We are on the eve of one of the more celebrated races on the F1 calendar, but unfortunately dark storm clouds loom on the horizon for Renault. While it is unfortunate that the racing this season has been overshadowed by the FIA’s bunglings and FOTA’s saber rattling, this is clearly a case where the FIA absolutely has to intercede on this matter.
Nelson Piquet has alleged that he was directed to crash his car at Valencia last year to give Fernando Alonso a chance to win the race. And now, the official written testimony from Nelson to the FIA is circulating the intertubes after it was initially leaked to F1 website F1SA.
The statement made is as follows:
I, Nelson Angelo Piquet, born July 25, 1985 in Heidelberg, Germany…say as follows:
1. Except as otherwise stated, the facts and statements contained in this Statement are based on facts and matters within my knowledge. I believe such facts and statements contained in this Statement to be true and correct. Where any facts or statements are not within my own knowledge, they are true to the best of my knowledge and belief and, where appropriate, I indicate the source of that knowledge and belief.
2. I make this Statement voluntarily to the FIA and for the purposes of allowing the FIA to exercise its supervisory and regulatory functions with regard to the FIA Formula One World Championship.
3. I am aware that there is a duty upon all participants in the FIA Formula One World Championship and all Super Licence holders to ensure the fairness and legitimacy of the Championship and I am aware that serious consequences could follow if I were to provide the FIA with any false or misleading statement.
4. I understand that my complete statement has been recorded on audio tape and that a full transcript of my audio recording will be made available to me and the FIA. The present document constitutes a summary of the main points made during my full oral statement.
5. I wish to bring the following facts to the FIA’s attention.
6. During the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore, held on 28 September 2008 and counting towards the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship, I was asked by Mr. Flavio Briatore, who is both my manager and the Team Principal of the ING Renault F1 Team, and by Mr. Pat Symonds, the Technical Director of the Renault F1 Team, to deliberately crash my car in order to positively influence the performance of the ING Renault F1 Team at the event in question. I agreed to this proposal and caused my car to hit a wall and crash during lap thirteen/fourteen of the race.
7. The proposal to deliberately cause an accident was made to me shortly before the race took place, when I was summoned by Mr. Briatore and Mr. Symonds in Mr. Briatore’s office. Mr. Symonds, in the presence of Mr. Briatore, asked me if I would be willing to sacrifice my race for the team by “causing a safety car”. Every F1 race driver knows that the safety car is deployed on a track when there is an accident which leads to the track being blocked either by debris or a stationary car, and where it is difficult to recover a damaged car, as was the case here.
8. At the time of this conversation I was in a very fragile and emotional state of mind. This state of mind was brought about by intense stress due to the fact that Mr. Briatore had refused to inform me of whether or not my driver’s contract would be renewed for the next racing year (2009), as is customarily the case in the middle of the year (around July or August). Instead, Mr. Briatore repeatedly requested me to sign an “option”, which meant that I was not allowed to negotiate with any other teams in the meantime. He would repeatedly put pressure on me to prolong the option I had signed, and would regularly summon me into his office to discuss these renewals, even on racing days – a moment which should be a moment of concentration and relaxation before the race. This stress was accentuated by the fact that during the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore I had qualified sixteenth on the grid, so I was very insecure about my future at the Renault team. When I was asked to crash my car and cause a safety car incident in order to help the team, I accepted because I hoped that it could improve my position within the team at this critical time in the race season. At no point was I told by anyone that by agreeing to cause an incident, I would be guaranteed a renewal of my contract or any other advantage. However, in the context, I thought that it would be helpful in achieving this goal. I therefore agreed to cause the incident.
9. After the meeting with Mr. Symonds and Mr. Briatore, Mr. Symonds took me aside to a quiet corner and, using a map, pointed me to the exact corner of the track where I should crash. This corner was selected because the specific location of the track did not have any cranes that would allow a damaged car to be swiftly lifted off the track, nor did it have any side entrances to the track, which would allow a Safety Marshall to quickly move the damaged car away from the track. Therefore, it was felt that a crash in this specific position would be nearly certain to cause an obstruction on the track which would thus necessitate the deployment of a safety car in order to allow the track to be cleared and to ensure the safe continuation of the race.
10. Mr. Symonds also told me which exact lap to cause the incident upon, so that a strategy could deployed for my team-mate Mr. Fernando Alonso to refuel at the pit shortly before the deployment of the safety car, which he indeed did during lap twelve. The key to this strategy resided in the fact that the near-knowledge that the safety car would be deployed in lap thirteen/fourteen allowed the Team to start Mr. Alonso’s car with an aggressive fuel strategy using a light car containing enough fuel to arrive at lap twelve, but not much more. This would allow Mr. Alonso to overtake as many (heavier) cars as possible, knowing that those cars would have difficulty catching up with him later in the race due to the later deployment of the safety car. This strategy was successful and Mr. Alonso won the 2008 Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore.
11. During these discussions, no mention was made of any concerns with respect to the security implications of this strategy, either for myself, the public or other drivers. The only comment made in this context was one by Mr. Pat Symonds who warned me to “be careful”, which I took to mean that I should not injure myself.
12. I intentionally caused the crash by letting go of control of the car just before the relevant corner. In order to make sure I would cause the incident during the correct lap, I asked my team several times via the radio to confirm the lap number, which I would not normally do. I was not injured during the accident, nor was anyone else.
13. After the discussions with Mr. Briatore and Mr. Symonds discussed above, the ‘accident strategy’ was never discussed again with either of them. Mr. Briatore discreetly said “thank you” after the end of the race, without mentioning anything further. I do not know if anyone else was aware of this strategy at the start of the race.
14. After the race I informed Mr. Felipe Vargas, a family friend and advisor, of the fact that the incident had been deliberate. Mr. Vargas further infirmed my father, Mr. Nelson Piquet, some time later.
15. After the race several journalists asked questions about the accident and asked me whether I had caused it on purpose, because they felt it was ‘suspicious’.
16. In my own team, the engineer of my car questioned the nature of the incident because he found it unusual, and I replied that I had lost control of the car. I believe that a clever engineer would notice from the car’s telemetry that I caused the incident on purpose as I continued accelerating , whereas a “normal” reaction would be to brake as soon as possible.
Statement of Truth
I believe and swear that the facts set out in this statement are true.
This statement was made at the FIA Headquarters in Paris on 30 July 2009 in presence of Mr. Alan Donnelly (FIA Chairman of the Stewards), Mr. Martin Smith and Mr. Jacob Marsh (both of investigations firm Quest, retained by the FIA to assist with its investigation). Notes were taken by Ms. Domenique Costesec (Sidley Austin LLP).
Nelson Piquet Jr.
Unless there is other evidence, this may come down to whether the FIA believes Piquet or Flavio. If the FIA feels the evidence supports Piquet, then enjoy seeing the French squad for the last time this weekend. Their goose is well and fully cooked. There might even be civil or criminal legal proceedings outside of the WMSC/FIA against Renault.
If the FIA decides that Piquet’s claims are without merit or cannot be proven, then Renault may face some sort of weird probation or Piquet could be slammed with libel style lawsuits.
I would think that regardless of the WMSC decision, Nelson’s future does not involve racing. The FIA has to take a hard stance against any implication of impropriety in the championship. Nelson’s sworn statement is that he wrecked on purpose as directed by his bosses. The FIA cannot excuse this act, just because Nelson is a whistle blower.
My own impression is that the following will happen at the WMSC meeting:
1. The FIA will find that Renault and Piquet jointly came up with this strategy.
2. Renault will be stripped of the Valencia win.
3. Renault will be excluded from this years championship and the 2010 championship. This will subsequently cause the team to quit F1 for good.
4. Renault will be forced to pay a fine that will cover all prize money collected in 2008 & 2009.
5. Piquet will lose his superlicense and be forced to pay a fine. Piquet will not be eligible for a new superlicense until 2011.