Renault accusations escalate

Autosport is carrying a story this evening with some amazing revelations about a meeting which took place between Renault’s Flavio Briatore, Pat Symonds and Nelson Piquet Jr at Singapore last year.

Renault stand accused of deliberately causing Piquet to crash, just after Alonso’s early first pit stop, in order to give Alonso the chance to win the race, as the rest of the field would pit under the ensuing safety car.

The first ever night race, the Singapore Grand Prix was sponsored by Renault’s title sponsor, ING, making it a perfect day for them. Autosport’s Jon Noble quotes ’sources’, in his report as follows:

“Sources claim that in evidence submitted to the FIA by Nelson Piquet, the Brazilian driver says he was asked by Briatore and Symonds to crash deliberately early in the race so as to help Alonso win.

“Piquet says that he agreed to do so because he felt uncomfortable about his situation at the team, with Renault having not renewed his contract for 2009 at that time – and Briatore was stalling on making a firm commitment. Piquet suggests that he only went ahead and caused the accident because he felt he would be rewarded for his actions.

“In his evidence, Piquet claims that he was taken aside by Symonds after the first meeting and instructured that he should crash on lap 13 or 14, shortly after Alonso’s scheduled first stop, at Turn 17.

“The reason this part of the track was singled out was because there were no cranes present there to lift the car away, so any accident would virtually guarantee a safety car."

The story has echoes of the blood scandal in rugby last season, when a Harlequins player was instructed by the team manager to fake a blood injury using stage blood, in order to get a specialist kicker onto the pitch.

Autosport goes on on say that the information was given to FIA president Max Mosley by Nelson Piquet Sr on July 26th. This was the day of the Hungarian Grand Prix. That same day Renault were charged for releasing Alonso’s unsafe car back into the race after a pit stop. That infringement initially got them a one race ban, which was lifted on appeal, but it germinated the notion that the team was not acting safely. Since then the Singapore issue has been extensively investigated by an FIA team, assisted by representatives of Quest, a leading independent investigative firm, run by former Metropolitan police chief Lord Stevens, which Mosley hired last year to look into who set up the sting on him in the News of the World.

This is an extremely serious allegation and if proven, is far more serious than the McLaren spy case of 2007 because it concerns putting the lives of the driver, the marshals and potentially the public at risk. If proven the race fixing aspect of it would have a very negative impact on the image of the sport, just as it is emerging from the instability of the teams’ breakaway threat. According to the story, both Symonds and Briatore deny Piquet’s account. They accept that the meeting took place, but say that the idea of crashing was not theirs – two men’s word against one.

Interestingly in the evidence which has come to light thus far, there is no suggestion that Fernando Alonso, who was the main beneficiary of Piquet’s accident and who is hoping to be unveiled as a Ferrari driver shortly, had any part in the planning of it.

The hearing before the World Council, will take place on Monday September 21st.

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