Formula One crisis goes from bad to worse with Renault scandal

Formula One is like marmite –you either love it or hate it.

One the one hand, you have an international tournament that provides glamour, drama and excitement like no other sport.

On the other, you have the argument that it is all about the machine, not the driver. Ferrari’s failure to continue winning every season following Michael Schumacher’s retirement may raise questions about that but Lewis Hamilton, so dominant over the last couple of seasons, has faltered alarmingly despite his obvious talent.

His team, McLaren, have had their problems, of course. They were found guilty of viewing documents from rivals Ferrari and fined heavily and then again admitted to lying at the start of this season when Hamilton finished on the podium.

This week, Renault Formula One team has released team bosses Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds over a deliberate crash by Nelson Piquet Junior, who had left the team in August.

Piquet admitted that he had crashed to help senior driver Fernando Alonso last season in Singapore, prompting legal proceedings against the Brazilian for damaging their reputation.

It should never have come to that, of course.

Given the recent departure of Briatore and Symonds, clearly Renault knew that they were guilty – and their admittance of the charges underlines that.

Briatore, whose reputation for being combatant both at Renault and Queens Park Rangers FC has made him a fearsome figure, is likely to have to leave elite sport altogether now, and perhaps that is for the best.

That Renault have reversed their initial stance underlines how seriously they take these accusations and how damaging it could be for their future to be found guilty while trying to conceal the truth.

Former Formula One driver Eddie Irvine said today that every team tried to stretch and bend the rules wherever possible, which hardly helps the credibility of the sport.

Will Renault still have a team in 2010? Only the FIA, the sport’s governing body, know what they will do.

For the good of Formula One, a punishment of the utmost severity for actions which ultimately affected the course of a race weekend must be considered.

And for Renault, the slow job of restoring their reputation must be as comprehensive as possible with charitable initiatives, new codes of conduct, open and honest dialogue with every stakeholder.

Time is a healer and Formula One may be very separate to the consumer market, but Renault sales may be affected by the reputation of a company who showed no respect for the rules they proclaimed to support.