Friday, September 18, 2009

Race-day meeting key to Renault case

(by Jonathan Noble and Michele Lostia autosport.com 9-9-09)

A meeting between Nelson Piquet, Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds hours before last year's Singapore Grand Prix is central to the race fixing allegations surrounding the Renault team, AUTOSPORT has learned.

With the FIA's World Motor Sport Council due to meet on September 21 for Renault to answer charges that the team caused a deliberate crash in Singapore last year to help Fernando Alonso win, sources have confirmed for the first time background details of the case.

AUTOSPORT understands that key to what happened in the race is the discussion that took place in one of Renault's offices at the Singapore track on the Sunday, where race tactics were discussed between Piquet, team principal Briatore and director of engineering Symonds.

Sources claim that in evidence submitted to the FIA by Nelson Piquet, the Brazilian driver says he was asked by Briatore and Symonds to crash deliberately early in the race so as to help Alonso win.

Piquet says that he agreed to do so because he felt uncomfortable about his situation at the team, with Renault having not renewed his contract for 2009 at that time - and Briatore was stalling on making a firm commitment. Piquet suggests that he only went ahead and caused the accident because he felt he would be rewarded for his actions.

In his evidence, Piquet claims that he was taken aside by Symonds after the first meeting and instructured that he should crash on lap 13 or 14, shortly after Alonso's scheduled first stop, at Turn 17.

The reason this part of the track was singled out was because there were no cranes present there to lift the car away, so any accident would virtually guarantee a safety car.

Piquet's claims have, however, been denied by both Briatore and Symonds in documents that are believed to have been submitted with the FIA. Although they confirm that the meeting between the three of them took place, both suggest that it was Piquet's own suggestion to cause an accident.

Sources claim that the Singapore race-fix matter came to light on July 26 - the day of Piquet's last race for Renault in Hungary - when his father Nelson contacted FIA president Max Mosley to make him aware of what had happened.

Piquet Jr. then visited the FIA's headquarters in Paris on July 30 to present a statement to FIA representatives, believed to be stewards' advisor Alan Donnelly, and external investigators from the Quest agency.

Following Piquet's testimony, the three stewards from the Singapore Grand Prix, plus two external investigators from Quest, were flown to the Belgian Grand Prix to conduct interviews with Renault representatives.

A report in Italian magazine Autosprint also suggests that telemetry data from Piquet's car has emerged as another reason why the matter has gone to the WMSC.

At Turn 17 where Piquet crashed, normally the rear wheels of the Renault would lose grip on the exit - requiring the driver to ease off the throttle briefly. However, on the lap he crashed, Piquet kept accelerating even though the rear wheels had lost grip.

Briatore is reported to have claimed that he was: "a victim of extortion by the Piquet family.

"I confirm the meeting with Piquet on Sunday morning, but nothing like that was ever talked about. I also remember that Piquet at Singapore was in a very fragile state of mind. Besides that, there are the audio recordings where I express disappointment when I see on the screens that Piquet had crashed."

Symonds is also reported as saying: "It's true, during the Sunday meeting with Piquet the issue of deliberately causing a SC deployment came up, but it was proposed by Piquet himself. It was just a conversation."

Renault has said it will not comment on the matter officially before the WMSC hearing later this month.

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