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French court overturns FIA ban on Briatore 05 Jan 2010

Flavio Briatore (ITA) Renault F1 Managing Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Belgian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Friday, 28 August 2009 Pat Symonds (GBR) Renault Executive Director of Engineering.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, European Grand Prix, Preparations, Valencia Spain, Thursday, 20 August 2009

A French court has overturned the indefinite ban from Formula One racing placed on former Renault team boss Flavio Briatore by the FIA. Briatore was handed the penalty last September for his role in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix race fixing scandal.

An internal investigation by Renault suggested that Briatore, driver Nelson Piquet and former executive director of engineering Pat Symonds conspired for Piquet to deliberately crash out of the event to enhance the race prospects of Renault’s lead driver, Fernando Alonso.

An FIA enquiry agreed and saw Briatore barred from FIA-sanctioned motorsport indefinitely. However, the Italian subsequently challenged the methods used in the FIA’s case, leading to Tuesday’s decision by the Tribunal de Grand Instance in Paris, which also overturned the five-year ban given to Symonds.

Although the Court did not annul the FIA’s decision, it decided Formula One racing's governing body did not have the authority to impose bans for procedural reasons and because neither Briatore nor Symonds were FIA licence holders, and therefore not subject to FIA rules. The FIA is now considering whether to appeal the decision.

The original FIA enquiry also saw Renault given a two-year suspended Formula One ban, while Piquet was granted immunity from punishment for his cooperation.

Briatore’s response in full:
I would like to express my great joy with the decision handed down by the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance (Regional Court). I believe it important for FIA to play the active role it deserves in automobile competition. As a sports person and one passionately involved in car racing for more than 20 years, the decision to apply to the civil courts to contest a decision of the FIA was a difficult one for me to take.

The fact that the World Automobile Sport Council had been utilized to deal with a personal agenda aimed at pushing me out of the world of competition left me no other choice. The decision handed down today restores to me the dignity and freedom that certain people had arbitrarily attempted to deprive me of.

The Court recognized that all the criticisms I had formulated against the decision of the World Council were founded, by finding that the FIA had:
- rendered a decision that it was not competent to pronounce
- infringed its own articles of association
- totally failed to respect my right to a fair defense
- finally, entrusted the tasks of investigation, prosecution and judgment to a principle player known by all to be hostile to me.
I believe that justice has been done today.

Q: When will you be returning to Formula One?
Let me take a little time to enjoy this moment of happiness after this difficult period. As concerns my possible return to F1, there is plenty of time to talk about this. I would like first of all to thank the people who remained faithful to me during these difficult moments and who showed me their trust and friendship.

The FIA’s response in full:
The FIA notes the Decision of the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris in relation to Mr. Briatore and Mr. Symonds.

The Court has rejected the claims for damages made by Mr. Briatore and Mr. Symonds and their claim for an annulment of the FIA's decision. In particular, the Court did not examine the facts and has not reversed the FIA's finding that both Briatore and Symonds conspired to cause an intentional crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

However, the Court did question the FIA's authority to impose bans upon Mr. Briatore and Mr. Symonds for procedural reasons and because they are not FIA licence holders and, according to the Court, are therefore not subject to any FIA rules. The FIA's ability to exclude those who intentionally put others' lives at risk has never before been put into doubt and the FIA is carefully considering its appeal options on this point.

The Court’s decision is not enforceable until the FIA's appeal options have been exhausted. Until then, the World Motor Sport Council’s decision continues to apply.

In addition, the FIA intends to consider appropriate actions to ensure that no persons who would engage, or who have engaged, in such dangerous activities or acts of intentional cheating will be allowed to participate in Formula One in the future.