As Renault F1 debates its future at the highest level in the wake of the highly damaging 'Singapore-gate' scandal and departure of managing director Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds, it is being mused in some quarters of the paddock that David Richards could be parachuted in to fill the void.
The French concern is due to appear before the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Paris on Monday (21 September), charged with bringing the sport into disrepute by manipulating the result of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix – an accusation they have confirmed they will not dispute [see separate story – click here
]. Nelsinho Piquet claims he was instructed by both Briatore and Symonds to deliberately crash early on in Formula 1's inaugural night race, thereby enabling then team-mate Fernando Alonso to triumph from a lowly grid position following an engine failure in qualifying.
If Renault is found guilty of race-fixing, one option open to the WMSC is to expel the team from the world championship altogether – and with immediate effect – but provided the Régie
lives to fight another day and is still competing in the next round of the 2009 campaign, ironically once more in Singapore, the question arises as to who will be at the helm.
has reported that Prodrive chairman Richards has been seen visiting Renault's Oxfordshire factory recently, and the Welshman certainly has all the right credentials to take on the role and steer what appears to be a sinking ship out of troubled waters. The former World Rally Championship-winning co-driver briefly ran the squad in its former guise as Benetton in 1998 – again taking over from Briatore – and his Prodrive operation has been on the fringes of F1 for some time, being strongly tipped to gain one of the extra slots available to newcomers on the 2010 starting grid, only for the FIA to contentiously turn his application down.
Having seen his original entry effort similarly scuppered by the customer car row at the beginning of last year – after the governing body had on that occasion accepted Prodrive's bid – Richards remains eager to break into the top flight, posing the question as to whether this could finally be third time lucky.
Another school of thought is that Richards will indeed take over, and if Renault chooses to pull the plug on its official involvement at the end of the year – as many believe the loss-making car maker will do, regardless of the WMSC's ruling – the team will then morph naturally into Prodrive.
Briatore has spent months batting off suggestions that the French manufacturer is set to follow rivals Honda and BMW out of the exit door, and whilst senior executives are adamant that there will be no rush to make a decision, the loss of title sponsor ING and likely loss of talisman driver Alonso to Ferrari had plunged the team's ongoing commitment to F1 into considerable doubt even before the current controversy in which it has become embroiled. Earlier this year, Renault pledged to continue to compete until at least the end of 2012. It remains to be seen whether that vow will now still be honoured.