• Crashgate

Crashgate explained

Martin Williamson

Sport and controversy go together hand in hand. But rarely can an attempt to abuse the system have involved such serious stakes, namely the personal safety of a driver. Given that and the high-profile nature of those involved, it is unsurprising that when Crashgate, as it quickly became known, broke it did considerable damage to the image of Formula One in a year it was already on the backfoot.

The basics of what happened are quite simple, even if blame and accountability was passed between members of the Renault team.

At the Singapore Grand Prix in September 2008, Nelson Piquet Jnr crashed into the wall at the 17th turn on the 14th lap of the race. The location of the accident meant the safety car had to be deployed while the debris was cleared, and Piquet's team-mate Fernando Alonso went on to win. Piquet described his crash as a simple mistake and that, to all intents and purposes, was that.

On August 3, shortly after the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, Piquet was released by Renault. Piquet, claiming he had an 'understanding' with the team, was livid and within days claimed he had crashed on orders. After weeks of speculation and rumour, on September 4 Renault was charged with conspiracy.

Renault insisted it would vigorously deny the charges (which were due to be heard on September 21) but on September 16 in a complete about-turn it said it would not contest the allegations and managing director, Flavio Briatore, and executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, had quit.

At the FIA hearing, Renault was disqualified from F1, suspended for two years. Briatore was suspended from all Formula One events and FIA-sanctioned events indefinitely, whilst Symonds received a five-year ban. Both bans were overturned by a French court in January 2010, although they both agreed not to work in Formula One or FIA-sanctioned events as part of a later settlement reached with the governing body.[5][6]

Singapore 2008

Alonso and Piquet both qualified down the field for F1's first night race - Alonso 15th and Piquet 16th - and when the grand prix started Alonso was the first to pit on the 12th lap as he had started with a light fuel load to try to pass the cars ahead of him. He rejoined the field at the back and less than three laps later Piquet crashed at a part of the track where there was no means of quickly removing the debris.

Because of the way the pit stops worked while the safety car was deployed, most of the leading cars subsequently ended up being behind Alonso, while those ahead of him were lighter on fuel and were able to pull away, but had not pitted. After gaining the lead in the final third, Alonso went on to win the race. Both both Briatore and Symonds attributed the safety-car deployment as a case of good luck. A few doubts were expressed about the incident but few were willing to believe any driver would crash on purpose.

Timeline

September 28, 2008
Piquet crashes at the Singapore Grand Prix; team-mate Fernando Alonso goes on to win

July 26, 2009
Piquet Jnr was fired by Renault after the Hungarian Grand Prix. He did not go quietly. "A manager is there to encourage and support you and provide you with opportunities. In my case it was the opposite. Briatore was my executioner."

July 30, 2009
Piquet gives evidence to the FIA about events in Singapore.

August 30 2009
Brazilian TV states Piquet Jnr was ordered to crash in Singapore. The FIA immediately announced it was investigating "alleged incidents at a previous F1 event".

September 10, 2009
Piquet gives a second statement to the FIA, but at the same time his original statement was leaked in full to the media. In the transcript, Piquet Jnr states that he was asked by Briatore and Symonds to crash his car at a specific corner.

September 11, 2009
Max Mosley, the FIA president, confirmed Piquet Jnr would face no action after making his two statements. Meanwhile, Renault issues a release saying it will take legal action against Piquet Jnr and his father "concerning the making of false allegations and a related attempt to blackmail the team into allowing Mr Piquet Jnr to drive for the remainder of the 2009 season". Piquet replies: "Because I am telling the truth I have nothing to fear, whether from the Renault team or Mr Briatore, and while I am well aware of the power and influence of those being investigated, and the vast resources at their disposal, I will not be bullied again into making a decision I regret".

The wreckage of Piquet's Renault is cleared away © Sutton Images
Enlarge
September 14, 2009
Symonds was reported to have been offered immunity from action if he provided the FIA with details of the alleged conspiracy. He was reported to have told FIA investigators that the initial idea of a crash had come from Piquet.

September 15, 2009
The Times published extracts of Renault F1 radio conversations transmitted before and after the Singapore race between Renault F1 personnel including Piquet Jnr, Alonso, Symonds and Briatore.

September 16, 2009
In a complete u-turn, Renault announced it would not be contesting the charges at the meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris five days later, adding both Briatore and Symonds had left the team. "I was just trying to save the team," Briatore said. "It's my duty. That's the reason I've finished."

September 17, 2009
Patrick Pelata, Renault's chief operating officer, said: "The team believes that a mistake has been made, and punishment must follow. Flavio Briatore considered himself to be morally responsible and resigned."

September 21, 2009
At an extraordinary meeting of the World Motorsports Council in Paris, Renault was banned from F1, suspended for two years; Symonds was banned for five years; Briatore barred indefinitely from any FIA-sanctioned event and also, in effect, banned from managing drivers. Alonso was cleared of any involvement.

October 19, 2009
Briatore announced his intention to challenge the FIA's decision in court.

January 5, 2010
A French court overturned the ban and awarded Briatore €15,000 in compensation. However, it did not absolve anyone of blame, merely decided the FIA's action was against its own rules.

January 11, 2010
The FIA announced it would appeal the court's decision.

April 12, 2010
The FIA announced a settlement with Briatore and Symonds, and that the legal action had been ended. Both men agreed not to work in Formula One until 2013, or any other FIA-sanctioned championship until the end of 2011.

Quotes

"There is something fundamentally rotten and wrong at the heart of Formula One. Never in my experience has Formula One been in such a mood of self-destruction. Millions of fans are amazed, if not disgusted, at a sport which now goes from crisis to crisis with everyone blaming everyone else." Jackie Stewart

"The biggest damage ever. Now the FIA must punish Renault heavily to restore credibility in the sport." Niki Lauda

"This is probably slightly on the wrong side of the cheating thing but in days past every team have done whatever they could to win - cheat, bend the rules, break the rules, sabotage opponents … this is just the FIA going on a crusade." Eddie Irvine

"The ramifications with safety - safety of marshals, safety of the driver... you're asking someone to do something absolutely ridiculous. I ran a team for nearly 30 years and I can't comprehend that is even part of the agenda. I don't know how desperate they were." Eddie Jordan

"You can't defend him [Briatore] at all. What he did was completely unnecessary. It's a pity that it's happened." Bernie Ecclestone

"Piquet didn't deliver at Renault, he wasn't fast enough, that's why he was released and that's why he has dropped hand grenades into the system ever since." Martin Brundle

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Feeds Feeds: Martin Williamson

Martin Williamson Close
Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo