Piquet reveals he 'was asked to crash' by Renault
It is being claimed in the media that Nelsinho Piquet has admitted to the FIA that he 'was asked to deliberately crash' by his employers Renault during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix – thereby playing a crucial role in team-mate Fernando Alonso's victory in Formula 1's inaugural night race.
Renault is due to appear before the governing body's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) on 21 September, to face charges of committing 'a breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code, that the team conspired with its driver, Nelson Piquet Jr, 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' [see separate story – click here].
Ahead of that, British newspaper the Daily Mirror reports that Piquet has told FIA investigators that only hours prior to the grand prix, he met in one of Renault's offices at the track to discuss race tactics with the Régie's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds and managing director Flavio Briatore – the man who last month sacked the Brazilian mid-season, prompting a very public media slanging match between the pair.
There followed, the 'paper alleges, a second meeting with Symonds, during which it was agreed that Piquet would do what he could to help Alonso to triumph. It has been contended that it was only the double F1 World Champion's back-to-back late-season successes in Singapore and Japan that prevented Renault from ceasing its F1 involvement at the end of last year.
Piquet's argument is understood to be that he complied with the instruction as he felt under pressure to hold onto his drive, with little security regarding his seat in 2009 and fearful that his entire career was on the line – and he believed that in acquiescing to the team's demands, he might save his place inside the squad. The 24-year-old added that the part of the Marina Bay street circuit where he came into contact with the wall was chosen due to the lack of cranes in the area to remove any stranded cars, in so doing ensuring there would be a safety car.
Alonso leapfrogged up the order from outside the top ten into the lead following the safety car period, during which virtually the entire field came into re-fuel – whilst the Spaniard, who denies all knowledge of the plot, had already done so just two laps previously, thereby placing him in the most advantageous position once the racing resumed.
According to the Mirror, the FIA is working in tandem with Quest – the detective agency run by former head of the Metropolitan Police Lord Stevens – and has unearthed evidence that at turn 17, the corner where the accident occurred, Piquet had lifted off on every lap due to the lack of grip there, apart from the lap on which he crashed. It has also been stated that shortly before his impact, the son of three-time F1 World Champion Nelson Piquet had asked his team over the pits-to-car radio what lap he was on.
Renault has declined to comment on the incident, though it is understood that whilst Briatore – who is portraying himself as a victim of 'extortion' by the Piquet family – is denying any such 'fix' being either discussed or implemented, Symonds has acknowledged the fact that 'a conversation' between team and driver did take place, but that nothing concrete arose from it. The Enstone-based outfit has allegedly insisted that the suggestion came from Piquet and not from the team.
According to The Times, it was Piquet's father who initially notified the FIA of the allegations by contacting the organisation's president Max Mosley on 26 July, the day of the Hungarian Grand Prix – his son's final race for Renault before being dismissed. It is reported that Piquet Jnr subsequently travelled to Paris four days later to present his own statement to FIA officials.
Should Renault be found guilty of bringing the sport into disrepute, it could find itself expelled from the top flight – and some surmise that even in the event of an 'innocent' verdict, the parent company in France may choose to pull the plug on its F1 project as a result of the global embarrassment caused and damage to its reputation.