Monday, September 21, 2009

Renault Team Boss Banned for Life

By Ossian Shine

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The race-fixing controversy that has shamed Formula One is a bump on the road that the sport will quickly get past, according to former world champion Mika Hakkinen.

The Finn, who escaped from an horrific accident that almost killed him before he won the world title in 1998 and 1999, said motor racing's premier category would also survive the ugly scandal surrounding the Renault team.

"Show must go on," Hakkinen told Reuters.

"People who have done wrong, they need a penalty...And life has to go on."

Formula One has been plunged into controversy after the Renault team were found to have ordered driver Nelson Piquet to deliberately crash at last year's Singapore Grand Prix to help his team mate Fernando Alonso to win the race.

Renault team boss Flavio Briatore was barred for life on Monday for his role and former engineering head Pat Symonds was banned for five years. Piquet walked away unpunished after being given immunity from prosecution for testifying.

The controversy has cast an unsavory shadow over the sport and undermined Formula One's credibility at a time when it is looking to bolster support and shore up investment.

But Hakkinen, who would have died at the 1995 Australian Grand Prix without the intervention of quick-thinking doctors who performed an emergency trackside tracheotomy, remains upbeat about the future.

"Forget it and concentrate on the future," he said. "I think what is important now is a great grand prix is coming."

Hakkinen, in Singapore ahead of this weekend's Grand Prix, said Sunday's nighttime spectacle was just the first step on the sport's road to recovery, as was the return next season of Lotus, the glamour-name that he started his career with.

"I think it's brilliant," Hakkinen said. "I think it's absolutely brilliant.

"A new organization in Formula One, new team in Formula One, new people in Formula One. All of this is a positive thing."

Running his hand through his blond-streaked hair the 41-year-old issued one piece of advice.

"You really, really have to keep your feet down on earth," he cautioned. "You have to have the right people running the operation.

"Obviously (there is) a lot of money involved, and you need professional people. So they, the people who have decided to bring the Lotus back, and run the Formula One team, I hope they have a good plan to get the right people."

Leading Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes will be the Lotus team principal. The 45-year-old set up Asian budget airline Air Asia, currently sponsoring the Williams team, and is Malaysia's 15th richest man with a net worth of $220 million according to the Forbes Malaysia 2009 rich list.

The team has the backing of the Malaysian government. Lotus will initially be based in Norfolk, some 10 miles from the original Lotus Cars factory in Eastern England, but the future design, manufacturing and technical center will be purpose built at Malaysia's Sepang International Circuit.

(Editing by Julian Linden)