I remember Nelson Piquet’s crash in Singapore last year. It became the subject of many a conversation for sometime afterwards as conspiracy theorists put forward their thoughts on why there was more to it than meets the eye.
On the whole, such thoughts were dismissed with the rather unkind notion that Piquet wasn’t talented enough to crash deliberately at the right moment and in the exact spot to necessitate a safety car.
But just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, as the saying goes, and it seems those standing on their grassy knolls may be having the last laugh.
Yesterday Renault decided, less than a week after confirming legal proceedings against both Nelson Piquet and his father, not to contest the charges that the Brazilian driver had been asked to crash his car on purpose.
This was a dramatic u-turn, especially as the statement put out by the team contained the nugget that both Flavio Briatore and his director of engineering Pat Symonds had left the team as well. The statement didn’t elaborate as to whether the pair had been sacked or asked to fall on their sword in the hope that by doing so it could persuade the FIA’s World Council to be a little more lenient on Monday.
The statement also stops short of Renault admitting that the request to crash did come out. By not contesting the charges the team could leave themselves open to accusations that they cheated, with not much in the way of defence to argue their way out of it.
But think back to Monza last weekend and Max Mosley’s comments that he took the view that this matter was more serious than the ‘Spygate’ charge that cost McLaren $100 million. Remember that two years ago McLaren tried to wriggle their way out of the allegations initially, a plan that failed spectacularly and expensively.
Maybe Renault have decided that the evidence is so stacked against them that to contest the charges would only make matters worse in the long run. It’s certainly a theory and one that could have possibly saved the jobs of the 700 members of staff employed by the team.
But not the job of Flavio Briatore. Was Rubens Barichello right when he speculated a week ago that someone wanted Flav’s head? We’ll never know but for all his bluff and bluster against the Piquets last Friday, he had the air of a man living on borrowed time in the F1 Paddock. As he left on Sunday evening was he thinking that it might just be for the last time? If he wasn’t, there were others who were.
Pat Symonds, highly respected and to his friends not a man capable of such a deliberate act of cheating, was offered immunity by the FIA. So does that mean he could return to the sport when all the fuss has died down? Would he want to? And at what stage would the coast be clear?
Maybe this is just another knee-jerk reaction but I get the feeling that this pool of mud could stick with F1 for a while to come. How can the sport try and tempt back the reported 16% that stayed away from.
Monza this year if the perception is that teams will stop at nothing – even asking their own driver to crash into a wall at 80mph – in order to be in with a shout of winning. It’s not exactly Queensbury Rules now is it. Even Nelson Piquet comes out of this looking bad.
After all, if Renault are guilty, he went along with the plan and stayed quiet until they sacked him. Could he not have spoken up before now or was his desire to stay in the sport clouding his moral judgement?
It’s the right of any sports fan to believe that what they are watching, following and spending their hard earned cash on is genuine. Otherwise, they might just as well watch wrestling instead. Sadly, whatever the findings of the World Council on Monday, there are some who will ask how fixed F1 is too.
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BIOGRAPHY: Cesc Fabregas