Bernie Ecclestone has suggested that had his friend and Queens Park Rangers (QPR) co-owner Flavio Briatore shown a little humility and acknowledged his conscious involvement in the Renault 'Singapore-gate' scandal that has rocked Formula 1 in recent weeks, he might have received a penalty less 'harsh' than he ultimately did.
Briatore did not attend the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) hearing into the race-fixing controversy on Monday to argue his case, but after being pronounced guilty of conspiring to manipulate the result of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, the flamboyant Italian found himself banned from involvement in any FIA-sanctioned form of motor racing indefinitely, including driver management.
His crime was to have instructed – along with Pat Symonds – former driver Nelsinho Piquet to deliberately crash out of the top flight's inaugural night race just under twelve months ago, thereby necessitating a safety car period that enabled team-mate Fernando Alonso to triumph from a disadvantaged grid position...and quite possibly proved pivotal in securing Renault's immediate future at the highest level.
Both Briatore and Symonds left their respective posts as managing director and executive director of engineering at the Enstone-based outfit prior to the hearing, but only the latter has offered an apology for his actions, writing to the WMSC to express his 'eternal regret and shame' for his 'misguided devotion' [see separate story – click here
Briatore, by contrast, continues to protest his innocence and is said to be 'devastated' by the verdict and considering seeking legal redress against the FIA for damage to his reputation – but Ecclestone contends that just a little contrition from the multi-millionaire might have gone a long way.
“I spoke to him and gave him the results,” revealed the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive – who formed part of the 26-strong WMSC that deliberated over the ruling – in an interview with British newspaper The Times
. “I feel very sorry for him. I thought the punishment was probably a bit harsh, but I don't know how it can be changed.
“I don't think he deserved it – I think he should have had his hand slapped – [but] I tell you one thing, an apology from him might have helped. I think it was pretty well-established that he knew what was going on.”
Ecclestone added that he had deemed a more clement 18-month ban appropriate, and now it is being reported that Briatore – who has publicly said little since the matter exploded into global awareness last month, save for insisting that he left Renault only because he felt 'morally responsible' for the affair – may be mulling over the idea of launching his own rival series to F1, much as the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) came close to doing back in the summer.
However, the FOTA initiative – of which the 59-year-old was a major player – never came to fruition, and Ecclestone predicted that any such Briatore-led endeavour would be distinctly unlikely to succeed either, particularly in view of just how few people have come to his defence over the last few weeks.
“Well, he's going to find it difficult because the FIA controls most of the circuits, the key people and everything else,” opined the billionaire impresario. “When he had a following wind earlier this year, he couldn't get it done – so it's going to be even harder now. He wouldn't get a following from the people that matter.”