Should the FIA have offered Pat Symonds immunity – and will he take it?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Pat Symonds will go unpunished if he reveals further evidence
Pat Symonds will go unpunished if he reveals further evidence

A surprising and quite telling development in the FIA’s investigation into the Renault Singapore crash came today as the governing body extended its offer of immunity to Pat Symonds.

The clear implication is the FIA believe Symonds know more than he has told them so far – and suspicion will inevitably fall on the next man up the chain, Flavio Briatore.

Already there have been various comments on this site and others suggesting Mosley has it in for Briatore. As James Allen wrote recently:

This situation offers the opportunity for outgoing FIA president Max Mosley to settle a few scores with Briatore before he leaves office in two months time. Briatore has been in Mosley?s cross-hairs for many years, since writing an open letter of no confidence in the FIA president in 1994.

Perhaps, but if this is the case then why did Mosley pass up an opportunity to exact his revenge two years ago when Renault were found guilty of using McLaren’s intellectual property, but went unpunished?

Further information about the timing to the investigation came to light today with the publication of a letter from Flavio Briatore to Nelson Piquet (Snr) dated July 28th. It included this passage:

I was extremely shocked to learn from Mathieu Michel, and from Bernie [Ecclestone], as a matter of confirmation, that you would have declared that Nelsinho was asked by Renault to cause an accident in the 13th lap in the Grand Prix of Singapore, 2008.
Flavio Briatore

Given the timing of the letter, should we be more doubtful of the Piquets’ position? Prisoner Monkeys offered an interesting alternative take in the comments yesterday:

The FIA may not be going after Briatore. They may no longer trust Piquet; his story changes with each re-telling. Firstly it was that they were going to stage an accident. Then they were going to stage an accident and even picked out a corner. Now Piquet Snr. has said Alonso had to have known about it.

Piquet is trying to bring Briatore down, to ruin him, and he?s trying to get the FIA to do that. If both Piquet and Symonds testify and their stories conflict, one of them is clearly lying. And Piquet has more reason to do so.

Whatever the FIA’s reasons for offering immunity in this fashion may be, the decision to do so raises difficult questions. Should Piquet and Symonds be immune from punishment just because the roles of others who may have been involved has not yet come to light?

While ‘plea bargains’ increase the speed of the process of gathering information and holding a trial, they may encourage guilty parties to work the system to their advantage in order to shift the balance of punishment towards innocent or, at least, less guilty parties. (I’m sure any lawyers who may be reading can enlighten us further on their benefits and shortcomings.)

We will likely only understand the FIA’s purpose in offering Symonds immunity when the details of the case become clear next week. Why do you think they have done it? And how should he respond?

Renault Singapore crash controversy

97 comments on “Should the FIA have offered Pat Symonds immunity – and will he take it?”

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  1. wow all i can say is that piquet could have really messed up bad if he is not being honest. I dunno how the laws work over there but here in the USA he could goto jail for doing what he did if he is found to be lying in a document like that and its taken to court. Lets hope that the truth comes out and the people who are quilty are the ones that go down bc we all know alot of times its the other way around the little guy takes the dive for the big guys

    1. That’s why I think Piquet is telling the truth. No way would anyone lie about something this huge. I could be wrong, but my instinct says that Piquet Jr is telling the truth. Coupled with the answers Symonds was giving to the investigators – if Symonds/Renault were innocent, he would flat out and emotionally deny it. He actually refused to deny or confirm it. That smacks of it being true. The psychology adds up to crashgate being a reality. Briatore is using his bully boy tactics to wriggle out of it.

      If Renault et al are found innocent on Monday, the whole thing will stink to high heaven and F1 will be forever besmirched.

  2. guilty***

  3. The truth always comes out at some point. We might all be too old to care by the time it does, but it will.
    Now, can we let the lawyers take of this while we get back to watching and talking about the upcoming race or the new teams for next year.
    Please Keith, if you bring this up again, let it because it has been resolved by the courts and we know exactly what happened that day in Singapore. Right now, as Douglas Adams would say, the situation is an S.E.P. (somebody else’s problem)

  4. you are 100% right i wanna hear more about the new teams. Maybe hear something about the fact BMW has a person/person’s to get the team moving again and that the FIA wants 14 teams. That would be awsome i think! Go usf1 lets hope for something more then a few million dollar paper weight!

  5. As with the FIA’s decision for give Jnr immunity, I strongly disagree with Symonds being offered the same. If Piquet Jnr’s claims are upheld, Symonds played a very big role in this sad sequence of events, and as such needs to be punished along with the ultimate arbeiter of all Renault F1’s activities, Flavio Briatore.

    If they are innocent, both Piquets need to be punished by the FIA for trying to bring the sport into disrepute. Snr does has other motor sport activies, and these could be curtailed and Jnr could loose his superlicense for a similar number of seasons.

    Looks more and more like a kangaroo court action, with Briatore firmly the focus of all retribution.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. I think Piquet Sr. is too smart to go this far unless he really had something. He’s risking a lot more than just his son’s reputation. Symonds is complicit and shouldn’t get off just ’cause he sings.

    2. If Symonds takes the deal and his story contradicts Piquet Jr.’s, someone is going to pay a huge price. The offer of immunity made to both of these parties states that they will have immunity so long as they fully and completely truthfully disclose all relevant details. If Symonds contradicts Piquet, then one of them is lying. Whomever is lying therefore would no longer have immunity. It would come down to whom can provide the most evidence supporting their version of events. The loser will almost certainly be banned for life. Still the transcript of Symonds response to the stewards questions makes it clear that there is more to this claim than Flav & Renault would like to admit. Whether Piquet is completely in the clear, and whether events took place as he claims, remains to be seen.

      1. Could someone please highlight for me where the stories contradict each other. As far as I can see, Piquet has accused the Renault bosses of asking him to crash on purpose to ensure Alonso’s win under the safety car, and Flavio has completely denied it, and Symonds is reserving his comments. Either Piquet Jr is telling the truth, or Flavio is – Symonds hasn’t actually said anything definitive yet except that it “was discussed”. As far as I can see, that is more or less an agreement with Piquet Jr without elaborating on the facts.

      2. Nice point!

  6. Perhaps, but if this is the case then why did Mosley pass up an opportunity to exact his revenge two years ago when Renault were found guilty of using McLaren’s intellectual property, but went unpunished?

    Nice one mentioning this, it puts it into better context – I’m not sure this is all to get one over Flavio to be honest.

    Offering Symonds is immunity is not ideal by any means, but to be honest when it’s one guys word against another and there is no real ‘evidence’ from the meeting behind closed doors, I can understand the FIA going down this road.

    At the end of the day, getting to the truth is the important thing here.

  7. What’s the point of an immunity deal for Symonds? If the allegations are true, does it matter he gets a suspension or not? He wont be able to find a job in F1 or even motorsport. The same goes true for Piquet. It is all academic.

    1. Dont count on it. Even Mike Couglan and Nigel Stepney were working even before the ban on them by the FIA was lifted.

  8. William Wilgus
    16th September 2009, 1:35

    If what Symonds has been quoted as telling the FIA is true, then he cannot be totally innocent in the matter. I don’t like the thought of giving him immunity either, but I’d sure like to know whether Briatore is guilty or not. (I certainly suspect he is. What kind of a team principal wouldn’t want to have everything under his control or know everything that was going on?) It doesn’t make sense that Briatore wasn’t aware of what was going to, or did, happen. In either case, he’s at least certainly guilty of at failing to report the incident.

  9. Prisoner Monkeys
    16th September 2009, 2:13

    Oooh, I got a mention. Thanks, Keith!

    I honestly believe this is more than just a witch-hunt to get Briatore. Max Mosley has said that he’s had enough of the politics and is actually looking forward to retirement; why would he get invovled in a lengthy and bitter fight with Piquet and Renault? He’s taken a very hands-off approach to this, which makes me think somebody else – like the WMSC – is doing this, and they have no issue with Briatore insofar as I know.

    1. Or is that just the impression he wants to create?? This has S&Max’s fingerprints all over it. It would not surprise me in the least if this was not his ‘parting shot’ to F1 and Briatore. And working behind the scenes – which I admit, is not S&Max’s usual style – gives it the appearance of legitimacy.

      And Keith, as to your question as to why S&Max hasn’t focused on Flav for retribution until now, why that’s easy. Firstly he was too pre-occupied with his all consuming persecution of Ron Dennis to spare much of a thought for Flav. And secondly, he thought he’d be around forever, and therefore had plenty of time to plot the undoing of his enemy(ies). With him being shown the door next month, this is his last chance to get back at those who who have hastened his exit.

      I seem to recall Flav and Luca Di Monty being the main protagonists in the push for S&Max to ‘stand down’. Di Monty is too smart and too powerful for S&Max to win a pitted battle against. Flav is a far easier target, and to be honest may have brought some of this on himself.

      I remain unconvinced.

      1. My thoughts exactly, I think both himself and the FIA would have been hesitant to make a big deal after spygate with Ron Dennis. And he may have choosen at that time to deal with Flavio later, but Flavio and Max re-engaged their conflict over the breakaway/FOTA commotion earlie this year and now Max Knows it’s now or ever.
        Offering everybody else immunity is Max letting everybody know who he thinks is guilty. Personally I think it’s another FIA stinking to high heaven of personal vendettas being sought.

      2. Prisoner Monkeys
        16th September 2009, 9:57

        Mosley’s sentiments regarding Piquet don’t really matter. He might be one man who represents the whole of the FIA, but that doesn’t mean he does everything. Barack Obama represents the whole of America, but does he do everything that every American does? Of course not.

        My point in all of this is that we have three conflicting versions of events: one from Briatore, who claims that nothing was done; one from Piquet, who claims that Briatore and Symonds came up with the idea and basically coerced him into it; and Symonds, who is the only Renault person to admit a conversation took place, but says Piquet did it.

        Nelson Piquet has the motive, the means and the opportunity to bring Briatore down for what he sees as a grave injustice (I always got the impsression that he had the attitude of his mistakes always being someone else’s fault). The problem is that he’s confusing revenge for justice.

        Does Briatore really deserve to go? Well, no. He has his shortcomings, but all of us do. For all his outspoken comments, he’s really pretty harmless. And if the WMSC think that Piquet is lying to them to try and get Briatore banned for life, why shouldn’t they go to Symonds and offer immunity. After all, he admitted the metting took place whereas Briatore denied it all.

        And even if the FIA are fixated on outsing Briatore, at least they’re targeting him and him alone rather than risk having Renault leave. Formula One needs maufacturers just as much as it needs privateer teams, and the balance needs to be as close to 50/50 as can be.

    2. How can you say hands off. He is the one who gave a pretty detailed, although impartial, interview at Monza. Thats where he brought many things to light, including the max punishment that could be given to Renault and also that Piquet Jr. had been granted immunity.

  10. Reading the various information published so far, I am now of the opinion that something is being covered up. The telemetry data and the transcripts from the radio communications raised serious questions, but the leaked transcript from the interview of Pat Symonds and subsequent immunity offer really did it for me.

    Presumably, the decision to offer Symonds immunity is because no-one’s found a definitive smoking gun, and unless one turns up any judgement would likely be leaning too heavily on word against word, and on data that could be interpreted either way with supporting explanations.

    While I would much rather everyone involved – including NPJ – is punished (aside from ruined personal and professional reputations) if it is proved the crash was staged, getting to the bottom of what really happened is going to be the highest priority if the FIA are planning on dishing out a serious wrist-slapping to the ultimate decision-maker – presumably Flavio unless it gets even crazier! – for putting lives at risk.

    I agree, Keith, that offers of immunity to NPJ and Symonds does risk them both simply pushing all blame towards Flavio in their evidence – it reminds me of most weeks in the boardroom watching The Apprentice! :-) It hopefully will encourage (force) Flavio to reveal more of his side of events in order to protect himself from a disproportionate amount of the blame, than would happen if he believed sticking together and denying it would work.

    As for what proportion of this investigation is because Mosley wants to get even… assuming the FIA had any choice in not investigating such a serious allegation… it could be easily argued the FOTA-slap-round-the-face that Mosley very publicly took has galvanised resolve to not pass up such a golden opportunity to ‘deal with’ one of the FOTA ringleaders.

    Saying all I’ve said, I really hope that the investigation finds that there was no conspiracy theory, just an upset, jilted driver. At a time in F1 with Mosley finally due to retire, new teams joining the grid, sensible decisions over track choices starting to be made again, things were – shock horror! – actually looking rosy! But I always have been an optimist!

    1. yeah the interview transcript on seems pretty damming.

      he’s got immunity but he refused to answer any questions or just pleaded ignorance.

      was a bit weird.

      1. He had not accepted immunity at that point

      2. But Symonds didn’t have immunity at the time of the interview with FIA stewards and Quest. And, as far as we currently know, he hasn’t yet accepted the more recent offer of immunity.

        Guilt is not the only explanation for Symonds’ behaviour during the interview – he may have been aware that Renault’s lawyers were preparing a formal defence and simply didn’t want to say anything that cut across that. He may not have been in possession of all the facts before the interview. There may be another perfectly valid reason.

  11. Immunity means absolutely nothing in this context. No one is being tried in a criminal court (as of yet), so what we’re dealing with here will be a de facto banishment of any guilty parties from international motorsports, regardless of whether or not the FIA has granted them “immunity”. No one will want to work with Briatore or Symonds if these allegations are substantiated, and the Piquets seem to have very little to offer either way. What a quagmire.

  12. If there was a deal to crash. Symonds should take the immunity & just lie. Problem solved

    1. immunity only stands up on the basis of truth

  13. Do not forget Alonso.He knew and was complice of this situation. Unfortunatelly, he act bad as he did in McLaren case.

  14. Granting immunity is good if it gets you higher up the criminal food chain, or allows you to roll up an entire conspiracy in one go. But, as you say, it’s dangerous if it allows miscreants to walk by throwing their lackeys under the bus. The difference is the investigator’s skill, or luck, in divining what the immunized person actually knows. Usually, you get a binding promise in terms of the information you need before offering the immunity and I expect Symonds didn’t get his deal without some specifics.

    In this case, the evidence—telemetry, NP’s statements, etc.—point toward a full on conspiracy involving at least also Briatore; and that Symonds knows all about it. Remember. Symonds is going to sing bird-style now and I believe it won’t be only Briatore going down—logically, this deal would not be happening if it were just FB on offer because the FIA is not looking to trade PS for FB. Symonds will be offering up a full net.

    I believe Ferrari will be keen to know what/who Symonds promised. And they will be keen to see Fisi’s true pace in the car.

  15. No one should have been offered immunity. If it turns out three different people were all well aware of whats going on, and conspired to cheat, then all three of them of get whatever punishment is due.

    That goes for Piquet. If all three really did take part in forcing a safety, to affect the teams overall race result, then all three should be out the door!

  16. HounslowBusGarage
    16th September 2009, 7:51

    It may be worth remembering that this ‘immunity’ being discussed is only in respect of the FIA. It has no bearing on any real courts in the real world.
    So whatever the outcome next week, the problem will not go away as someone is then going to take out a civil action for very large damages against someone else.

    1. Hmm… true.

      Symonds knows he might be civilly or criminally liable if he ordered the crash, so he might refuse to testify on that basis.

  17. I think they had to offer Symonds a deal as they don’t have enough evidence to prove beyond all reasonable doubt there was a conspiracy to stage the race by Piquet crashing on lap 14.

    So far they can prove that PIquet crashed on purpose, they can’t prove he was ordered to do it – it is his words against theirs. Without Symonds they only have evidence against Piquet jr. and his word (and no other evidence) of meeting where he was told do it.

    I don’t know will Symonds take the deal or hazard a trial, it is FIA court so politics have big influence on it but his and the reputation of Nelsinho Piquet is tarnished by this affair…

    They will both find it very difficult to find a job within F1 after all this. Ok, Stepney managed to find a F1 job after his affair but it is a very difficult decision for Symonds.

  18. i think like the Alonso thing, Jr. in bent out of shape for being tossed, treated (in his eyes) like crap, perhaps he was trying to blackmail his way back in, if so Breatori probably said ” give it a go mate’!, and it leaked out, once it was out both Piquet reputations (father & son) were on the line! But i would guess that winning in F1 is worth millions and millions of Euros, so crash Jr. and we win for sure, don’t crash him and it’s iffy if we win. Would you whisper “Oy Jr. pull over… HARD!” into your headset? if you thought (as standard fair in F1) that you won’t get caught? Happens more often than not when BIG money is involved!

    Thanks Keith for this excellent F1 forum, this topic is about racing to answer a rather blinkered punter’s protestations!

  19. Has anyone else noticed that when Alonso was interviewed about it on the BBC, he didn’t flatly and clearly say “I knew nothing about it”? He avoided answering all questions directly. If he didn’t know anything, you would have expected him to say something like “yeah, we were going for a three stop strategy, it was unusual but we had to take a chance on a safety car give the gird position, when Piquet crashed I was very surprised but was more focused on my race and the opportunity that it gave me, I never spoke to Pat or Flav about it” etc. None of those statements were forthcoming.

    Of course there might be an argument that on legal advice he was advised to say nothing, but he didn’t say that either “I can’t really answer your question right now as we’ve taken legal advise that says we should wait until the hearing before commenting on this”

    Sounds a little bit too evasive to me.

    1. Sounds a little bit too evasive to me.

      But Alonso had been told to avoid commenting – Renault’s press officer had intervened during the Thursday press conference to stop questions on the race fixing issue, saying that Alonso had been instructed to avoid the topic entirely.

      That he sounded somewhat evasive under those circumstances is not, in itself, significant.

    2. he didn’t flatly and clearly say “I knew nothing about it”?

      Yes he did. He said he didn’t know anything about that to the press, and to the FIA investigators.

  20. Flavio Briatore = Dodgy. He has been in charge of this team for a long time, and Pat Symonds has been involved with him for a lot of that time. There was alleged illegal traction control in ’94, fuel rig tampering, the evidence of McLaren technical drawings and that’s (my opinion only) not even mentioning one M Schumacher’s behaviour at the end of the 1994 season.

    My point is, Ol’ Flav has all the credibility of a junkie-burglar. I don’t see anyone screaming “No! They wouldn’t do it!”. The Piquet’s are being given the benefit of the doubt when, on face value, it really looks like a huge temper tantrum by a wealthy father and his over-privileged child.

    Timing is my grievance, and I think the Piquet’s should be punished for not revealing this at the time, even if they’re proven right. Either way, they deserve some sort of punishment from the FIA for bringing the sport into disrepute. Just as Ross Brawn should have in 2003 in my opinion….

    1. Right on the money!

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