• Editor's comment

Time to wipe the slate clean

Martin Williamson December 7, 2010
A matter of trust: Flavio Briatore and Nelson Piquet Junior © Sutton Images
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The apology and payment of substantial damages by Renault F1 to Nelson Piquet Junior and his father over comments it made shortly after details of the deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix emerged almost brings the curtain down on Crashgate, one of Formula One's most sordid affairs.

Nobody from the hapless Piquet, to the manipulative Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, to the impotent FIA has come out of this with any credit. And yet an incident which threatened to undermine the whole credibility of the sport has seen those involved escape lightly or without any punishment at all.

Today's article in the Times, in which Piquet Junior goes into details on the conversations between him, Briatore and Symonds in Singapore, leaves the feeling that none of them ought to be allowed near the sport again.

It's hard not to have a little sympathy for Piquet, a youngster desperate to stay in the team, but against that his monied background and a clear knowledge that what he was doing was wrong cannot be overlooked. Nor can his gross irresponsibility in crashing his car and not only endangering himself but others as well. At no time is there any indication he would have aborted his "deal" to crash his car on the 14th lap at that particular spot had he been surrounded by other cars. And what of the danger to marshals who had to go onto the track in the aftermath?

The reality is that his own lack of ability aided by an unwillingness for teams to be associated with a driver with so much baggage means his days in F1 are over.

But it's Briatore, by reputation never the most likeable of men, who again comes out of this smelling of something rather unpleasant, and he is far from finished.

If Piquet's account is to be believed, Briatore, a man who was his manager and agent, was prepared to use all his influence to persuade someone whose interests he should have been protecting to endanger his and others' lives to ensure Fernando Alonso, Renault's No. 1 driver, won.

Briatore comes across as a bully. "He would bark instructions and never ask your opinion," Piquet wrote. "Everything was short and sharp and he would get angry if you did not agree immediately. After a while, I started to get very nervous. Even when he walked by, I felt under pressure. I was still trying to establish a reputation in Formula One and he always reminded me that my fate was in his hands. I did everything to try to please him, but he only ever seemed to criticise me."

If you had a son starting out on a career in motor racing, is Flavio Briatore the kind of man you would want looking after his best interests?

Remember, he is describing a man who was his manager as well as his team boss.

And yet Briatore, initially banned for life, reduced to three years on appeal, can still be seen around the sport's great and good and at races. There is every indication when his ban expires he will be back as if nothing ever happened.

Formula One is a big enough sport that it can happily do without Briatore. If those running it really cared about its image and credibility they would ensure even if there was no official ban, he was ostracised, giving a clear message his kind of behaviour would not be tolerated.

A final thought. If you had a son starting out on a career in motor racing, is Briatore the kind of man you would want looking after his best interests?

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo