Multiple World Champion Niki Lauda has said that the FIA must still punish Renault hard for its involvement in fixing last year's Singapore Grand Prix if Formula 1 is to restore its credibility.
In the wake of Renault admitting that it will not contest charges that it deliberately caused a crash in Singapore last year to help Fernando Alonso win, Lauda has called for tough sanctions. This comes despite the two men at the center of the case – Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds – having left the team ahead of next Monday's World Motor Sport Council hearing into the matter.
The hearing will still go ahead and it is likely Renault will be represented by a lawyer, who will ask for clemency because the evidence suggests only a few people knew about the alleged race-fixing plot. But Lauda thinks that even though so few knew about the offence, he thinks for the sake of the sport the team must be punished. He suggests this matter is more serious than either Michael Schumacher deliberately parking his car in Monaco 2006, or the McLaren spy case in 2007.
"When I first heard the accusation that Renault had asked Nelson Piquet to crash deliberately, the question was whether it was true or not," Lauda told the Daily Mail. "If it was true, then it amounted to the worst thing that has happened in Formula 1.
"There is only one other incident that comes near – Michael Schumacher parking his Ferrari on the racing line at Monaco in 2006 to block Fernando Alonso's last qualifying lap. But, really, even that is not comparable."
He added: "Yes, the McLaren spying scandal two years ago was extremely serious but mechanics have always discussed technical data among themselves. This, though, is new. The biggest damage ever. Now the FIA must punish Renault heavily to restore credibility in the sport."
Lauda has also expressed disappointment about the stance adopted by Briatore over the weekend – the Italian claiming innocence and stirring up matters relating to Piquet's private life.
"What also really upset me at the weekend was what Flavio Briatore was saying. He denied it all," he said. "His messages were murky, even making comments about Piquet's private life. It was unbelievable. And now, because Briatore has been sacked, we must assume the allegations against Renault were all true."