Now we know the truth about “crashgate”

With the most recent revelations about the allegations surrounding Renault, all is becoming clear. It is just another one of Max Mosley’s power games — his parting shot, if you will. Having dispensed with enemy number one, Ron Dennis, earlier on in the year, Mosley has moved on to target number two: Flavio Briatore.

This is the inescapable conclusion one reaches when digesting the fact that Pat Symonds has been offered immunity if he “tells the truth” or, perhaps more accurately, in return for landing Flav in the shit whether it’s true or not. The scheme seems particularly odd given that most of the evidence thus far appears to implicate only Nelsinho Piquet and Pat Symonds for concocting any scheme that may have existed.

Even Piquet himself in his statement to the FIA seems reticent to directly accuse Flavio Briatore of concocting a conspiracy. Piquet only talks about Briatore’s presence in a meeting in which Symonds and Piquet discuss the crash strategy:

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”.

Instead, Nelsinho Piquet’s ire for Briatore is based on the fact that Briatore was reluctant to renew his contract. Boo hoo! Martin Brundle isn’t terribly impressed with that line of reasoning:

His rationale is that his contractual option hadn’t been taken the previous month so he was stressed and wanted to please the team. Try waiting the whole winter to sign a race-by-race contract days before the first grand prix of the season — that’s stress, but still not enough to crash a car intentionally.

I must agree with this. Normally, I would think that the normal course of action for a driver trying to renew his contract would be to improve his performances, not go around deliberately crashing.

For me, the only smoking gun we have seen so far is the reluctance of Pat Symonds to answer some of the questions the FIA investigators asked him. He was very reticent to discuss any plans he may have made with Piquet, while at the same time the idea was discussed. Symonds says it was Piquet who came up with the idea, while Piquet alleges that Symonds went as far as to specify on which lap and corner Piquet should crash.

Other evidence is inconclusive. The telemetry, which reveals that Piquet instinctively lifted but later applied full throttle while his rear wheels were spinning during the crash, is described by Symonds as “very unusual data”. But Piquet was no stranger to crashing. Meanwhile, the pit wall communications reveal little interesting, apart from an anxiety on the part of Piquet to know which lap he was on, and the fact that the team was concerned about Piquet’s condition following the crash.

So the evidence so far is that Piquet claims to have deliberately caused a crash. Symonds has acknowledged that a discussion took place, but refuses to talk any more about it. So where does Briatore fit in with all this?

We are now in the ludicrous situation where the two people who appear to be implicated the most have been offered immunity. Of those accused, that leaves just Briatore, against whom there appears to be very little evidence. It is surely not a coincidence that Max Mosley sees Flavio Briatore as an enemy.

There are other interesting aspects about the FIA’s behaviour over this scandal. Despite Max Mosley’s claim that he is greatly concerned about the leaks, The Times‘s Ed Gorman reveals that all of these leaks have come from the FIA! That newspaper would know — it is a common leaking outlet for both Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone.

Surely, Ed Gorman suggests, it is no coincidence that this entire scandal has overshadowed Ari Vatanen’s campaign to become FIA President. Mosley has made no secret of the fact that he would prefer his ally Jean Todt to replace him in the role, plumbing even his already-extraordinarily low depths to endorse Todt on FIA letterhead.

Vatanen has struggled to make headway in the media against the weight of the Mosley/Todt machine and recently his efforts to have his voice heard have been drowned out by leaks on the Renault case, widely thought to be from the FIA, and by strategically placed FIA announcements on the scandal.

I have to confess that I am not convinced by Ari Vatanen. To me, he seems like a failed MEP who is seeking attention and looking for a new purpose in life. His campaign has seemed ill-prepared in comparison to Jean Todt who has clearly been waiting to fill this role for a very long time. But what Todt has going against him is his anti-sporting record while at Peugeot and Ferrari, and the fact that his campaign has been unfairly advantaged by the FIA, which appears to be corrupt from tip to toe.

This is all turning out to be very convenient for the Mosley–Todt camp. Mosley has spent much of the past year trying to edge the manufacturers out of F1 (mere years after he lambasted the Williams-style model which he now apparently thinks is the life and soul of the sport!). He is clearly not good friends with Briatore, and is doing his very best to bring Briatore down. Very interesting that this comes mere months after he successfully brought Ron Dennis down, as though Mosley realised that this year was his last chance to do it. The Todt advantage is the icing on the cake.

I really am sick of the FIA. If an actual government behaved like this, there would be riots on the streets.

21 comments

  1. Although Max Mosley and Jean Todt are clearly hand-in-glove, I don’t buy Ed Gorman’s take on the timing of the leaks. Todt’s cabinet announcement today was drowned out by yet more on ‘Crashgate’ (also, we name a better name for this!).

    Piquet was no stranger to crashing

    Good line!

  2. Well, said. Couldn’t agree more. This whole thing has had Max’s perverse odour all over it from the beginning. I would hazard a guess that there are underhanded and illegal decisions being made all of the time, but when one of Max’s enemies is involved, only then does it get dragged into the light.

    I’m no fan of Flabio, but this is downright classless of Mosely, and he sees himself as above all others. He’s nothing more than a thug in a Saville Row suit. Good riddance. I won’t be sad to see the end of Briatore, but I sure miss Ron Dennis.

  3. First of all, tell me again why people hate Briatore, other than the fact that he gets to sleep with supermodels, while you and I don’t. I’d miss him like *hell* if he left…. I’d miss him like *hell*.

    And secondly, Duncan, how come you made fun of me as a conspiracy theorist when I suggested this a couple of weeks ago? (Aside from the fact that I didn’t offer a single shred of evidence, I mean.)

  4. I couldn’t agree more. I saw the telemetry data and read the radio conversations after the accident and I couldn’t find no single serious evidence. All this should have exploded one year ago, and not now.
    Perfect article, as always.

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    It looks like the FIA has now got what it wanted, now that Symonds and Briatore have “resigned”.

    Keith, on the FIA Presidency thing, the point is that Todt doesn’t need the publicity. Not only is he effectively the incumbent, but he is also widely regarded to have much more support as things stand. As such, it suits the Mosley / Todt camp for as little about the campaign to be heard as possible now.

    Arnet, Cridland, In a way, although he is clearly a dislikeable character, he is at least a character. A funny guy to have around in F1. For one thing, he brought us this.

  6. Thing is, if it weren’t true, surely there would’ve been a straight denial? And Renault would’ve fought it all the way rather then dropping Flav and Pat?

    Max may be taking advantage of this, yes, but don’t let it take anything away from Flav and Pat’s actions.

  7. Journeyer,

    Not intending to exonerate Briatore, Symonds or Piquet in any way. I hope none of them have anything to do with motorsport again. But it’s funny how these things always manage to become manipulated to a certain someone’s maximum advantage.

  8. Listen, I’m the Flav supporter who thought the whole accusation was too preposterous.

    (If you heard a thudding sound from beyond the wet side of your nation at about 2200gmt, that was my jaw hitting the ground over Cali as I read the news.)

    Forgive me for repeating comments from other blogs, I think of V8 as home-

    Nobody’s confessed to anything, Renault has just decided not to deny things, and Symonds and Briatore are out. (Right? If that’s wrong, I take it back.) Who knows what contractual shenanigans are afoot…! Bernie’s web is intricate and deadly.

    It’s hard to imagine what could happen to Nissan and Renault sales in Singapore if it turns out the company had been putting race-goers at risk from deadly force.

    If nothing’s ever proven against Flav, he should put his famous swimsuit and manage Sauber for Qadbak next year.

    Whether any of this pans out or not, Nelsinho was just too young to be racing for that team… At least without a (seemingly) independent, personal struggle (like maybe Vettel) to get the seat.

    More later, I gotta fix my jaw. Looking forward to comments from Duncan and his readers.

  9. By the way, does anyone remember the comments that Webber made when asked about the scandal at Monza? I can’t remember whether the interview was aired during practice, quali, the race, or the BBC podcast. But he said, twice, that it would ‘take a lot’ for him to deliberately throw a race… He’s the only commenter inside the sport or out of it who didn’t reject the idea out of hand. And now his manager’s having a bad week….

  10. Hi Cridland,

    I think your reading is right, although I think Pat Symonds’s statement more or less amounted to a confession — at least a confession that the plan existed. I am still not sure about Briatore’s involvement. We will have to see what happens at the WMSC meeting, which is still very important.

    I wonder if Flav would still be up for managing an F1 team. The last time he was ousted from Benetton, he took a bit of a back seat, managing Supertec. He also has his involvement with Queens Park Rangers FC, though given that he works there with Bernie who knows what the future holds there.

    I don’t buy this stuff about Nelsinho being too young. He is 24 for crying out loud. Vettel is 22 and challenging for the Championship. Alguersuari is 19; Buemi is 20. Piquet was an adult. But he was so insecure. This is where I think Briatore was on the button. Everywhere else he has driven, it has been for his daddy’s team, where he was mollycoddled and wrapped in cotton wool. Exposed to the harsh world of F1, he couldn’t hack it. Simple as. A stronger driver wouldn’t have considered deliberately crashing a car in my view.

    Your point about Webber’s comments is interesting. I hadn’t thought about it that way before. It is no secret that Briatore has a “unique” management style. Sébastien Bourdais even sacrificed his F1 career back in the day because he did not want to be managed by Briatore.

  11. (Again, forgive comments already made elsewhere, but–)

    Nelsonho always looked so miserable. Listen, even if I was that lousy a driver, I’d have tried to have a smile or two during what was likely to be a short career in a tremendously rewarding sports league. Over here in the States, it’s said that our ‘football’ players average career is four years… Most of those guys don’t save the money like they should, but you get the sense that at least they’re enjoying it while they can. They smile… They tell stupid jokes to fans. They swagger in front of women.

    (And yes, there was a rumor about that somewhere last week, I’ll have to look it up.)

    Nelsinho never did any of that! Maybe fear of flaming death was why he didn’t. (Or perhaps this is all true, and that fear wasn’t as powerful as we might have thought.)

    In any case, mollycoddled is a good word. Now, I admire fathers who can assist their sons, and assist them grandly. But we always had the sense that this Piquet’s heart was in other places. To imagine him pulling a stunt like this on behalf of *anyone* in the sport, let alone a talented senior player like a Alonso, is just weird… Family weird, spiritual weird, childish weird.

    Teams come and go, so maybe this isn’t a big deal for F1. (People don’t talk much about Ron Dennis anymore, though I think they should.) But as a story of human interest, I’m looking forward to the next chapters.

  12. Reading the conversations among the team members, which have been leaked to the press, there is something that Flavio say that suggests me he may be innocent (or really machiavelic). It happens just after the crash:

    Flavio:
    F***ing hell…my every f***ing disgrace, f***ing, he’s not a
    driver.

  13. Thanks for the comment Samuel.

    I think there have been a lot of different interpretations of that comment from Flavio.

    Firstly, I think Flavio is quite a good liar — his exaggerated behaviours makes it easy to hide everything under a layer of bombast.

    I have heard a few people suggest that Flavio’s comment revealed that he was not interested in the safety of his driver.

    Another point to consider is the rumour that Piquet was actually supposed to crash into the wall on his right, so actually had a far bigger crash than he was meant to (presumably he wasn’t supposed to do so much damage to his car!). The fact that Piquet was unable to even crash his car correctly may have been the reason for Briatore’s comment.

  14. Guys, c’mon…. Is there any boundary, any at all, to the villainy people will ascribe to Briatore?

    Why do people hate him so? Because he’s not a ‘real’ car guy, like Ron Dennis?

    Go read Keith’s message stack (it was about 3 pages as of last night)… Dozens of people are saying “Alonso knew! Of course he knew! HE KNEW!”

    And someone will say “Why do you think so?”

    And they’ll say “Because he WOULD HAVE known!”
    __________

    It’s just not believable that so many people would have taken so many crazys**t risks just so Alonso (Alonso!) could possibly perhaps maybe have a chance to win some points forty-five laps later.

    I think this is Mosley’s goodbye gift for Bernie. When Briatore made noises earlier this year about running a competitive series, I was ready to believe he’d do it, and do it well. Bernie probably didn’t like that.

    This generation of leaders did a lot for the series. They absolutely transformed it into a safe, accessible, heavily-funded, brilliantly entertaining spectacle. But it’s like a family reunion of seniors who’ve never forgiven their little sisters for stealing their pudding at some childhood dinner. When these guys are all offstage, that will be OK too.

    (Brawn excepted… We’d miss him a LOT.)

    Hel-lo, Mister Horner! We’ve got the carpeting ready for your new office….

  15. PS- One last fantasy, nourished by a comment from Keith’s: The final responsibility for this debacle stands with Nelsinho. He’s the man who actually put innocent lives at serious risk, and then (allegedly) sat silently on the truth about indisputably criminal misconduct for nearly a year.

    The dream goes like this: Young Mr. Piquet shows up at Singapore airport in 2012… Maybe it’s a stopover to Tokyo, maybe it’s another race of some kind, maybe there’s a chess tournament at Raffles Hotel… Whatever. As he steps off the plane, he’s arrested and thrown into a slow, quiet jail for threatening the safety of Singapore’s race fans.

    Would anyone have a problem with that?

  16. Interesting point Crid. There is a story in The Telegraph today that says that Briatore and Symonds may face extradition over the scheme. But as you quite rightly point out, Nelsinho Piquet is the man with the ultimate responsibility. He was the person who had the power to say ‘no’. But he said ‘yes’. I would think if the Singaporean authorities are interested in Briatore and Symonds, they will be even more interested in Nelsinho.

  17. (Again, props to the commenter at Keith’s. Maybe it’s an obvious point, but that’s where I first heard someone say it out loud.)

  18. @ Crid…
    Nelsinho and man cannot be toguether in a sentence…
    He’s just a crying boy…
    Anyway, i love your dream 🙂