11 years after 'crashgate', Renault could have caused their own demise again

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Renault's very future as a works team in Formula 1 could be under threat once again as the FIA investigate claims of an illegal brake bias system.

The alarm was sounded after last weekend's Japanese Grand Prix, when Racing Point issued a protest to the stewards along with a 12-page document detailing what they described as an automatic brake bias system.

This means, rather have drivers having to tweak the setting themselves to suit each corner, the system would do it by itself and former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher explained why that would be so advantageous.

“If it is happening automatically you could brake later and take more speed into each corner,” he told Sky Sports.

“It would be a big advantage … an automatic system controlled electronically could do it much better and faster than the driver can manually.”

While investigations continue, Schumacher also noted that just for Racing Point to make such a case is bad news for Renault.

“The suspicion must be reasonable because it’s an unwritten rule that you don’t accuse another team of something like that unless you’re 100 per cent sure," he stated.

“If they’re right, it’s a catastrophe for Renault. The FIA already seems overwhelmed with the simplest decisions, and this is definitely a mammoth task.

“They need to be completely sure because it would be a huge setback for Renault.”

The key factor in this story is, if found guilty, how long is it believed the French manufacturer has been using this system?

If the answer is a race or two then perhaps exclusion from those races and a fine or a suspended ban could be a strong slap on the wrist.

However, if this brake bias system has been in place throughout 2019 then potential disqualification from the Constructors' Championship and a big fine, akin to the $100m given to McLaren for 'Spygate' in 2007, should be expected.

Renault has been here before too with 'crash-gate' back 2008, when Nelson Piquet Jr. was told to deliberately crash to benefit Fernando Alonso at the Singapore Grand Prix.

The fallout from the controversy saw team boss Flavio Briatore given a lifetime ban from F1, while engineering executive director Pat Symonds received a five-year ban from the sport.

Renault themselves were given a two-year suspended sentence, but only after their quick actions to fire both Briatore and Symonds in the wake of 'crash-gate' coming to light.

As for the current situation facing the team, this comes only a month or so after Daniel Ricciardo was thrown out of qualifying in Singapore after his ERS was found to have produced more than the permitted 120kw of power.

While that incident was only for a very small fraction of a second and thought to have been caused by a kerb strike, given the performance progress made with their power unit this year, it might raise a few eyebrows.

Also likely to be at the centre of this will be executive director Marcin Budkowski, the former head of F1's technical department at the FIA, whose arrival was quite controversial given the knowledge of rivals cars he has gained in that previous role.

It also is highly likely that he would know any areas in the regulations where concepts such as this alleged automatic brake bias system could be permitted.

If Renault is found guilty, however, the scale of any punishment could have a major impact on their future in F1, particularly after already expressing some unhappiness over the proposed 2021 regulations.

And with no customer teams to supply from that year either, a possible pullout, just as they did after 2011, can't be ruled out.