front of the WMSC, the car maker may choose to pull the plug in any case due to the global loss of reputation - leaving just four manufacturers remaining at the highest level.