Niki Lauda has waded into the Renault race-fixing row by branding the case as potentially 'the worst thing to happen to Formula One' in 60 years of the sport.
The Renault F1 team goes up before the FIA World Motor Sport Council next week to answer charges of race-fixing, prompted when former driver Nelson Piquet Jr alleged that he was asked to deliberately crash out of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to help team-mate Fernando Alonso take victory.
The story has rocked F1 in recent weeks, with Flavio Briatore accusing Piquet and his father of attempting to blackmail him, only for the flamboyant Italian – as well as executive director of engineering Pat Symonds – to sensationally resign.
Speaking to the Daily Mail
newspaper, former Formula 1 World Champion Lauda has taken a dim view of the situation, describing it as being much worse than the Michael Schumacher-Rascasse incident at Monaco in 2006.
"When I first heard the accusation that Renault had asked Nelson Piquet to crash deliberately, the question was whether it was true or not. If it was true, then it amounted to the worst thing that has happened in Formula One; there is only one other incident that comes near - Michael Schumacher parking his Ferrari on the racing line at Monaco in 2006 to block Fernando Alonso's last qualifying lap - but, really, even that is not comparable."
Lauda was particularly critical of Briatore's handling of the incident, specifically the subsequent war of words between himself and the Piquets and his eventual exit from the team.
"This time it was about manipulating a race. There was also the obvious danger to Piquet, other drivers and spectators.
"What also really upset me at the weekend was what Flavio Briatore was saying - he denied it all. His messages were murky, even making comments about Piquet's (Sr.) private life. It was unbelievable. And now, because Briatore has been sacked, we must assume the allegations against Renault were all true.
Lauda, who bounced back from a horrific accident at the Nürburgring in 1976 to win a second world title just a year later, saved some criticism for Piquet Jr too. Indeed, although the Austrian recognised the 24-year-old's reasoning for adhering to Renault's requests, he believes he should have been able to refuse.
"Certainly, I would never have crashed on order: firstly because sport is sport and secondly because, in my day, I could have hurt or killed myself. My Nürburgring crash in 1976 was big. I got straight back in and drove as soon as I could. Others were not so lucky. Some died. We do not want a sport where we are putting lives at risk for all the worst reasons."