F1 has a lot of tidying up to do if it is to re-establish its reputation after degenerating to such an extent that it is now 'worse than Eastenders' with its succession of high-profile, tabloid-fodder scandals – that is the opinion of Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner.
Following hot on the heels of the McLaren spying saga two years ago, FIA President Max Mosley's News of the World
sex éxposé, reigning F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton lying to race stewards in Melbourne earlier this year and the damaging FIA/FOTA (Formula One Teams' Association) civil war over spending and leadership that threatened to tear the top flight quite literally in two and spawn a breakaway series during the summer, the Renault 'Singapore-gate' controversy recently shot the sport right back into the headlines again – for all the wrong reasons.
The latest incident has cost the jobs – and quite possibly careers – of disgraced former Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds, as well as almost certainly finishing whistleblower Nelsinho Piquet as an F1 driver and leading to the French manufacturer itself narrowly escaping serious punishment at the hands of the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Paris last week.
The WMSC instead handed down a two-year suspended ban for race-fixing to the Enstone-based outfit, after Briatore and Symonds were found guilty of having instructed Piquet to deliberately crash out of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix in order to enable team-mate Fernando Alonso to triumph in the top flight's inaugural night race from a disadvantaged grid slot. Horner is adamant that F1 needs to clean up its act, and fast.
“It's a great shame F1 is being dragged through the mud again,” the Englishman – a former racer himself – is quoted as having said by the Daily Record
. “Flavio is a personal friend and I have sympathy for the way he has been forced to leave, but obviously I don't condone the actions.
“I'm surprised Piquet wasn't punished. The guy driving the car had the ability to say no. The general consensus in the paddock is that it's quite surprising the driver walked away with nothing.
“It's a distraction, but part of F1 I guess. We're worse than Eastenders right now. We need to get the focus back to the racing.”