Renault's F1 sponsors quit as Grosjean crashes on same corner as Piquet

Friday, September 25, 2009

The crash that sparked the scandal

Two of Renault Formula One's sponsors have terminated their contracts after Renault's race-fixing last year. The move comes as Renault racer Romain Grosjean crashed into the same corner as the one Nelson Piquet Jr deliberately hit to ensure victory for his team-mate last year.

Renault's main sponsor, Dutch bank ING, had already said it would not renew its three-year contract when it expires at the current season's end, but has now pulled out four races early. It said the recent revelations were "very disappointing". Spanish insurers Mutua Madrileña echoed this sentiment, saying that moral issues, as well as the fact the manoeuvre was dangerous, reflected badly on sponsors.

The firms have quit because Renault this month admitted to cheating during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. Piquet drove his car into a wall after fellow Renault driver Fernando Alonso had refuelled early. A safety car came out and as various drivers went in to refuel behind it, Alonso was able to move up and secure a win. Alonso, who is Spanish, was also personally sponsored by Mutua Madrileña and this contract remains unchanged.

Alonso tops the podium after the race

Formula One's governing body, the FIA, ordered a meeting of the World Motor Sport Council when the allegations surfaced. At that meeting, Renault were given a two-year suspended sentence that will see them kicked out of the sport if they cheat again in that time-frame. Team boss Flavio Briatore was banned for life and engineer Pat Symonds was banned for five years due to their roles in the incident.

These developments come days after the European Sponsorship Association said that cheating scandals jeopardised funding for teams in major competitions. Renault's remaining sponsors are French-based international energy firm Total, tyre manufacturer Bridgestone, Russian communications provider Megafon, Pepe Jeans, and Internet educator Universia. Renault have confirmed an intention to remain in F1 despite the recent controversy.

The safety car on the track after the incident

Practice sessions for the 2009 Singapore Grand Prix were held today. "Sorry guys, I lost the car in turn 17," Grosjean announced over the team's radio, spinning out on the same corner as Piquet drove into a year ago to trigger the scandal dubbed "Crashgate" by the media. Once more, a safety car appeared while the Renault was removed. A photograph of the car after Grosjean's accident did not reveal obvious major damage, though it did clearly show that the names of two sponsors have disappeared.