As Charlie Whiting will explain:
"There were some conspiracy theories after the race, but nothing of substance. But I was in Brazil (between Friday, 31 October, and Sunday, 2 November 2008, during the Brazilian Grand Prix) and I was speaking with Nelson Piquet. I've been his mechanic for several years and we've remained good friends. He came to find me in my office and we had a chat. Then, all of a sudden, he closed the door. He kept his foot against the door, in a way that no one could enter, and then he told me what had happened in Singapore. He was targeted at Flavio [Briatore] because, basically, the essence of what he was saying was that: 'Flavio made my son crashed'. I said: Wow, this is serious business. I don't know to who else he told this, but he only told me: keep this news secret. By doing so, he would know I'd say it to Max Mosley".
The side of the story told by Charlie Whiting will be confirmed by Nelson Piquet.
"I talked with Charlie in Brazil. I contacted him and I told him: Look, what could happen to Nelson if I say it? I was afraid of ruining Nelson's career".
Nelson Piquet decides to talk since Flavio Briatore does not renew the contract of Nelson Piquet Jr. immediately after the Singapore Grand Prix, despite an option that was due on Tuesday, 30 September 2008, in other words two days after the Singapore Grand Prix. The contract will however be signed in the airport of São Paulo, with the promise that the Brazilian driver would not be penalized by the team and would actually become the number one driver following the leaving of Fernando Alonso. But under one condition, as Flavio Briatore will then say:
"But like, if I had organized everything, the first thing would have been to make him sign the contract. Instead, nothing. And when I renew it, in Brazil, I cut his compensation from 1.500.000 to 1.000.000 dollars, with the possibility of firing him if by the 2009 German Grand Prix he had not scored 40% of Alonso's points".
However, although Charlie Whiting will report to the FIA president, Max Mosley, on what Nelson Piquet said, the Federation will avoid initiating a formal investigation. Reflecting on the reasons of this choice, Max Mosley, a former lawyer, will explain that, despite Nelson Piquet's testimony, the FIA will not be able to initiate an investigation because of the absence of evidence.
"This confirmed what I suspected, and also what many other people suspected. But obviously I didn't say anything to anyone. There was no evidence. Then Nelson Piquet Jr. was fired from the team, and his father came to visit me in Monaco. He told me the story. I didn't say that I already knew it, I only said that it was terrible".
Then, however, on Sunday, 26 July 2009, Nelson Piquet Jr. is fired by Flavio Briatore. And the first move the Brazilian driver and his father make is to testify to Max Mosley about what happened in Singapore in 2008. The president asks to be able to view evidence of that, and the two bring telemetry (which shows that Nelson Piquet Jr., on the decisive corner, intentionally accelerated, hitting the outer wall and causing the Safety Car call) and audio recordings. The Federation is preparing to investigate and on Sunday, 30 August 2009, halfway between the psychodrama and the spy story, a new case risks upsetting again the system of a Formula 1 already severely tested by months of controversies and wars.
A shadow looms over the legality of the 2008 World Championship, the one won by Lewis Hamilton (or, if you prefer, lost by Felipe Massa) at the last corner. A shadow that has a name, a surname, a place and a date: Nelson Piquet Jr., Singapore 2008. The FIA opens an investigation into the legality of this race, heavily directed by a crash that saw the Renault driver as the protagonist. Because of this crash, the Safety Car entered the track, which, as it often happens, changed the fate of the race, eliminating the gaps and forcing many teams to change strategy. Among those teams, Ferrari. Now, the FIA suspects that the Brazilian driver's crash was not due to a simple mistake, but a gesture born from a precise strategy aimed at benefiting Fernando Alonso, who actually won the Grand Prix. If the investigation were to prove this hypothesis, the career of Nelson Piquet Jr. could be considered finished, Renault's position would be virtually desperate and, above all, the sporting result of the entire World Championship (lost by Ferrari by a single point) would risk being questioned. From the beginning, the perfect timing of Piquet's crash, combined with the dynamics and effects it produced, triggered numerous suspicions. However, they were rejected with outrage by the Brazilian driver.
"It was my fault, we, the drivers, always try to drive to the limits and sometimes we bang against the walls".
In support of his argument, the recordings of the team-driver interviews in which Piquet is clearly heard apologizing heartbroken:
One year later, however, the FIA decides to investigate. What happened in the meantime? The officials are locked in an insurmountable no comment. Rumors from the paddock suggest that it may have been the great Nelson who told everything. And it should not be underestimated that the stormy breakup in the relationship between Nelson Piquet Jr. and Renault dates back to no more than a month ago:
"Briatore thinks that a good manager is the one who embezzles 20% of a driver's income, while from my point of view it is the one who tries to get you a good contract".
It goes without saying that Flavio Briatore did not appreciate it. And he certainly will not like this investigation into the team he is leading. Max Mosley will later explain that he had recruited experienced investigators to interview Nelson Piquet Jr. and obtain an official statement about what happened. But in that case, too, he had thought that the material he collected was not enough to initiate an action.
"We had the statement, the statement signed by him. But obviously it wasn't enough because I knew that, even if I had produced this statement with the whole story, and Nelson Jr. had testified, the defense would be: 'We've just fired him'. It's just a spiteful man. He's just trying to create problems".
Only after the FIA sends investigators and lawyers to the Belgian Grand Prix, held on Sunday, 30 August 2009, to question the representatives of the Renault team, does the governing body finally have enough material on which to work.
"They were smuggled into the paddock, because I knew no one had to know, not even Bernie, that they were there. Because if Flavio found out about it, he could've shut everything down".
Although the interviews at Spa convince the FIA president, Max Mosley, that he has enough elements to submit the matter to the World Council, the investigators offer an early insight of how much Fernando Alonso may know about the Singapore Grand Prix. Max Mosley will recount:
"The first person that they summoned was Alonso, who denied knowing what had happened. Many people probably think Alonso knew, but it's interesting that the chief superintendent, who had a huge experience in questioning people, told me he was convinced Alonso was telling the truth. So that was fine".
And he adds:
"But the next person to be summoned was Pat Symonds, because he was one of the four people involved. And Pat, obviously, is an absolutely honest person. So, when he was asked the obvious question, he said: I cannot answer this question. Of course, at the moment he said it, it was like a confession. So, we summoned Flavio to the World Council and the rest is history. They were banned and so on".
With the risk of ending up in the midst of a worldwide scandal, Renault could say goodbye to Formula 1. Or, at least, it is what Bernie Ecclestone thinks on Tuesday, 1 September 2009. The British manager talks about the investigation initiated by the FIA:
"This story could lead to Renault leaving the circuit, but I hope it doesn't get to that point. All I know is that Flavio (Briatore) insists on saying he knows nothing. The FIA will find out how things are: I think he would be very angry if he found out that it was all true".
But more than Renault, it seems that the main suspect is Flavio Briatore, even though the story is renamed 'Renault connection' in the paddock: on Thursday, 10 September 2009, a supposed classified statement, rendered by Nelson Piquet Jr. in the month of July, after the stormy firing from Renault, is shown. A document of terrifying clarity:
"During that Grand Prix, Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, the team's technical manager, asked me to deliberately go crashing in order to positively influence the team's performance. I adhered to the request and sent my car to bang against the wall between lap 13 and lap 14".
The accusation is more than substantiated:
"The request was made to me just before the race, during a meeting with Briatore and Symonds. Then, Symonds pulled me aside and, on a map, showed me the point where I should go off track".
A specific point, where there would have been no other option than making the Safety car enter the track.
"Symonds also told me about the exact lap during which I should crash. In that way the team was able to make Alonso's car start with a more aggressive strategy regarding the use of fuel, that is to say, aiming for a car with lighter fuel loaded only with the amount of fuel necessary to get to lap 12. So, Alonso was able to overtake many competitors at the start of the race, to refuel on lap 12 and then move away at the lead of the race, while the others had to make another stop. The strategy worked and Alonso won the race".
Nelson Piquet Jr. also takes responsibility for providing feedback to his words.
"To make sure I didn't miss the lap I asked my team several times via the radio (the dialogs are all recorded, ed) for confirmation of the exact lap. And after the race, I informed a family friend, Felipe Vargas, of the fact that the crash was deliberate. He in turn informed my father, Nelson Piquet".
To justify himself, Nelson Piquet Jr. says that he has been in a very fragile emotional and psychological condition:
"Since Briatore refused to inform me whether my contract would be renewed or not, and I thought that accepting the offer would improve my position".
No reaction from the Renault team. Alonso, questioned by the FIA in Spa, would have limited himself to saying that he does not know anything about this and that he has accepted the strategy imposed on him by the team. Symonds confirms the meeting mentioned by Nelson Piquet Jr., arguing however that:
"It was Piquet himself, that morning, who talked about that thing".
Flavio Briatore, then, claims to be the victim of a sort of extortion by the Piquet family. In this situation, the role of the FIA, which, after having set the parties' hearing at the next World Council (on Monday, 21 September 2008, in Paris), did not manage to protect the secret of a statement that could cost the end of the sporting history of many protagonists, is shining through ambiguity.
This is the advice that Bernie Ecclestone gave to Nelson Piquet as soon as he heard of his son's version about the strange crash that happened in Singapore in 2008. Fuck him: he tells the FIA everything and we take out Briatore, whose time has come. This is how it is: it is all black and white and, following the advice of Ecclestone, Nelson Piquet himself tells it to the FIA officers. To them, on Friday, 11 September 2009, he explains another very serious detail:
"Alonso also knew about the agreement".
It is at times like this that one understands what a beautiful environment there is in Formula 1. When the mud afflicts everyone, the concept of the worst becomes an abstraction. When Ecclestone's denials:
"It was Piquet who told me he wanted to take down Flavio".
And Fernando Alonso's ones:
"Never knew anything about that".
They are nothing but distant and barely audible rumors, and on the ground you can only see rubble. And it is at times like these that Flavio Briatore gives the best of himself. Just one minute after the end of the free practice of the Italian Grand Prix, the man accused of the Crashgate, as the British call it, summons journalists and, out of his mind, tries to defend the place of 700 people who work for Renault every day. Did you plan the 2008 Singapore crash?
"We sued the two Piquet at the Paris criminal court: blackmail and defamation. For the rest, we are certain that the FIA World Council, on 21 September, will be impartial".
Do you think that there are any prompters?
"I don't want to think that. Even if this leak of information of which we are victims certainly makes me have some doubts about it. The Federation asked us to remain silent. We have respected the order and now we found ourselves crucified in public".
The accusations of Nelson Piquet Jr. seem substantiated, in the radio conversations with the team - he affirms - he would have asked several times in which lap he was, to be sure to go off at the right time.
"It's completely false. Only on lap 8, Piquet asks us what lap we are in... But then, excuse me, Piquet banging against the wall is completely normal: besides that, he's done seventeen other crashes".
Nelson Piquet Jr. will like this statement.
"To Piquet, who also criminalized me in the newspapers, I just asked for performance. There was also a clause on the contract. The truth is that he has not been performing. I think we've tried in every way to make him comfortable. We did everything. We also looked for a doctor to speak to him about his vulnerability. I even read in the newspapers that Piquet accused me of not having let a friend of his into the paddock by calling me his executioner. I pushed his friend away at his father's suggestion. These two were living together. It was not clear what relationship they had. I followed his father's advice. I even had Piquet move out of the apartment and put him in a building where I live to keep an eye on him. All these allegations by Piquet are free. He always raced with his own teams. That's how he's always tried to have his own advantages. In whatever category he was racing, his father made him the team. He was the owner and the driver of the team. He makes absolutely shameful accusations against a team. I'm sorry, also because the accusations came a year later compared to what he says would have happened. I don't understand why he didn't go to the Federation right away in Singapore. I thought he was a more competitive driver with less problems".
Pat Symonds, the technical manager would admit that a meeting similar to the one mentioned by Piquet had taken place that morning.
"This is part of the trial before the World Council and I don't want to comment. All I'm saying is that we made a case before the Paris criminal court: blackmail and defamation".
Will you claim damages? From Piquet or from the FIA?
"For the moment, we defend the team and its 700 workers, then we'll see".
Excuse me, has the idea of a deliberate crash been brought forward or not that morning?
"I don't want to go into that, we'll do it in front of the FIA".
The statements of Nelson Piquet Jr. went directly from the FIA desks to the pages of a website that is left-wing already by the name: www.f1sa, an acronym for Formula 1 société anonyme. Do you have any idea how this could have happened?
Both the FIA and the FOTA (the team association) have officially complained...
"Just the FOTA, last time I checked".
The FIA too.
"We certainly didn't leak that information, that's for sure".
Don't you suspect that this story is a revenge for some of your positions taken towards Max Mosley?
"This, that's for you to say it. We were the only ones who had no interest in leaking that statement".
Do you feel in the firing line?
"In Formula 1, you always feel in the firing line".
The 2009 Italian Grand Prix being completed, Flavio Briatore seems to be close to the decision to leave Formula 1. In the last few hours, the Renault gate, the scandal that erupted following the statements of Nelson Piquet Jr., afflicts him: Renault is considering replacing him and he, for the first time, to retire. After submitting to the press the statement rendered by Nelson Piquet Jr. to the FIA commissioners, someone also releases the statements of the technical manager Pat Symonds, who was accused of complicity by the Brazilian. Symonds' words are a collection of reticence and awfully complicate Briatore's position. Just to give an example. Question:
"Were you aware that there was going to be a crash on lap 14?"
"I don't want to answer that question".
"Piquet said that you pointed out a specific place where he was to have the crash. Is it true?"
"I don't want to answer that question".
Also, Symonds was promised immunity by the FIA, according to a vaguely inquisitorial ritual. The argument that the stewards gave to Symonds and Piquet was essentially the following: if you help us get Flavio Briatore convicted, we will protect you whatever you have done. Just to make the political commitment of Max Mosely clear. In other words, Briatore is on a ticking clock. Only a miracle can save him and it will certainly take more than the recording of the radio conversations immediately after the crash, where he is heard shouting, furious:
"Fucking hell, my every fucking disgrace, fucking... he's not a driver".
The Renault team manager had been one of the brave captains of the team's revolt against the FIA in recent months. Max Mosley - who never liked Briatore - was doomed but now it is time for revenge. However, Mosley knows that to be successful again this time, he must get Flavio Briatore's resignation before the Paris ruling. On that occasion, a face-to-face confrontation could prove too heavy for a resigning president. The decision taken on Tuesday, 15 September 2009, to postpone the discussion in Paris for a couple of days (no longer on Monday, 21 September, but on Wednesday, 23 September 2009) must be read in this sense; if you arrived in Paris with the Italian team manager in place, someone could play to impose the Renault-Briatore identity and also ask for the exclusion from the World Championship of the manufacturer, which, besides the official statements, could not be very appreciated. At this time, the FIA delegates can only define as possible the participation of Flavio Briatore in the organization of the Crashgate. And also according to Renault, which has launched an internal investigation in the meantime, there is no evidence of the involvement of the team principal. And the team adds in its letter sent to the FIA:
"It doesn't change much if there's two or three people convinced".
But Max Mosley is not satisfied, and responds with a threatening email:
"You have a duty to cooperate and define Briatore's exact involvement in the conspiracy".
The action of the Federation is successful: on Thursday, 17 September 2009, Flavio Briatore leaves Renault. And with him, the team's sports manager, Symonds, the chief engineer, leaves. This is because, in the meantime, it seems that a mysterious Witness X - who appears to be Alan Permane - confessed by telephone the presence of Flavio Briatore at the meeting in which Nelson Piquet Jr. and Pat Symonds were definitely present. Not only: the French team, in its statement, makes it known that on Monday, 21 September 2009, before the World Council in Paris, it will not defend itself against the accusations of the FIA, linked to the alleged false crash of Nelson Piquet Jr., that the Brazilian driver himself called deliberate in his testimony, to favor the triumph of his teammate Alonso in the Singapore Grand Prix. Briatore, the main suspect, who steps aside; Symonds who follows him, but especially Renault who anticipates his surrender by giving the silent treatment which, in the absence of further comments (the company specifies that it will not make comments until the end of the trial), amounts to an admission of guilt. A sensational move. The illusions that are wasted, many claim that with this initiative Renault avoids heavy sanctions (some hypothesize the team's banishment or at least the exclusion from one or more World Championships), others (the minority) insist that a punishment by the FIA will come all the same, but that they still not manage to hide a substance, the end of an era (the Briatore era, in Formula 1 since 1989) and a huge damage to the image of the French company, it was confessed, probably, with its announced silence. The trial has yet to take place, but perhaps, in the light of what has happened, the sentence has already arrived, to the point of suggesting a cancelation of the sitting of the World Council (scheduled again for Monday 21 and not the 23 as stated by Max Mosley, president of the FIA), especially in the event that Renault decides not to present itself.
An unlikely event but a possible one: at the end of the day, a judgment must be issued and the French company will want to learn it directly. Where there seems to be no doubt is with the fact that Max Mosley, provoking the resignation of Flavio Briatore (who makes no statement noting that he did not resign nor that he was fired, but simply left for the sake of the team), managed to consume his own revenge, one month from the definitive abandonment of the FIA throne. The president (Todt or Vaatanen the successors) had not liked the war carried forward by the FOTA, the Association of Teams in which Flavio Briatore and Ron Dennis (another executive who stepped aside) always had a prominent role immediately behind the chairman Luca Montezemolo: at the first occasion he responded with the same poison. In June the big Formula 1 teams (when Max Mosley announced he would not run again) were singing victory, he remained at the head of the Federation and was able to launch the last revenge. It would appear, in the light of the statements, that Renault had it coming and it is questionable how the FIA intends to consider a Singapore Grand Prix to be completely falsified. The math is soon made: without that race, the World Championship would have gone to the Brazilian Ferrari driver. The fact remains that, in Singapore in 2008, Nelson Piquet Jr. could have killed someone. A spring, or a tyre, could have detached itself from his single-seater; undertaking any unpredictable trajectory and provoking an even more serious crash. The possibility, as it happened in this wretched season (Hungary 2009), was not that remote. So much so that at the Singapore court they would be considering whether to open a criminal investigation. In short, in terms of security, the Crashgate is likely to create other devastating effects. While it is true that the removal of Flavio Briatore was the main objective of Max Mosley, it is also true that many now want justice to be done thoroughly, and that, in this affair, Renault will be therefore severely punished. And so, on Monday, 21 September 2009, in Paris, the French team risks a lot, even the banishment from the races, contrary to the sort of tacit agreement concluded with Mosley (Briatore in exchange for redemption). Niki Lauda summarizes:
"It's the worst thing that ever happened in Formula 1. The FIA will have to very severely punish Renault to restore credibility to the sport".
He is echoed by the former German driver Hans-Joachim Stuck:
"If McLaren has been fined 100.000 euros for having lied in Melbourne, Renault should pay off at least 500".
Indeed, it is difficult to blame them. It is enough to read the statement given by Nelson Piquet Jr. to understand what we are talking about. The driver, fired by his team manager and agent Flavio Briatore, decides to denounce the team which would have convinced him to voluntarily go off track to favor Alonso. Under pressure from the stewards, Nelson Piquet Jr. recounts:
"During the reunion, no one worried about the consequences that the crash-strategy would have had on my security, the security of the audience and of the other drivers. The only comment that was made from this point of view was by Symonds. He told me: be careful".
And it is precisely for this reason that Renault could also lose. Also, because the French team will appear before the court as a repeat offender: in Hungary, the team committed a lightness in terms of safety and the FIA only made a formal appeal. The position of Flavio Briatore is also complicated because, in addition to the criminal trial in Singapore, he risks being banished from Formula 1, as well as a huge lawsuit against Renault (who in the meantime could appoint Alain Prost in his place) in case Massa or Ferrari decide to go to court to get justice. At the moment, the relations are still good. Briatore allegedly stated he had resigned to save the team, and the group's general manager Patrick Pelata says he believes him:
"Flavio felt morally responsible of the errors committed".
But we have to see how long it is going to last. And while the first rumors of an incoming withdrawing of Renault from Formula 1 begin, some critical voices are also becoming to be raised about the FIA's actions: the main evidence (telemetry and conversations) of the trial had been in the hands of the stewards for a year. Why did it take the driver's confession to get to the truth?
"It's sad seeing Briatore end like this after twenty years of Formula 1".
Rightly says Max Mosley, the near former, but always stainless, FIA president on Monday, 21 September 2009. But it is also sad to see that he is the one to pay for all. Only culprit, because he is the only one truly punished by the Paris ruling. Banished from Formula 1. Banished for life, where banished is not a random word, because in this strange justice on four wheels the banished are only certain principals, those who deny, do not repent, do not broaden the ranks of the defendants. While the other principals are also a little innocent, if maybe they contradict themselves in the interrogations or do not answer, making it clear that something rotten is there, and, like Symonds, the chief engineer, they are banished for only five years, until they become, like Nelson Piquet Jr., innocent of everything. Or at least not guilty because they have immunity, if they turn into whistle-blowers, if they are murderers who have done their duty, not because by going to crash on purpose they have falsified a race and made the teammate win, but because saying everything (it does not matter if it is with months of delay) they have had the real bad guys caught, those who were behind and pulled the strings. The credits go to them. Pending a new spy with an attached impunity and yet another trial. A strange justice. Where the concept of liability, subjective or objective, does not appear at all. Flavio Briatore was the manager of Renault. He persisted in denying, says now the enemy Max Mosley, who had sworn it to him and with his justice with double standards (give me the guilty and I will save you) managed to drive him from his profanity world, questioned, along with his power, by those teams, the Italian manager was one of the most stubborn, who always said no to his strange ideas. Flavio Briatore, on that occasion, got out of the way for the good of Renault. Max Mosley did not trust him, maybe he changed his mind, and he took it out of the way. But he was the team principal, could the team not know anything? Details, that is the FIA's answer. If Renault is given a fine, with the 2009 budget coming up, there is a risk that it will run away from Formula 1. And so, the case ends with two years of disqualification on parole. That would be serious, but it does not really mean anything. A joke who has already saved McLaren and who knows how many more. Stay quiet and start over as before. Except Flavio Briatore, they are all saved. A mess, as candidate Vatanen wishes, if the tribunal were an external body, where the FIA does not speak. Spotless record - and thanks - to Fernando Alonso, good Nelson Piquet Jr., who crashes on purpose, but then speaks. Renault appreciates, more could not be done. There may be some doubts about the credibility of the FIA. But does anyone care?
"We also banished the team, but as it has worked we suspended the banishment until 2011. Meanwhile, we accept a significant financial contribution to our business for the track safety. Formula 1 comes out well, we've eliminated bad stems".
Says Max Mosley. But the fact remains that in a serious system, Nelson Piquet Jr. (the guilty killer confessed, if it was about a murder on a warrant) would not have got away with a paternal caress, nor would he have been left in a position to be able to declare, immediately after the trial:
"I hope to soon have another opportunity in Formula 1".
Now Jean Todt will be able to continue his electoral campaign for the FIA presidency. And Max Mosley will be able to consume his last revenge. He still has a month left to retire, and at Toyota - designated by many as the next target - someone breaks into a cold sweat. Meanwhile, contained in the 60 pages that have excluded Briatore from Formula 1, here is a radiography of the Singapore Grand Prix. The stewards derive it from the radio conversations between the two drivers and the Renault pit. From their listening it can be fully understood what Piquet defines the Crash strategy: Symonds and Briatore knew that on lap 14 Nelson Piquet Jr. would have gone off, thus they were able to change during the race the strategy of Fernando Alonso (from three to two only pit stops, the first one immediately before the crash) and take, like this, the lead of the race. That is how it went that night at the pits. Symonds has to change the strategy during the race. He knows that the conversations are recorded and thus his words are interpreted by the stewards as a setup. The Grand Prix has just started and he already feels desperate. Fernando Alonso is behind Kazuki Nakajima.
"While we’re behind Nakajima we’re fucked, we’re not going anywhere".
Symonds yells via radio.
An engineer answers.
Says Symonds. Thirty seconds later, he declares:
"I can tell you now: we are not three-stopping".
A minute goes by and Symonds is heard saying:
"Don't worry about fuel because I'm going to get him out of this traffic…".
On lap 12 (Alonso would have still two of range) Briatore intervenes (him also, according to the accusation, in full comedy):
"No way we’re overtaking Nakajima with these tyres".
"Well, and I don't want to lose one more second, I make him stop at the end of lap 12".
An engineer intervenes:
"But do you still not think that this is a bit too early?"
"No, no it's going to be all right".
"We have nothing to lose".
Symonds and Briatore's evening is troubled by Nelson Piquet's anxieties. Who is very restless:
"What lap are we in? What lap are we in?"
The Brazilian asks. An engineer answers:
"He just asked: ‘What lap are we in?"
"Yeah, tell him that he's about to complete lap eight".
The engineer counters:
"Ok, but he already knows it…".
"No, just tell him, tell him he's about to complete lap eight".
At this point, the engineer answers to Nelson Piquet Jr.:
"You've just completed lap eight, you've just completed lap eight".
And Nelson Piquet Jr. answers:
"Ok, but now we better count the laps because I can't see (the pit board, ed)".
On lap 12, Fernando Alonso just got back in the race, with the tank full of fuel. An engineer asks Symonds if it is not the appropriate moment for Nelson Piquet Jr. to try to overtake Rubens Barrichello.
"Wait just a moment".
Thirty seconds go by and Symonds gives his ok:
"Ok right, you've got to push him really bloody hard now, if he doesn't get past Barrichello now, he's going nowhere, he's got to get past Barrichello this lap".
Flavio Briatore intervenes:
"Tell him, push".
"You've got to push him really bloody hard now".
Moments later, the crash happens. Nelson Piquet Jr. says:
"Sorry guys, I lost the control".
The engineer asks:
"Is he all right?"
Symonds continues saying:
"Ask him if he's all right".
Nelson Piquet Jr. says:
"Yeah, I'm ok, I'm ok... I hit my head in the back a bit but I'm ok".
In the meantime, Flavio Briatore swears:
"Fucking hell, my every fucking disgrace, fucking... he's not a driver".
In the disappointment of the pits, real or simulated, Symonds betrays and identifies, first and in an instant, the exact corner where the crash took place:
"Tell Alonso to be careful in turn 17".
Then comes the joy of an engineer:
"Safety car, safety car, Fernando, safety car".
On Wednesday, 23 September 2009, two days after the ruling of the FIA World Council, Flavio Briatore speaks again and says:
"I'm going to win eventually, and you'll see, then we're going to have a great celebration".
Having passed the initial shock, metabolized the unpleasant feeling of being betrayed by his own world, the Italian manager recovers the same old spirit and promises a battle. Obviously in his own way:
"It will be a properly organized celebration, and we will invite everyone who has been close to me during this difficult time".
That he is back to his old self, Briatore, it can be seen in the details. For example, by the courtesy with which he recalls all the reporters who left hundreds of phone calls on his mobile phone in these recent frantic days.
"It's only a question of education because I don't want to say absolutely nothing. I don't make statements. I will only speak at the appropriate time, if I'm still allowed to speak…".
Insisting is useless, as it is useless to try to explain some details about what his strategy will be:
"Look at the ruling that the FIA posted on Tuesday. It's not about me".
It is easy to imagine the content of the appeal: the unreliability of the sporting trial conceded; the impartiality of the court; the non-authenticity of the evidence; the total lack of balance of the ruling. The starting point is that apart from the accusation of Nelson Piquet Jr. (but he is a former employee who was fired, and therefore a witness to which important evidence must be found), there is no one who has expressly said:
"Flavio Briatore knew".
Above all, Pat Symonds did not say this, whose letter - one of the key documents of the case - on the point is very evasive.
"The idea of that crash was entirely from Nelson Piquet Jr.. I should've told him right away not to do that".
Symonds then explains that Alonso's strategy was studied and changed in the race, but independently of the crash, which Nelson Piquet Jr. did willingly. In short, he never talks about Briatore. And this forced the FIA to rely on a secret witness. A comedy character, called in the official records, Witness X, because she does not want to end up being fed to the press. His words are reported in the ruling but it is not clear where they were pronounced:
"Briatore was informed by Symonds on Saturday, after qualifying".
A general accusation that will be difficult to stand up to in an ordinary court. The lawyers of Flavio Briatore believe above all that they can be inserted in the contradiction in which the FIA fell that accepted both the letter of Symonds (the idea was Piquet's) and the confession of Nelsinho (they asked me for it). The civil case, however, would be only the first part of a strategy that would aim to solve everything with a compromise to be reached with the new president of the FIA (Todt should take office within a month) and thanks to the contribution of Ferrari. Since long an orphan of Ron Dennis and now without Briatore, the FOTA, the team association so dear to Luca Montezemolo, is now very weak. Of course, Briatore's place in Renault will still not be taken by Alain Prost. The French team announces that it will be Bob Bell who will lead the team at least until the end of the season. Luca Montezemolo says:
"I'm sorry for Briatore, I hope that his sentence will be reduced".
The following day, on Thursday, 24 September 2009, Bernie Ecclestone - one of the directors of Briatore's banishment from Formula 1 - gives advice to his victim:
"He does not want to file a civil case: before a court, the FIA would be forced to defend itself, and someone could say that he sent a young boy to hit a wall, risking killing him. He would lose. Better to appeal to the FIA".
Where - Bernie Ecclestone suggests - Flavio Briatore would find fertile ground:
"I think that the FIA ruling was too harsh. There was no need for it".
But there is no more relationship between the two:
"Flavio doesn't speak to me anymore. He thinks that I should have defended him, but I couldn't".
In the meantime, after the FIA ruling, Renault is in a tense climate and many people are leaving the team. It is enough to take a walk in the paddock, on Thursday, 24 September 2009, over the course of the Singaporean night, to see a couple of the team men taking the stickers of ING and Mutua Madrilena off the pits and of the single-seaters: the sponsors no longer want to know about it. They looked too bad with this crashgate affair. In the last few days, every time that a television set sent those images, the images from Nelson Piquet Jr.'s car crashing into the wall at turn 17, people could be heard shouting in the top rooms of the bank and of the insurance company. And since they had already both decided for some time to stop their collaboration with the team, they seized the opportunity and rushed to separate their brands from the now muddy one of the team.
"ING intends to terminate its contract with the Renault Formula 1 team with immediate effect".
The sponsor says they are deeply disappointed with the evolution of the events. More or less the same words used a few hours earlier by the other main sponsor of the French team:
"Mutua Madrilena acknowledges that the team's reaction was perfect, but this crash not only compromised the integrity of the sport, but also endangered the health of the spectators, drivers and staff of the circuit. This can influence our image and our reputation".
In addition to the economic pain of the damage, for Renault, whose survival in the circus for the next few years at this point is at least in strong doubt, there is also the bitterness of mockery: because Mutua Madrilena communicates that it will continue to work with Formula 1. And, in particular, to follow his reference driver: Fernando Alonso, currently at Renault but, evidently, about to change his racing suit (otherwise we would not understand the move of the sponsor who, instead, is well informed). On the other hand, Fernando Alonso is overwhelmed by the climate and ends up dumping Flavio Briatore with more or less the same brutality with which the sponsors have dumped Renault.
"That week that just passed was a normal one. And now I'm happy that it's clear and official that I had nothing to do with how successful that has been. What does the absence of Briatore change? Nothing. Everything is normal".
How come everything is normal? And the banishment of Flavio? Is it a proper punishment?
"I have nothing to say".
Who has lied between Flavio and Nelson?
"Nothing to say".
Has the F1 lost credibility?
"Nothing to say".
Someone explicitly asks if he will miss Briatore.
"There are other persons that will do his work. With Flavio I had and I have a very good relationship. He will be missed, but in the end it will be difficult to say whether with him the result of Sunday's race would have changed, which is the only thing we are interested in".
The immunity was not enough. To convince Nelsinho Piquet to screw Flavio Briatore by telling of the deliberate crash, it seems that it took much more than the simple assurance not to run into a disqualification: say a seat insured in Formula 1, maybe driving a Manor GP, one of the new teams, the most expensive to Max Mosley. Here, it seems, is the real reason for the exchange between the FIA and the Piquet family. This possibility starts to emerge in Singapore on Friday, 25 September 2009. The first one to start, as always, is Bernie Ecclestone:
"Piquet will find another team".
Then, in front of the general astonishment, the British manager tries to defuse the tension:
"The young man proved to be a driver who does what he's told... And it's not like everyone".
And within a few minutes, John Booth, the head of Manor GP, answers:
"Signing Piquet? I haven't talked to him yet. For the moment. But I wouldn't have a problem signing him in".
Then, just to be in tune with Ecclestone, the head of Manor GP makes a joke:
"Nelson is a young and disastrous driver…".
But all this talk also produces some nervousness among other drivers who do not appreciate the behavior of Nelson Piquet Jr. at all. Like Kubica:
"If a person who has killed someone goes to the police and reports another person who has killed three people, he is not released the next day".
Or Giancarlo Fisichella:
"If I would shake his hand? I've never shaken it…".
And even Kimi Räikkönen wakes up from his communication hibernation, and says:
"He'll have difficulties coming back".
The impression is that he will come back. If not at Manor, at Williams or in any other team looking for federal complacency. After all, in Formula 1, everyone comes back at some point. Briatore has also a very good opportunity. It is Bernie Ecclestone himself that says it:
"I'm convinced that he will soon come back among us. I'll talk to him after the Japanese Grand Prix. He has to defend himself, appeal to the FIA and he will come back".
The British media closer to Max Mosley are betting on the appeal ruling: 18 months. Speaking of Ecclestone, the British manager seems rejuvenated and in a good mood, as if he had taken new life from the disgrace of his friend Flavio:
"And, by the way, Briatore was not banished forever, but only for his entire life".
On Wednesday, 7 October 2009, the deadline for filing an appeal at the FIA Court expires, and Flavio Briatore decides not to appeal. Briatore has no intention of being exposed again to the FIA's judgment and is heading straight to the civil case, where he will ask for justice and money. And where - his lawyers have evidently assured him - he has a very good chance of winning. Thus, on the day Renault announces the arrival of the new driver (Robert Kubica) and on the eve of the Football Association's decision on his future as manager of the Queens Park Rangers, Briatore begins to show his cards. And what is seen is a quite heavy move, which in fact exposes Formula 1 for the first time to external judgement. A new situation for the couple who have not tried in any way to convince Briatore to re-enter the sporting ranks. But the former number one of Renault is furious. He believes that he has suffered a series of intolerable wrongs, something that goes far beyond the affair in which he was involved. The words - as usual semantically overloaded - of Bernie Ecclestone, who came back to talk about Flavio's friend and partner, are the best thermometer of the situation. He gets an interview from Formula 1's official website and explains:
"If Flavio has new evidence, and he says he has, he has to pull them out now".
Then, he winks:
"If he asks me for a paddock pass now? I'd deny it to him. At least until his innocence will not be proven".
In the same interview, Niki Lauda intervenes and explains the psychological moment of Bernie Ecclestone, friend and executioner of Flavio Briatore:
"Bernie has a huge heart, but if someone puts himself against his interests, he makes war with him. He is very similar to Enzo Ferrari: he had a huge Italian heart but if someone touched his cars he became a cold bastard".
On Sunday, 18 October 2009, Flavio Briatore speaks again:
"The FIA has been at the service of the revenge of one man only".
His lawyers have just finished preparing the document with which he will take the FIA to the court in Paris, and he explains:
"The decision taken on the Crashgate is a legal aberration and I am relying on the French courts to have an impartial justice".
The objective of the manager is to reverse the decision of the FIA and to oblige the Federation to withdraw the sanctions. The lawsuit leverages on the violation of the rights of the defense (late summons, impossibility to access the incriminating file). And there is talk of a violation of the rules of a fair trial; of a lack of impartiality; and of a secret negotiation of the content of the decision even before the hearing. Briatore will ask for a reputational damage of 1.000.000 euros.
"To present himself to the trial and try to defend himself would have been useless, because the sentence had already been handed down. To explain how scandalous the decision of the World Council was, it is enough to quote a comment, never denied, made by Ben Sulayem, the representative of the United Arab Emirates and vice president of the FIA. He said: we agreed earlier and everyone was happy with the decision made. It was my duty to protect the investments made by Abu Dhabi in Formula 1, a huge event that needed teams. We all wanted to see Renault, it's the result that everyone wanted".
For the Crashgate of Singapore, the French company could not pay, but only Briatore could. Among other things, Ben Sulayem is the same person who worked very hard in favor of Mosley at the time of the scandal that had risked making the FIA president lose the head of the Federation, a rescue operation that allowed him to become a sort of right-hand man of the supreme leader. Briatore (who did not even spare Bernie Ecclestone in the instance) hopes that the Parisian court will reverse the verdict. The FIA, now chaired by Jean Todt, has responded by making it known that his banishment was decided by an overwhelming majority.
"Not a personal revenge of Mosley, but a sentence wanted by almost the entire World Council".
And he adds:
"There's an inexplicable leak of information from Briatore's defensive memory, which we sentence".
It is as if to say: banished and muted.
"Lawyer, it is said that a crash like the one of Piquet Jr. is something never seen, so it means that he does not know about the comics of Michel Vaillant".
On Tuesday, 24 November 2009, the judge reprimands the FIA lawyer, and laughs heartily. Wanting to jump into an interpretation of the civil trial hearing initiated by Flavio Briatore against the FIA, the scene certainly seems a good signal. But that does not calm Philippe Ouakrat, the lawyer of Flavio Briatore, who at the end of the trial, before the reporters, spreads his arms sighing. On Tuesday, 5 January 2010, the day the judge will read the sentence, will be - as Briatore's lawyers say - the day of reckoning. If the FIA wins, and that is to say Max Mosley, Briatore will be permanently forced out of his world and, as a first consequence, all his allies in the great war of 2009, Ferrari in the lead, will suddenly find themselves weakened against the FIA. If instead the judge agrees with Flavio Briatore, allowing him to choose whether or not to come back to F1 (he could be limited to cultivate his interests in GP2, in Queens Park Rangers and as manager of the drivers), the result will be the opposite: the weakened FIA against the strong again opposition. In short, the sentence is bound to go far beyond the fake crash of Nelson Piquet Jr. in Singapore in 2008, the show trial that resulted, the consequent banishment of Flavio Briatore, and also the request for 1.000.000 euros of damages advanced by the Italian manager. The one who in the trial could curiously have an advantage from the previous trial of the spy story in 2007, the scandal that shocked F1 when McLaren was caught copying Ferrari's designs. The lawyer Ouakrat explains:
"So, the FIA then ordered the British team to pay 100.000.000 dollars. And no action was taken against the two engineers who were caught stealing the data other than to suggest that the teams no longer make use of their work. A decision exactly opposite to the one taken in this case".
The ironic debut of the FIA’s defense lawyer is this:
"Piquet certainly went to crash on his own initiative".
And then explains:
"Our sentence was not an actual sentence but the mere administrative act of a CDA. Legitimate. After all, the Federation is responsible for the safety in F1 and could not fulfill its role well if it were prevented from removing anyone who threatens the safety".
However, Briatore's lawyer concludes:
"Briatore was judged by the same person who did the investigation, that is to say Mosley, and this was not denied by the FIA either. Something like this is a case of nullity in every court of the world".
Not in the comics' ones. In view of the sentence, the clash between Briatore and Mosley is lit. The English lawyer had explained that Briatore's lifetime disqualification was right because there was compelling evidence that he was involved in the Crashgate. On Friday, 18 December 2009, the response arrives:
"It is not clear whether Mosley is just losing his temper or whether, after having lost his role, he is seeking visibility by attacking me. However, it is strange to hear him say that the FIA made a fair decision against me after the FIA said before the court that the Crashgate ruling was not an act against me".
On Tuesday, 5 January 2010, the Grande Instance Court of Paris reversed the banishment imposed by the FIA on Flavio Briatore for his responsibilities in the Crashgate affair of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. The FIA held Renault's Briatore responsible for the setup that led the team to deliberately cause a crash with the single-seater of the Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr. in order to help the other driver, the Spanish Fernando Alonso, who then actually won that race. The Grande Instance Court of Paris calls the decision of the FIA's World Motor Sport Council to banish Flavio Briatore irregular and sentences the Federation itself to communicate the reinstatement of the Italian manager himself. Regarding Briatore's claim for a reparation of 1.000.000 euros for reputational damage, the Grande Instance Court of Paris allocated him 15.000 euros as compensation. The compensation of 5.000 euros granted to Pat Symonds, former technical manager of the Renault team, who had asked for 500.000 euros, was also much lower than expected. Symonds had also been disqualified for his involvement in the Crashgate, but for only five years.
"I'm very happy even if I would have preferred to solve this situation within the sport, but since it was impossible with President Mosley, I think it was the logical consequence of going to a truly independent court, which is the civil court".
Flavio Briatore is the one commenting the sentence like that. To whom asks him if he would come back to F1 soon, Briatore answers:
"No, now the only category I'm interested in is the baby category, because I'm waiting for the birth of my son. Surely I'm much more serene because the evil that this decision of the FIA has done to me was great, that evil made to me by Mosley was huge and talking about it now I have really no spirit of revenge. Everybody reaps what they sow, and Mosley absolutely reaps what he sowed. Today's decision, after eighteen years of Formula 1, gives me the peace of mind to talk about it, the dignity and everything that Mosley had taken away from me in a violent and despicable way. I want to thank you (the press, ed) and all those who have supported me, especially the Italians. Today is a great day for me, a happy day, and we'll enjoy it for a bit".
First, he is the only one to pay for all. With Renault you come to terms, you look for a way out, there is only the ineffable Briatore to end up in the precipice, pushed into the abyss by Max Mosley. Then it turns out that all this was not possible, that Briatore could not be banished, that he deserved another trial, more civil and fairer, that the FIA, took over by the new president Jean Todt in the meantime, did not have the right, nor the ability to oust him forever from Formula 1. Everything is the opposite of everything, as has been the case for too long now in this Formula Chaos, where at worst there seems to be no limit. In the whole affair, there is only one certain fact: the deliberate crash in Singapore, Nelson Piquet Jr. who crashes on purpose, it has been horrible, one of the worst pages in the history of this sport. The rest, as usual, is relative. With its decision, the Court of Paris does not go into the substance of the sentence, but into its lawfulness. It does not judge the affair, but focuses on the procedure and concludes that the FIA should have behaved in a different way, without overlooking fundamental principles such as the separation of powers, the public prosecutor who cannot be a judge, a person who becomes double and perhaps even triple. It does not say that the FIA has disqualified an innocent, but if we want the disavowed even more, because it enters into the way it manages its own problems, with changing rules, right never certain, personal disagreements that become system and inquisitive element.
It calls for reflection, the ruling of the Paris Court, and perhaps to draw a line on everything and to start again, with no poisons and resentments, an unprecedented, more transparent season, favored by a new course, the one of President Jean Todt. It calls for saying enough, regardless of rehabilitation, but perhaps all of this will remain a pipe dream. Because now Flavio Briatore is no longer banished, but the FIA does not think far to close the affair. And he declares war again. After all, the Singapore circuit marshals alone cannot be hurt. They were also surprised to see a driver coming their way on purpose with his car. The FIA could not banish Flavio Briatore, the head of Renault, nor disqualify Pat Symonds, the technical director of the French team, for five years. The FIA did not have that power. Because the two are not Federation members, they are third persons, and even less so, this is forbidden by Article 28 of its statute, the FIA could afford (as happens with a banishment or a long disqualification) to prevent its own affiliates from working with certain persons, in that case Briatore and Symonds. The FIA was not entitled to have such a heavy hand, to oust a manager as famous as the Italian from his own world forever, but above all it could not first accuse him and then judge him, to merge everything into one subject (the vengeful Mosley, the former president, who with Briatore had bad personal relations), forgetting that the separation of powers is a fundamental principle. The FIA had to behave differently, and all this makes its sentence irregular, resulting in cancellation. In the meantime, the Federation spends a few hours in silence, enduring the sentence very badly, before leaving for the counterattack.
"We take note of the decision of the Court of Grande Instance, but we point out that it did not enter into the substance of the affair, the deliberate crash in Singapore, but only into the regularity of the sentence, citing procedural reasons. No judgment was subverted, nor was the FIA's ability to exclude those who endanger the lives of others from its own world questioned. Please note that we do not consider the decision of the Paris court as enforceable until the deadline for our possible appeal has expired. Until then, the sentence of the World Council continues to be applied".
In other words, Briatore and Symonds for the moment, if they wanted to, cannot come back. But there is more, and here is the actual war declaration.
"We are considering the most appropriate actions to ensure that these two people, who are guilty of cheating, are in no way allowed to come back in Formula 1".
For the Federation, the banishment continues. Politically, therefore, the battle continues to rage, despite the fact that the Grand Instance Court of Paris, in the appliance issued, regarding the sentence, spoke of a loss of value with immediate effect. It also adds an obligation to notify the Formula 1 teams and the public, through entries in French newspapers, of the lifting of the bans against Briatore and Symonds, so that they both have, if they so wish, the possibility of making a deal with some team. From England, Max Mosley says he is convinced that the banishment inflicted by the World Council in September, when the FIA was still under his presidency, is still effective.
"If we cannot sanction those who do the things that Briatore and Symonds did then all the aims and assumptions of the FIA are in question. Because causing a crash deliberately endangers safety, goes against the sporting fairness and is the opposite of all the fundamentals of our business".
Then, in another interview with the British press, Max Mosley questions the words of Flavio Briatore, who says he has the intention to sue Piquet.
"He said this only to brag to the Italian press. The fact is that if he did, he would face a countersuit, given that he accused the Piquets of blackmail and extortion. I don't know, by the way, if the Piquets are going to sue him. In addition, the judge did not find that Briatore was not guilty, but he objected to the procedure used by the FIA. But it's a very preliminary judgement. I think that the FIA should appeal against the sentence, because I believe that it is seriously lacking on a number of points. Symonds admitted in writing that he was guilty".
On Wednesday, 31 March 2010, Nelson Piquet Jr. and his father Nelson Piquet initiate legal action against Renault at the High Court in London, as explained by their lawyer, Dominic Crossley:
"After having given time and a way to drop the charges and apologize, my clients now believe that there is nothing more to do than go before a judge to prove that they did not lie".
In the meantime, on Monday, 12 April 2010, ends the conflict between the FIA and Flavio Briatore with an agreement. Renault's former team principal signs an agreement (as does Symonds himself) according to which he will be able to come back to Formula 1 from 2013. Briatore and Symonds, respectively team principal and chief engineer of Renault at the material time, each acknowledge their share of responsibility in the crash caused by Nelson Piquet Jr. during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix and express, according to what can be read on the FIA's official website, regret and apology to the Federation. The two, still according to the statement:
"They committed to refrain from any operational role in Formula 1 until 31 December 2012, and in all the other events listed in the FIA calendar for the remainder of the 2011 sporting season. They also waived all publicity and financial provisions of the sentence of 5 January 2010, and any other action against the FIA on the matter".
In exchange, the Federation waives further legal action against them. And, finally, on Tuesday, 7 December 2010, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Nelson Piquet win the libel suit against Renault, who apologizes for having defamed his former driver and pays huge damages. The Piquets' lawyer declares:
"They were both treated appallingly by Renault when they dared to reveal the scandal to the governing body... The F1 has been stripped of a promising driver like Nelsinho and it is at the expense [of F1] that he is proving his talent elsewhere".
Renault apologizes, and declares in response to the High Court's decision:
"The team accepts that the allegations made by Nelson Piquet Jr. were not false. Moreover, they also accept that Piquet Jr. and his father did not invent these accusations to blackmail the team. We would like to apologize unreservedly to Piquet Jr. and his father for the stress and the embarrassment caused. As a sign of sincerity and repentance, we agreed to pay them substantial compensatory damages, and we agreed not to repeat those allegations in the future".
The story should end here. However, on Thursday, 2 March 2023, through a television series called Lucky, Bernie Ecclestone admits that, with Max Mosley (meanwhile missing, but at the time FIA president), they were aware of the cheating, but explaining:
"Piquet Jr had told his father Nelson that he had been asked by the team to deliberately drive into the wall at a certain point in time in order to trigger a safety car phase and help his teammate Alonso. We decided not to do anything for the time being. We wanted to protect the sport and save it from a huge scandal. There was a rule at the time that a world championship ranking was untouchable after the FIA awards ceremony at the end of the year. So, Hamilton was presented with the World Championship trophy and everything was fine".
Almost a month later, on Tuesday, 4 April 2008, Felipe Massa replies:
"At the time, Ferrari's lawyers told me this. So we went to other lawyers, and the answer was always that nothing could be done. So obviously I stopped believing in it. But after fifteen years the statement of the former boss of the category came out in which he says that he and the President of the FIA already knew everything from 2008, but that they did nothing for the good name of F1. It's really sad to know that this race could have been canceled and I should have won the title. In the end, I'm the one who lost the most from this. So, we're going to follow the affair a little bit to understand what we can do next".
Then he concludes:
"There are rules, and there are many things, depending on the country, that cannot be solved after fifteen years. But I intent to study the situation, that is to say what the law says. We have an idea of what can be done. I wouldn't do it for a compensation, but to get justice. I think if you've been punished for something that's not your fault, that's the product of a theft, the justice has to deal with it. The solution is to cancel the result of that race, it is the only justice that can be carried out in a situation like this".