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September 26, 2009

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Renault sponsors pull out over race-fixing scam

THE Renault Formula One team suffered further fallout from a race-fixing scandal on Thursday when title sponsor ING and Spain's Mutua Madrilena tore up their contracts with immediate effect.

The Dutch-based financial group, which had provided a significant slice of the team's budget, had always planned to pull out at the end of the season as part of a cost reduction program.

However, ING said in a statement it had decided to quit four races early after Renault was this week handed a suspended permanent ban from the sport by the governing International Automobile Federation.

"In light of the verdict of the World Motor Sport Council of 21 September 2009 concerning the events that occurred at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, ING will terminate the contract with Renault Formula One with immediate effect," the company said.

"ING is deeply disappointed at this turn of events, especially in the context of an otherwise successful sponsorship."

The company was the largest sponsor on Renault's books, providing more than half its total sponsorship revenues according to some estimates, and the team has yet to announce a replacement.

A report by industry monitor Formula Money earlier this year put ING's contribution to the sport at some US$86 million last season, with US$65 million going to Renault.

Spanish insurer Mutua Madrilena announced earlier on Thursday it had withdrawn its sponsorship from the team for similar reasons.

The company said the decision would have no impact on its sponsorship contract with Spain's double world champion Fernando Alonso, however.

"Mutua Madrilena believes the conduct of the relevant people in the team was of extraordinary seriousness and not only compromised the integrity of the sport but also put the physical safety of spectators, drivers and circuit personnel at risk," the company said in a statement.

"This could affect the image, reputation and good name of the team's sponsors."

The company told Renault to remove its name from the team's cars with immediate effect. On Monday, the FIA also banned former Renault boss Flavio Briatore for life and suspended former engineering head Pat Symonds for five years for fixing last year's Singapore Grand Prix by ordering Brazilian Nelson Piquet to crash.

Alonso, who won that race after the safety car was deployed, was cleared of any involvement.


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