Piquet, Flavio, Renault and the FIA: It’s Getting Damned Ugly

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It’s getting ugly. Period. The Renault race-fix allegations and subsequent World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) hearing next Monday is bringing the worst out of men and machine—literally. The Piquet’s (Nelson Snr. and Nelson Jnr.) have lashed out at Flavio Briatore, Pat Symonds, Fernando Alonso and Renault for firing young Nelson Jnr. this year by accusing them of race-fixing the Singapore Grand Prix of 2008. The allegations are that both Briatore and Symonds asked Piquet to purposely crash on lap 14 to give teammate Alonso the victory by summoning the safety car at the exact moment needed.

Renault have denied the allegations but the inquiry at the Belgium Grand Prix by race Stewards lead the FIA to call for a hearing of the WMSC to hear defense by Renault to these allegations. What prompted the call? Some ambiguous answers from Symonds himself, telemetry and radio communication that seems suspicious.

It appears, via leaked testimony, radio communications and investigation Q&A’s, that Renault’s Pat Symonds has left the door open by refusing to answer pointed questions and suggesting that the topic of a purposeful crash did come up during that weekend. He did Renault no favors by avoiding key questions. This only lead to further suspicion of the event and eventually combined with Piquet’s account, radio traffic and telemetry; the FIA made its move.

FIA: This is no surprise that Max Mosley would seek to offer one more litigious and politically charged grand stand event before he retires. Quite honestly it has become his legacy and is de riguer for anything involving Mosley of late. The allegations are serious and come from the mouths of disgruntled former employee and stage-dad the Nelsons Piquet.

It also serves a purpose for Mosley as ego and bravado have been the deadly combination used lately to create an incendiary elixir of outbursts, actions, regulations, letters, comments and positions taken by the increasingly derided FIA president. His penchant for showboating and legal three-ring circus acts have become pedestrian and dragging Formula 1’s laundry, skeletons and unsavory aspects into the stark light of day has become a favored pastime for him. It seems that the errant president has subscribed to the scorched earth policy of war and is intent of torching the series before he leaves office in October.

The news that Mosley offered Piquet Jnr. immunity for his testimony is just another example of the absurdity of the situation. Guilty is Piquet irrespective of Renault’s guilt or not. Mosley offered an explanation to this immunity offer by citing his similar offer to Fernando Alonso in 2007 for his involvement in the espionage case against McLaren. This would all be understandable if it were a similar situation but it is not.

Piquet endangered himself, track marshal’s, other drivers and fans by crashing his car at Singapore in 2008 on purpose—as he reported he did. It makes little sense to offer a driver immunity when he deliberately crashes and places so many in danger unless your real motivation is to the get the one person you really hold a grudge against—Flavio Briatore. That was the take-away message from the Piquet immunity offer but it gets worse.

It is now learned that Mosley has also offered Pat Symonds, director of engineering, immunity if he will come forth and tell the truth about the incident. If Symonds takes the offer, this leaves Briatore and Renault the only entities on the hook for the incident at next Monday’s WMSC tribunal. If this isn’t politically motivated and personally biased, I am not sure what is. There is no secret that Mosley and Briatore are and have been at odds with each other over the past few months. Briatore is a key figure in the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) and was very critical of Mosley’s governance of the sport.

This is turning in to a lynching of sorts in my estimation as Mosley is exonerating potentially guilty parties to the serious charge of race-fixing in order to single out and solely destroy the 20+ year F1 career of an adversary. If Renault, Briatore and Symonds are guilty then the punishment should be just and balanced but this immunity offer is way out of bounds in my opinion. Nelson Piquet Jnr is as guilty as any of them if his story is true. If the allegations are correct, Pat Symonds is as guilty as anyone as well.

I also find it in very poor form for the FIA to have their information “leaked” to the press. Mosley was quick to point out: “We are quite genuinely curious as to how that happened. Next time, when we send out to 20 or 30 people, we will probably arrange it in such a way that we can tell who is leaking stuff. We don’t know how it happened. But none of that means anything. What means something is when we get their defence, which will not be until next week”. How about just checking the “sent” box of Mosley’s Outlook program?

Is the FIA leaking information to ensure that Renault, read Briatore, don’t get a fair hearing? The reputation of Renault has been damaged and these leaks almost certainly guarantee that even further. This should be a time when the FIA is at its professional best and yet sloppy leaks and silly immunities that are reminiscent of a deal offered to children who watched their friend do something wrong. Rat them out without incurring punishment themselves.

This is all another chest-pounding display of ego, bravado and narcissistic bullocks from the sports most profound liability—Max Mosley.

Renault: Renault has answered the Piquet’s allegations with law suits. Once can presume they seek restitution from the damages caused by these allegations as well as liable and slander. Understandable if you are under the impression that Renault believe they have done nothing wrong.

Mosley would do well to remember that Renault are a team in F1 and supply not only cars abut engines as well. That is not to suggest that cheating should be ignored if found true but Renault may not have known of the situation and some quarter should be shown. If Mosley is intent on keeping Renault on the grid and lowering the cost of F1; imposing another infamous $100m fine is not advisable unless the orders to crash came from Renault themselves.

Fernando Alonso: Alonso has pleaded ignorance as his defense in the matter and this has prompted scathing accusation by Nelson Piquet Snr. that Alonso in fact knew of the plot and is part of the race-fixing allegations. The soil is knowing building up on Alonso as this will be the second scandal of lying and or cheating that he has been involved with in as many years.

Flavio Briatore: Briatore has denied any race-fix allegations or that he instructed his driver, whom he also managed, to crash on lap 14. The Italian team boss has also, according to an Italian newspaper, insinuated that Piquet Jnr. was a homosexual. While I don’t recall the incident, there have been many comments around the web that Piquet Snr. insinuated that Ayrton Senna was a homosexual and a Sao Paulo taxi driver.

Briatore’s resume in F1 is impressive. But his explanation of the event or justification is not impressive. When asked, he said: “You know what? Whatever happens, if someone goes against the rules, they go against the rules. If I tell you to go rob a bank – afterwards, you decide whether to rob the bank or not.”

Piquet’s: Irrespective of guilt or not, I find the Piquet’s beyond loathing in this issue. Piquet Jnr. is an average driver, comparatively, and if allegations are true, he is as guilty as anyone he accuses. I believe he has ended his career in F1 and like Mosley, they seem to ascribe to the scorched earth policy. Their outburst is clearly born from their disgruntled nature and perhaps they should have looked at the under-performing Piquet Jnr. for their ills instead of blaming Briatore for their misfortune. Integrity is something they both lack irrespective of the outcome.

Is the sport of Formula 1 so desperate that we have resigned ourselves to fixing races? Fixing the outcome of a sports event is nothing new. Manipulating the outcome of a sporting event is something that has been tried with both success and failure many times over. So let us not reach new heights of piety should the allegations be true—instead let us recall that the business of sport is too large to ignore the temptation of cheating by even the best in the business. Surely McLaren taught us that in 2007 or Ferrari in Monaco 2006.

I pose this question—how is Piquet’s actions of manipulating a race any different than the sports own governing body manipulating the outcomes of races through errant, frequent and nonsensical regulation changes, inconsistent rulings from race stewards, disproportionate penalties for similar actions, ruling for an outcome that betrays the rules set forth over political reasons or race manipulation, making judgment or rulings based upon political motives or due to business interests of FIA members and using political power to manipulate votes within it’s elections and confidence votes?

Both the FIA and the Piquet’s placed lives at risk and adversely affected the outcome of F1 races through their actions. The FIA have been doing it longer and with more disastrous outcomes than the Piquet’s ever have and yet this issue is supposed to be the swansong moment for a man most malignant in his intent and maligned in his judgment?

If the allegations are true, then Symonds and Briatore are culpable and subject to penalty as well as their actions also placed lives at risk and manipulated the outcome of a race. I am not intention marginalizing their actions if these allegations are true. However, I sense this kangaroo court environment that the FIA have become is really about more than just the Piquet’s or Singapore. I suspect it is more political battles of the heavy weights in F1 and Mosley will not go quietly.

The sport has sunk to even lower lows and now that Mosley has dragged it out into the front lawn, there is no turning back. To minimize the situation will be as bad as the situation itself and to suggest that it was all a misunderstanding to sate the commercial interests, should F1 Boss Bernie Ecclestone attempt to squelch the issue, will be seen as a disaster at this point. It is too late, Mosley has played his chess piece in the end game of his career and the machine will roll on until every bloody detail is aired.

Perhaps this will end quietly and without any clear evidence of wrongdoing but I suggest that Mosley will not get Briatore all the way to a WMSC electric chair without manically flipping the switch before he leaves office in October. Did I mention that he is leaving office in October? No? Well, Max Mosley is leaving office in October and the world is a better place for it.


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