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August 18, 2009

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Renault fined, Alonso to race

TWO-TIME Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso was cleared to race at the European Grand Prix in his native Spain after Renault won its appeal yesterday to overturn a one-race suspension.

Motor sport's governing body had suspended Renault from Sunday's race in Valencia after the team allowed Alonso to leave the pit lane with a loose wheel during last month's Hungarian GP.

But the French Motor Sport Federation overturned the suspension before the FIA's International Court of Appeal at the FIA's Paris headquarters yesterday. Renault was instead fined US$50,000.

None of the F1 drivers were present at the hearing yesterday. Also representing Renault were engineering director Pat Symonds and technical director Bob Bell, while F1 race director Charlie Whiting represented the FIA.

Renault team manager Steve Nielsen had previously spoken of Alonso's importance to the race in Spain. "The reason there are two races in Spain is largely because of Fernando's involvement. People in Spain were not so interested in F1 until he got involved," Nielsen said.

Carlos Gracia, the president of Spain's motor sport federation, and vice president Joaquin Verdegay had asked for leniency.

Before the verdict, Verdegay said Spanish racing fans would be "deprived of their main reason for attending" if Alonso could not race.

The FIA reprimanded Renault for allowing Alonso to leave the pit lane with his wheel not securely fastened to his car during the Hungarian GP on July 26. The wheel dislodged from Alonso's car as he rounded turn No. 9 after 13 laps of racing, and bounced wildly down the track.

The incident came the day after Brazilian driver Felipe Massa was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after being struck by an object dislodged from another car.

FIA stewards said Renault had knowingly released Alonso's car from the pit stop position "without one of the retaining devices for the wheel-nuts being securely in position".

The decision to suspend Renault was made after the FIA reviewed film and radio recordings from the race in Hungary. Renault argued that it did not realize there was a problem with Alonso's car, so there was "no moral responsibility" on their part, barrister Ali Malek said.

But a lack of communication between the two mechanics working on Alonso's car and the chief mechanic who authorized him to leave the pit does not excuse the error, countered FIA's barrister, Paul Harris, before the four judges.


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