In yet another dramatic development in the Crashgate saga, Team Renault have decided to attempt damage control by releasing team director Flavio Briatore, and chief engineer Pat Symonds with immediate effect. Along with announcing the departure of Briatore and Symonds, the official statement from the team stated that, “The ING Renault F1 Team will not dispute the recent allegations made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.”
Clearly, this is an effort by the Renault executives to mitigate any official sanctions which might impact the viability of the team. The team could be penalized with either a massive fine (recall that McLaren was fined $100 million in the wake of “Stepneygate”), or expulsion from the championship. At a time when the long term future of the team has been the subject of some speculation to begin with, such penalties would only further damage the value of the Renault franchise.
The official allegation is that Briatore and Symonds instructed Nelson Piquet, Jr to deliberately crash his car on lap 17 of last year’s Singapore GP, with the intent of triggering a Safety Car deployment. According to the charge, instigated by Piquet, and his father Nelson, Sr, the exact point of the crash was chosen so as to be out of reach of any of the track’s cranes, which would ensure the use of the Safety Car. According to the FIA’s assertion, Piquet went along with the plan to placate his bosses, as he was uncertain about his future with the team.
While both Piquet and Symonds have been offered immunity from the FIA, in an obvious effort by the sanctioning body to draw a bead on Briatore, it now appears that only Piquet has taken them up on their offer. Symonds has chosen (or perhaps was encouraged by Renault top brass) to exit stage left, with Briatore.
While Briatore probably has as many enemies as he does friends, and many will not mourn his departure from the sport, it is sad to see Pat Symonds end his F1 career this way. Symonds has been an important fixture on the Renault squad since their Benneton days in the early 90’s. He was Michael Schumacher’s race engineer when the German took his first two titles with Benneton in 1994 and 1995, and he has stuck with the team ever since, through their various performance troughs, as well as their return to glory with Fernando Alonso’s two titles in 2005 and 2006.