Crashgate has taken a bizarre turn. It now appears that Renault’s top brass, i.e. team principal Flavio Briatore, and technical director Pat Symonds, are no longer denying that Nelson Piquet, Jr.’s crash at Singapore l;last year was deliberate. Apparently all parties, i.e. Briatore, Symmonds and Piquet are in agreement that they held a private meeting prior to the race to hammer out the plan.
The newest quirk in the story is the claim by Briatore and Symonds that the whole scheme was Piquet’s idea. Now you might ask, why on earth would a serious F1 driver volunteer to crash out? Allegedly, Piquet, whose future with the team was already in doubt, was trying to ingratiate himself with his bosses. Far fetched? Perhaps. Impossible? In the Byzantine world of Formuyla 1, is anything impossible?
The alternate scenario is that the plot was hatched by Briatore and Symonds, which seems equally fantastic, given the risks involved. While it’s natural that the team would have hoped for a good result, that level of depsperation makes little sense, given that the team wasn’t even close to being in contention for the title in 2008.
Our best guess for a possible motive here is that Briatore was desperately trying to circumvent a performance clause in Fernando Alonso’s contract. It’s been widely assumed that such a clause exists, and that it stipulates that Alonso would be free to shop his ervices elsewhere should the team fail to provide him with a competitive package. Given the performance ceiling that Renault has been facing, however, both this year and last, it is highly unlikely an occasional win would do anything more than remind Alonso of what he’s missing. Surely, he hears the clock ticking, and is anxious to be in a compettive car again while he’s at the peak of his abilities.
Another question that arises in this melodrama is, why did Piquet wait so long to spill the beans? The answer here is obvious. He kept his mouth shut while he still had a job. Once fired, he decided it was safe to be a whistle blower. Revenge is an obvious motive, although, in this case, we wonder if Piquet acted on his own, or was pushed into the limelight by Nelson Piquet, Sr., who probably feels the sting of his son’s failure more keenly than Junior himself. Piquet, Sr. is nothing if not proud.
In the end, the true authorship of the plot is almost irrelevant. Crime is democratic. When a gang robs a bank, blame may be equally shared by the mastermind and the trigger man. In this case, nearly everyone gets tarnished. Piquet has thoroughly trashed his career, simply by having willingly particpated in such a scheme. Briatore and Symonds have both seriously jeopardized their future in the sport. And given this recent development, Renault’s viablity as a team looks increasingly doubtful. Perhaps the only winner to emerge from this mess is Alonso, who apparently was kept ignorant of the whole scheme, and is purportedly off to Ferrari next year. Ole!