Motorsport: Fury at Briatore verdict
Grand Prix chiefs ponder appeal as court lifts ban
Flavio Briatore's lifetime ban for alleged race-fixing was overturned by a French court yesterday, sowing confusion within Formula One racing.
The former Renault team principal was left celebrating after the Tribunal de Grande Instance "ruled the sanction illegal", citing "irregularities" in the FIA world motorsport council's decision last September to ban Briatore for allegedly ordering Nelson Piquet Jnr to crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.
Renault's former technical director, Pat Symonds, also had his five-year suspension quashed.
"This decision gives me back my dignity and the freedom which they arbitrarily tried to take away from me," said Briatore, who has always denied any involvement in a scandal that shook the sporting world.
However, the next step in the saga is unclear, with the FIA arguing that the ban has been overturned merely on "a technicality" which did not alter the fact that Briatore was implicated in the crash.
"The court's decision is not enforceable until the FIA appeal options have been exhausted," a statement from the FIA said. It added that until then, it regarded the ban as still in place.
The FIA also said that the court's decision to award Briatore and Symonds E20,000 and E5,000 in compensation -- expenses, in effect -- when they had asked for E1m and E500,000 respectively, indicated a hollow victory.
The FIA further pointed out that the judgment stated explicitly the council's verdict "is not annulled but declared irregular". It added that it was considering appealing against the decision, or even going through the same disciplinary process again.
Were that to happen, it is clear some procedures would have to change. The Paris court found that the FIA had over-reached itself in handing down the ban -- as neither man actually held a licence to compete.
The court appeared to agree with Briatore's assertion that he had been the victim of a personal dispute with former FIA president Max Mosley, "who was well known to be in conflict with Briatore".
"Mosley played a leading role in launching the inquiry and its investigation, in violation of the principle of separation of the power of the bodies," it said.
The upshot is that with Renault having received a suspended ban, Piquet Jnr having been granted immunity by the FIA for offering a full confession, and Symonds and Briatore now off the hook, no one has been punished for an act widely considered one of the worst examples of cheating in the history of sport. Briatore is free to return to F1, although he was non-committal.
"Let me take a little time to enjoy this moment of happiness after this difficult period," he said. A return to his old role was ruled out yesterday when Renault announced Eric Boullier as their new team principal.
Briatore should, though, hang on to his co-ownership of Queens Park Rangers, as he is no longer in danger of breaching the Football League's fit and proper person test. (© Daily Telegraph, London)