Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds have stepped down from their posts after Renault decided not to dispute allegations that the team ordered former driver Nelson Piquet Junior to crash deliberately at last year’s Singapore grand prix.
Renault are due to appear before a meeting of the FIA world motor sport council on Monday which will convene in Paris to discuss what penalties should be imposed on the team as a result of the race crash.
In a statement Renault said: “The Renault team will not dispute the recent allegations made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore grand prix.” “It also wishes to state that its managing director Flavio Briatore and its executive director of engineering Pat Symonds have left the team. Before attending the hearing before the FIA world motor sport council in Paris on 21 September the team will be making no further comment.”
This has been a fast-moving saga which has run from the first tentative rumblings of speculation, fuelled by the embittered Piquet who was dropped from the team last month, through to the loss of these two leading players, Briatore and Symonds.
Renault now look set to bow their heads and submit whatever punishment the FIA chooses to mete out to them, although the French team’s parent company will be hoping that by shedding these two senior staff members they will successfully have taken the sting out of any penalties. The FIA could equally suspend the team from the world championship, although insiders believe if that were to happen then Renault might withdraw from the sport after the remaining four races of 2009.
The CEO and president of Renault Carlos Ghosn had earlier told L’Equipe that the parent company would not react “in hot blood” to the allegations that were made against the Formula One team. “Above all we don’t want to make a premature judgment one way or the other,” he said.
The FIA had charged Renault with “conspiring with its driver, Nelson Piquet Jnr, to cause a deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore grand prix with the aim of causing the deployment of the safety car to the advantage of its other driver, Fernando Alonso.”
YouTube footage of Nelson Piquet Jr’s crash in Singapore last year. Following the crash, which took place on a part of the circuit where no cranes were available to lift Piquet’s car over the barriers, the safety car was deployed. Alonso was the only driver to have pitted before the incident, and consequently he emerged in the lead after the rest of the field refuelled after the safety car came out. Alonso went on to take the chequered flag at Formula One’s first night race – his first after rejoining the team following a season with McLaren in 2007 – and at a time when Renault were considering quitting the sport because of the huge expense involved at a time when domestic car markets were struggling.
Here is the transcript.
A transcript of the conversations between Renault team bosses, engineers and driver Nelson Piquet Jr during last year’s Singapore grand prix has been published, adding to the speculation over claims that Piquet was told to crash deliberately in order to aid the chances of his team-mate Fernando Alonso, who went on to win the race.
Yesterday, Renault’s director of engineering, Pat Symonds, was granted immunity in the FIA’s investigation into the incident if he agrees to provide details of the alleged plan.
Now the Times newspaper has published details of the interactions between Symonds, two Renault engineers and, crucially, Flavio Briatore, the team principal, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing on behalf of the driver and the team. In the radio communication, Briatore swears repeatedly and says that Piquet is “not a driver” following the now notorious crash, before later asking: “Is Nelson OK?”
“I can tell you now we are not three-stopping,” Symonds is heard to say on the transcript made by the FIA, the sport’s world governing body.
Later Symonds says to an engineer: “Don’t worry about fuel because I’m going to get him [Alonso] out of this traffic earlier than that.”
Piquet says: “What lap are we in, what lap are we in?”
A Renault engineer then reports: “He just asked: ‘What lap are we in?’”
Symonds replies: “Yeah, tell him that he’s about to complete lap eight.”
Symonds insists Piquet is then told something he should know from his pit board, which is shown to him at the end of every lap. “No, just tell him, he is about, he’s just completing, he’s about to complete lap eight.”
Symonds then says: “Right, I’m going to … I think we’re going to stop him just before we catch him [a reference to the Williams driver Kazuki Nakajima, who was ahead of Alonso] and get him out of it, the reason being we’ve still got this worry on the fuel pump. It’s only a couple of laps short. We’re going to be stopping him early and we’re going to go to lap 40.”
An unnamed engineer asks a few minutes later: “Pat, do you still not think that this is a bit too early? We only did six tenths that lap.”
Symonds replies: “No, no it’s going to be all right.”
“OK, OK, understood,” the engineer says.
After Alonso’s pit stop, Symonds says to the engineer: “OK right, you’ve got to push him really bloody hard now. If he [Piquet] doesn’t get past Barrichello, he’s going nowhere, he’s got to get past Barrichello this lap.”
Briatore then gets involved, saying: “Tell him, push.”
Piquet’s race engineer tells his driver: “Nelson, no excuses now, you’ve got to get past Barrichello. You’ve got four clicks straight-line advantage. Come on, you’ve got to push now, you must get past him.”
A short time later, the Times reports, Piquet crashes at turn 17, the place at which the driver claims he was told to crash before the race.
Multiple voices: "Nelson’s off. Fucking hell. Nelson’s had a crash. I would say that would be a red flag. It’s huge [all speaking at the same time] .
Piquet: “Sorry guys. I had a little outing.”
Engineer: “Is he all right, Is he all right?”
Symonds: “Ask him if he’s all right.”
Engineer: “Are you OK? Are you OK?”
Engineer: “Fernando’s just gone past it.”
Engineer: “OK, yellow flag.”
Piquet: “Yeah, I hit my head in the back. I think I’m OK.”
Engineer: “OK, understood.”
Symonds: “Right [inaudible], stop him.”
Engineer: “Safety car, safety car, safety car, safety car. Fernando, safety car, mixture three.”
Symonds: “Tell him to be careful, turn 17 I think it is.”
Engineer: “Fucking hell that was a big shunt.”
Briatore: “Fucking hell … my every fucking disgrace, fucking, he’s not a driver.”
Symonds: “What position is Fernando in?”
Engineer: “Well, we were 20, and we’re first guy to pick the safety car up.”
Symonds: “Yeah, we’re not …”
Engineer: “He will get away past it but he’s got to wait.”
“What position we are now in all this?” asks Briatore.
Symonds replies: “To be honest, I don’t know Flavio. It’s got to have been good for Fernando. But I honestly don’t know where he is.”
Several minutes later, they return to the subject of Piquet and the crash. Engineer: “Where is Nelson? Have you seen him?”
Briatore: “Is he OK, Nelson? Is he OK?”
Alonso: “The pit lane is closed until we arrive?”
Engineer: “He climbed out, mate, and ran across the track.”
Engineer: “Yeah, the pit lane is still closed.”