Furious Flavio: Renault chief Briatore barbs broadside back at Piquets

Sir Jackie Stewart, the most decorated driver Britain has ever produced, won the Italian Grand Prix here 40 years ago. He was back in tartan trousers on Friday to commemorate his blanket-finish win.

We were all shown black-and-white images of those more romantic times. The days when drivers’ lives were lost. What you saw unfolding before your eyes was true.

Cheating, crashing on purpose and last night’s talk of blackmail was off the agenda. It was, perhaps, how the fear of mortality governed morals.

Against this sideshow was the sinister business of what happened at last year’s Singapore Grand Prix. Did Renault direct Nelson Piquet to plant his car in the wall so their other driver, Fernando Alonso, could win?

That is the claim of Piquet, who is evidently disgruntled after being given the flick by the French manufacturers last month. Leaks of his evidence, which will go before the FIA World Motor Sport Council on Monday week, have all outlined the case of Piquet Jnr, the son of three-time world champion Nelson Piquet Snr.

Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R28 crashes into the wall

Team order? Piquet Jnr crashed in Singapore

But on Friday, here in the paddock next to one of the most fabled strips of tarmac in motor racing, Renault bit back. Flavio Briatore, the team principal who is the central character in Piquet’s accusations, turned the fire back on the accuser’s ‘outrageous lies’.

He was on hand to explain why Renault have initiated legal proceedings against one of Brazil’s foremost racing families.

‘Renault had not commented during the FIA’s investigation into this matter,’ said the team.

‘However, today Renault and managing director Flavio Briatore personally wish to state that they have commenced criminal proceedings against Nelson Piquet Jnr and Nelson Piquet Snr in France concerning the making of false allegations and a related
attempt to blackmail the team into allowing Mr Piquet Jnr to drive for the remainder of the 2009 season. The matter will also be referred to the police in the UK.’

So it has taken Briatore nearly a fortnight since the FIA first announced that the matter was under investigation to issue a rebuttal. Why?

The reason he gave in the paddock on Friday was that it took that long to line up their
defence — to make calls, comb through the legal documents and co-ordinate the way forward through an organisation as large as Renault.

Firm denial: Briatore

Firm denial: Briatore

The accusation levelled by the Piquets is that Piquet Jnr was ordered to crash by Briatore — and director of engineering Pat Symonds — on lap 14 of last year’s night race to bring out a safety car which helped Alonso, who uniquely had already made his
first pit-stop, to take his first victory of the season.

Briatore’s comments drew the first reaction from Piquet Jnr since he lodged his version of events to the FIA.

He said: ‘I confirm that I have co-operated fully with the sport’s governing body. Because I am telling the truth I have nothing to fear, whether from Renault or Mr Briatore, and while I am still aware of the power and influence of those being investigated and the vast resources at their disposal, I will not be bullied again into making a decision I regret.

‘I have every confidence in the FIA investigation and the World Motor Sport Council and I will be making no further comment until the conclusion of the hearing.’

Briatore refused to give his views on specifics: Piquet’s allegation, we gleaned earlier this week from the FIA’s leaked evidence, that he was told to crash at Turn 17, away from cranes and an immediate exit for the remains of his pranged car.

Asked why Piquet had crashed, Briatore said: ‘Nelson has crashed 17 times.’

Renault Formula One team manager Flavio Briatore (L) talks to Renault Formula One driver Nelson Piquet

Uneasy relations: Briatore and Piquet

So why did Briatore sign Piquet for a second year — this season, prior to his sacking — if he was demonstrably inept?

‘I didn’t have anybody else,’ came the response.

‘The accusations he is making are outrageous. I feel Nelson is a very spoiled guy. He is very fragile. What you want is performance.’

This ugly spat is the last thing the sport needs after being mired in controversy over the last few years, probably the lowest point of which was cheating on a grand scale by McLaren and, do not forget, Renault.

Yes, Renault, too, had in their possession the information of another team — McLaren’s ironically — in 2007, the year in which McLaren were fined £50,000 for having Ferrari data.

What was done about that?

Effectively nothing on a December afternoon in Monaco when the decision to excuse them punishment was decided after lunch and before cocktails. It was a decision railed against in this newspaper.

Was it because Briatore is friends with Formula One’s commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone? Discuss.

This time Ecclestone’s whole business model is on the line. Blind eyes cannot be turned. If — and it is still if — Renault are guilty, the sport is in jeopardy unless the punishment is harsh. Otherwise Formula One is no more a sport than wrestling.

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