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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Auto racing: Court overturns Briatore's ban, FIA may appeal

AP Sports Writer

PARIS F1's governing body is considering an appeal after a French court overturned the lifetime suspension of former Renault Formula One boss Flavio Briatore on Tuesday.

FIA banned Briatore from motor sports in September after it said he ordered Nelson Piquet Jr. to deliberately crash his car to help teammate Fernando Alonso win the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008. Briatore denied a role in the scheme.

Just hours after Renault confirmed Eric Boullier as its new team principal, the Paris court said Briatore was not given the right to properly defend himself during the FIA inquiry. It pointed out that the decision to ban him was on the basis of an anonymous testimony, while the Italian's lawyer had not been allowed to question the witness.

The court ordered FIA to pay Briatore $21,500 far short of the $1.4 million he sought in damages.

Briatore told Italian state TV in a telephone interview that the ruling "gives me back my dignity, my freedom, which was taken from me in an absolutely arbitrary way."

Asked if he would soon be seen in the box along the race tracks, Briatore replied: "We'll see. Some time has to pass to heal the very deep wounds of these past months."

FIA said in a statement the court decision "cannot be enforced until the FIA's appeal options have been exhausted."

It said its "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."

FIA said the court "did not examine the facts and has not reversed the FIA's finding" that Briatore and former Renault chief engineer Pat Symonds, "conspired to cause an intentional crash."

Symonds' five-year ban was also overturned by the Paris court. He was awarded $7,200, also far short of the $722,000 he had sought.

Briatore's lawyer, Philippe Ouakrat, said it was "almost an exceptional outcome" for his client.

"We have the feeling that some justice has been reinstated," Ouakrat said. "I'm certain that the court was quite shocked by the way that the decision was made against Mr. Briatore."

Ouakrat argued that Briatore was suspended because of his tense relationship with then-FIA president Max Mosley, and that FIA exceeded its authority by imposing a sanction on individuals.

In a deposition given to FIA investigators in exchange for his immunity, Piquet Jr. said Briatore and Symonds ordered him to crash during the 2008 race into the wall at turn 14, where it would take the most time to clear the damaged car and result in the longest possible delay.

Renault escaped severe punishment from FIA, receiving only a suspended ban from F1.

Meanwhile, Boullier said Tuesday his main priority would be to restore the team's credibility in the wake of the scandal.

The 36-year-old Boullier, who was team principal at Team France in the A1GP Series from 2007-09, has been in place at Renault since last month when most of the team was sold to Luxembourg-based Genii Capital.