Renault's fit of Piquet

Seeing as Formula One could soon be short of companies to advertise in the blank spaces left by ailing car manufacturers, perhaps it should consider the big soap powder firms.

Track marshals recover Nelson Piquet's crashed Renault F1 car during the Singapore Grand Prix on September 28, 2008. Piquet has alleged that his former Renault team ordered him to crash in that race to bring out the safety car and help Spanish teammate Fernando Alonso take first place.
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Seeing as Formula One could soon be short of companies to advertise in the blank spaces left by ailing car manufacturers, perhaps it should consider the big soap powder firms. Because no other sport likes to wash its dirty linen in public more than F1. The team currently having its underpants waved around is Renault. The man doing the waving is one Nelson Piquet Junior, a Brazilian driver named after his famous father but who shares similarities with another celebrated Nelson - the British naval hero, Lord Horatio Nelson. By which I mean they both seem to enjoy upsetting the French.

Piquet claims that Renault team principal Flavio Briatore and director of engineering Pat Symonds ordered him to cause an accident at last year's Singapore Grand Prix, which was the first ever night-time F1 race. The crash, he claims, was intended to create an advantage for his teammate Fernando Alonso. The FIA has confirmed it is investigating the claims - which are strenuously denied by Briatore. And, in most sports, that would be that. One tight-lipped statement for the press, then a wall of silence would descend while the investigation plodded on and, hopefully, the media storm died down.

But not in F1. Firstly, Piquet's statement was leaked onto the internet for everyone to have a good look. Next, Briatore was holding court before Sunday's Monza GP, accusing the "spoilt" Piquet of launching a blackmail plot to keep his place on the Renault team. Then Piquet hit back, claiming that "I will not be bullied again into making a decision I regret". This is not sport, this is pure drama. Intrigue, betrayal, accusation. I haven't seen this much hair-tossing, lip-quivering and general histrionics among the super rich since Beverly Hills 90210 was the biggest television show in the world. In fact, I can almost see Hollywood making musical version of the whole saga. It could end with Piquet (played by Tom Cruise, naturally) deciding to drop his charges as he belts out a classic Abba tune. It would go something like this:

There was something in the air that night, The stars were bright, Fernando. They were shining there for you and me, For liberty, Fernando. Though I never thought that we could lose, There's no regret. If I had to do the same again, I would, my friend, Fernando. F1 purists will tut-tut at the spectre of yet another sideshow disgracing their fine sport. Don't forget, it is only two years since McLaren were caught with secret and sensitive Ferrari data. It is only six months since Lewis Hamilton was stripped of his podium finish in the Melbourne GP for lying to the stewards.

And it feels like only yesterday that a British tabloid published pictures of FIA president Max Mosley involved in a compromising situation. However, the simple truth is this: many people with no previous interest in Formula One will gravitate towards the sport while it continues to generate such headlines. From the drivers to the team bosses to the governing authorities themselves, F1 has got personality. And, yes, sometimes what happens off the track is more interesting than what happens on it.

While other sports, particularly football, seem determined to scrub any personality out of the game through media management and hefty fines for those who speak out of turn, F1 should celebrate its characters, dirty linen and all.