Pat Symonds offered immunity in drive to uncover events before ‘crash
The decision by the FIA to offer Pat Symonds, the director of engineering at the Renault Formula One team, immunity from punishment in the “Crashgate” scandal follows two interviews of him by stewards at the Belgian Grand Prix last month in which Symonds refused to comment on or deny claims made against him.
However, he did admit, in an important answer, that the subject of causing a deliberate crash in the Singapore Grand Prix last year had been raised in a meeting with Nelson Piquet Jr, the former Renault driver. “Nelson had spoken to me the day before and suggested that,” he told the stewards. “That’s all I’d really like to say.”
Symonds refused to discuss Piquet’s claims that he had told the Brazilian on what lap and at what point on the circuit to crash and nor would he go into further detail about what might have been said during a tactical meeting with Piquet just before the race, which was also attended by Flavio Briatore, the Renault team principal.
In remarks which could be seen to presage a deal between him and the FIA, Symonds who has enjoyed a distinguished career in Formula One and is regarded as an old hand in the paddock, told the investigating stewards: “I have no intention of lying to you. I have not lied to you, but I have reserved my position just a little.”
Reviewing the interviews, the stewards concluded that Symonds’s failure to answer key questions suggested that a meeting with Piquet before the race had taken place in Briatore’s office in the Renault motorhome in Singapore, that a deliberate crash was discussed and that Symonds had indicated to Piquet afterwards, as the Brazilian has alleged, where to effect the accident to ensure the safety car was called out.
In their report to the FIA, which forms part of the basis of the case against Renault, the stewards said: “Had there been no substance to the allegations made by [Piquet] and put to Mr. Symonds, it would have been straightforward for Mr. Symonds to deny them.”
Early in the interviews with Symonds, he was asked about the meeting with Piquet before the race.
Investigator: “What do you recall being said to Nelson Piquet Jr at that meeting? This is shortly before the race.”
Symonds: “I don't really remember.”
Investigator: “You don't really remember?”
Investigator: “Nelson Piquet Jr says he was asked by you to cause a deliberate crash. Is that true?”
Symonds: “Nelson spoke to me the day before and suggested that. That's all I'd really like to say.”
Investigator: “Mr. Symonds, are you aware that there was going to be a crash on lap 14?”
Symonds: “I don't want to answer that question.”
Investigator: “Mr. Piquet Jr says, having had the initial meeting with you and Flavio Briatore, you then met with him individually with the map of the circuit. Do you remember that?”
Symonds: “I won't answer. Rather not answer that. I don't recall it, but it sounds like Nelson's talked a lot more about it.”
Investigator: “Mr. Piquet Jr also says that at that meeting, you pointed out a specific place on the circuit where he was to have the accident and said it was because it was the furthest away from any of the safety or lifting equipment, and gave the most likely chance of a safety car being deployed.”
Symonds: “I don't...I don't want to answer that question.”
Symonds went on to acknowledge that he, Piquet and Briatore had all played a part in the discussions that took place – but stopped short of admitting that he had personally asked the Brazilian to have an accident. Renault continues to refute all of the allegations, with the FIA's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) due to meet in Paris on Monday (21 September) to discuss the team's fate.
Both Renault and Briatore strongly deny the allegations that they ordered Piquet to crash his car. London Times