Op/Ed: Briatore laughs last?

As we reported at F1B today, the first level of French court justice overturned the bans on defamed, former Renault team principle Flavio Briatore and ousted technical director Pat Symonds. The FIA had issued a ban for messrs. Briatore and Symonds for their involvement in the 2008 Singapore crash scandal.

Much has been made of the verdict ranging from disdain and a call of injustice to elation and a cry that justice has been served. The FIA itself released a statement announcing their determination to appeal the verdict and seek to overhaul their system so future disciplinary action couldn’t be overturned due to “technicalities”.

The issue at hand, as Victoria stated very clearly here, is the licensing of FIA members who would be subject to the organizations punishment but non-license holder such as Briatore and Symonds were not under the purview of the FIA and should not be subject to the penalties given.

But all of this is academic in my mind. The real issue for me is the precedent set and the political and legal wrangling of F1’s power brokers. Commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, part of the World Motor Sport Council (WMCS) that rendered the original ban, is now suggesting the FIA should drop the issue. He backpedaled on his position as executioner earlier this year and suggested that perhaps too much was being made of the issue. Briatore and Ecclestone are friends and business associates.

“If I was president of the FIA, I’d call Flavio and say, ‘Let’s have a chat. Maybe we were a little bit over the top and sorry that you have had to take the attitude you have taken, and let’s try and repair things.”

Current FIA President Jean Todt is friend to former President Max Mosley. It was Mosley who set this punishment process in motion. Briatore’s comment about his being the subject of one mans personal vendetta against him is squarely intended for Mosley. To those ends, Todt will most likely endeavor to carry on the Mosley intent and ban through appeals and regulatory changes within the FIA to insure that legal loopholes are eliminated.

The camps are being drawn and to this day, Briatore has never had/taken the opportunity to explain his side of the controversy. While Symonds stated his guilt in a letter to the FIA, which was read to the WMSC, Briatore says he was instructed by Mosley via a phone call that he was not welcome at the hearing although Mosley proclaimed his open invite publicly. Just who is the prevaricator?

No one likes a cheater. Period. There is no room in the sport for a cheater. Period. There is cheating in F1. Period. The life and death danger of the 2008 Singapore scandal, I believe, has been overplayed a bit. Yes, it could have gone horribly wrong but it didn’t and to trumpet the doom and gloom nature of the what-could-have-been is akin to the Abu Dhabi pit lane exit fiasco.

Lots of things in racing can go wrong. Just this week in the Dakar rally a spectator lost their life. The gravity is not lost on me but making the Singapore crime something larger than the actually event of cheating is a little over the top for me. I may be in the minority on this but I do believe I am in good company as Nigel Roebuck has an equal impression of the issue. Nige and I are tight like that, No?

What is an important part for me is that we had a cheating scandal and it was bungled from the word “go”. The FIA, Mosley’s watch, attempted to exact revenge on cheaters but I can’t help but think this was also personally motivated. The courts verdict today ensures that we now have no one punished for their involvement in the scandal. Mosley made sure of this when he gave Nelson Piquet Jr. a free pass and many have been seeking his return to the driver’s seat in F1. I am sorry but for the journalists gnashing their teeth on the Briatore verdict, I humbly suggest that Piquet Jr. has no place in F1 either. I have read many “news” stories with some serious bias in them today. Many journalists are very upset by the verdict and feel that Briatore has no place in. I have also read many fans and posts of people who feel that justice was done for Briatore regardless of the cheating scandal because the punishment was obviously a personal vendetta on two or more parties in the conflict; Mosley and Piquet’s.

If you are going to punish those involved, then punish those involved. Mosley’s point in exempting Piquet Jr. from punishment was that whistle blowers should be encouraged and not punished. Fair enough but accessories to murder (to use Ecclestone’s recurring example) who turn themselves in out of guilt are also subject to legal punishment. They did the right thing but must face the punishment regardless.

Mosley allowed a guilty man to go unpunished to get to bring down a man he has no love for. Mosley used Piquet Jr. while Piquet Jr. and his father used the incident to get to Briatore. There are no innocent people in this and many of the sympathetic comments for Briatore are due to the fact that these people feel Briatore was railroaded irrespective of his involvement in the scandal. No one has proved Briatore guilty but the damning testimony of “witness X” or Alan Permane suggested he was involved.

Before you get outraged at my defense of Briatore please note that I think cheaters should not be involved in F1. I also think this whole issue is bigger than Singapore 2008. Briatore was set up, regardless of guilt in the scandal, and took the fall that Mosley relished as well as the Piquet’s. An injustice was done on both sides of the coin and punishment must be meted out to all involved, not just some.

The improprieties are numerous from both camps but in the end, Mosley failed to handle the situation accurately and let vengeance and retribution blind his logic. Briatore outfoxed Mosley in a legal battle and that, as anyone will tell you, takes some doing.

In closing? I think Piquet Jr, Symonds and Briatore should be kept from F1. I think Briatore should be able to continue his management business and Piquet should race in a non-FIA sanctioned series. How long? Like anyone guilty of a crime or malfeasance, they should pay their debt and be given a second chance. Will the F1 paddock accept a penance from Symonds, Briatore and Piquet Jr. and allow them back in the sport? That’s a tough call but I suspect some would.

No doubt some serious nepotism is running rampant in F1 but just who would be willing to stick their neck out for Briatore’s return? No doubt the Telegraph will be rife with Mosley articles now.

McLaren CEO Ron Dennis has served his penalty for the Spy-gate and Lie-gate scandals and I would not have a problem seeing him back on the pit wall in 2010. I think he took the appropriate actions and has served his time. I wonder what Ron thinks of the Briatore verdict?

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