Former Renault boss Flavio Briatore said he sacrificed himself to save his Formula One team, but it will take more than the departure of a flamboyant Italian showman to repair the damage done to the sport by race-fixing revelations.
|Briatore believed by stepping down he was 'saving the team' [EPA]
Renault announced yesterday that Briatore and engineering head Pat Symonds had left the team after allegations they fixed last year's Singapore Grand Prix by ordering Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet to crash.
The revelations dominated British media headlines.
"The worst act of cheating in the history of sport," declared the back page headline in the Times newspaper.
"I was just trying to save the team," Briatore said.
"It's my duty. That's the reason I've finished," he told British newspapers, whose commentators emphasised the potentially lethal nature of such a crash and portrayed a diseased sport lacking in moral perspective.
Austria's triple champion Niki Lauda, who almost died in a fiery 1976 crash at the Nuerburgring, said the scandal marked a new low and the governing FIA needed to take a tough stance.
"The McLaren spying scandal two years ago was extremely serious but mechanics have always discussed technical data among themselves," he told the Daily Mail, referring to a controversy that cost McLaren a record $100 million fine.
"This, though, is new. The biggest damage ever.
"Now the FIA must punish Renault heavily to restore credibility in the sport."
Britain's Jackie Stewart, another triple champion, agreed.
"There is something fundamentally rotten and wrong at the heart of Formula One," he told The Sun.
"Never in my experience has Formula One been in such a mood of self-destruction.
"Millions of fans are amazed, if not disgusted, at a sport which now goes from crisis to crisis with everyone blaming everyone else."
Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, a co-owner with Briatore of English first division football club Queens Park Rangers, refused to stand up for a man who had been seen by some as his eventual successor.
"It is a pity that Flavio has ended his Formula One career in this way," the 78-year-old told the Daily Mirror.
"You can't defend him at all. What he did was completely unnecessary. It's a pity that its happened."
"You can't defend him at all. What he did was completely unnecessary"
Ecclestone still could not resist making light of Briatore's predicament, suggesting he would now have more time to pick QPR's team, and said the sport that he has built into a billion dollar business would not suffer.
"He (Briatore) told me recently that he didn't want to finish up like me, playing with racing cars at my age. So at least he's been saved that embarrassment," he said.
"It (the sport) has recovered from so many things when people have said it was finished and it will recover from this. It was supposed to be finished when Ayrton Senna died. It was supposed to be finished when Michael Schumacher retired.
"People say its been a torrid year but it always is in F1.
"There's always something going on. It's never peaceful."