He’s one of the most flamboyant and outspoken players in the F1 world. He’s the Renault Team Prinicipal, head of FOTA, masterminded Benetton to driver and constructors’ world championships, but Flavio Briatore’s time in F1 could soon be over due to a disgruntled former employee. On Monday 21st September the FIA will meet with Briatore and other representatives of the ING Renault F1 team to answer charges made by sacked driver, Nelson Piquet Jr., that he was asked to cause a deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to gain advantage for their other driver, Fernando Alonso.
Update: He has now left Renault, see:https://f1banter.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/so-why-did-briatore-risk-getting-rid-of-piquet/
Piquet Jr. made a statement to the FIA on 30th July this year that Briatore and Pat Symonds, Renault Executive Director of Engineering, asked him if he was willing to crash to help Alonso’s strategy. He agreed, claiming he did so as he feared losing his job, and then Symonds showed him which corner to crash on, where there were no cranes, to ensure a safety car would be brought out. The FIA have granted immunity to Piquet Jr. for his role in this conspiracy and it has been reported that it has also been offered to Symonds if he is willing to make a fuller disclosure to the FIA than the one he made at the Belgian Grand Prix recently.
Symonds claims that Piquet Jr. suggested the crash the day before the race, but regardless of who originally suggested the act, it is clear from Symonds’ non-responses that, at a minimum, Briatore, Symonds and Piquet Jr. more than likely planned and carried out a deliberate crash to benefit Alonso’s low fuel strategy. If found guilty the Renault team will be in a huge amount of trouble and it will cause a massive dent to their company’s image. Renault will need to minimise this and so someone will have to take the fall. Piquet Jr. has immunity; Symonds will be very brave or foolhardy not to take advantage of his and so that leaves Briatore to take the responsibility. F1 has lost Honda and BMW recently, and it will not want to lose Renault either if it can help it.
If true, this will be the end of Briatore in F1 and his dream to take over from F1 puppet-master Bernie Ecclestone will be finished. It will be a shame to lose such a great character and dynamic force within F1, but if he has been cheating then he has to go, end of story.
The reactions around the paddock to ‘crashgate’ have been very interesting with Rubens Barrichello stating that, “it seems someone wants Briatore’s head”. Ross Brawn has come out to defend his former colleague Symonds, saying he is a “man of the utmost integrity”.
However, we cannot take the situation strictly at face value and the water has been muddied by the fact that both the Renault team and Briatore personally have commenced criminal proceedings against Piquet Jr. and Snr. for attempting to blackmail the Renault team into allowing Piquet Jr. to drive for the rest of the 2009 season. This strongly suggests that the Piquets tried to leverage the alleged deliberate crash to keep Piquet Jr.’s seat and that Briatore did not bite or called their bluff (perhaps stating that whistle-blowing would ruin Piquet Jr.’s career?). The Piquets were not bluffing and so it seems everyone loses out, maybe Briatore most of all.
Reading between the lines it seems that the case Renault and Briatore will make is that the crash was Piquet Jr.’s idea. However, for them to escape punishment they will need to demonstrate that they did not sanction or approve this. The whole case will rest on what Symonds does or does not say. If he says, or the FIA believes, they went along with this, regardless of who suggested it, then they have been cheating and Briatore will definitely go and possibly Renault too.
As Martin Brundle said in his recent BBC column, Piquet Jr. has now become ‘unemployable in F1’ and will not be popular in other motor racing formulas either. However, whether he and his Dad have been trying to blackmail Renault or not, it is irrelevant as it seems from the evidence publicly available at the moment that the crash was most likely deliberate and Briatore and Symonds knew about it.
It will be a sad day for F1 if it is true and without doubt it will bring the swift end to Flavio Briatore’s colourful and remarkable time in the sport.
Update: He has now left Renault, see: https://f1banter.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/so-why-did-briatore-risk-getting-rid-of-piquet/