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

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

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

  1. verstappen said on 16th September 2009, 8:47

    When I watch the fragment again, it seems to me that Flav is pretending/acting his emotion.

    To be honest, for sure, in hindsight this seems easy to say, but I remember that even at that time I found something conspicuous in his behaviour, something unreal

  2. Antifia said on 16th September 2009, 8:59

    I can’t get the what the point of Prisoner’s Monkey is. The story is not changing with each re-telling, it is just getting richer in details. Furthermore, even the notion of “re-telling” is wrong: Piquet did not tell the story several times – we are just getting the info in several instalments as the statements get leaked to the press.
    If that statement from Pat Symonds is really what he said (or rather refused to say), that gives a lot a credence to the whole story.
    But in the end, if this crash fix is true (and this is still an if), all of them should be punished – all of them, Piquet Jr, Briatore, Pat Symonds and everybody involved. In the case of Piquet Jr. it would be just a big disgrace – first you agree to cheat and then you wistleblow, not because you found your bearings, but on the course of a vendetta. If the story is false, well, then Piquet Jr. is really in troubles (well, either way he is).

  3. After reading all leaked information about this, the only thing that is pretty clear for me is:

    Someone suggested to do that. This is the only thing has been confirmed by N Piquet and P Symonds declarations.

    Race transcriptions can be read in both directions.

    Piquet’s car telemetry during the incident is not conclusive enough; despite it could be considere unusual, what is the “ideal patron” for an unprovoked accident to compare with?

    So, at the end, and taking in consideration this conversation took place there are three possible scenarios:

    A) Briatore suggested it offering Piquet a renewal for next year. Symonds planed all details and Piquet did it accordingly.

    B) Piquet suggested it as a way for trying to keep his seat. Symonds and Flavio rejected it, but they didn’t take any action after the incident happened.

    C) Piquet suggested it and Briatore told him something like: “I don’t want to be involved in something like that” (Pilato’s style) then, Symonds planned all with Piquet.

    D) Piquet is lying, Briatore is right and Symonds has lost his mind or he is conspiring against Briatore with Piquet.

    So, given D) is just absurd, for A, B and C cases, I can only say those three guys should be banned from F1 for the rest of their lifes.

    Well, Piquet and Symonds are more less banned in any case, so the only remaining should be Flavio.

    The other thing I can take as a conclusion is or N Piquet is a lier with no dignity (if everything he said is not true) or is a man with no character and dignity (if his declaration is true) so at the end he is a poor man with no dignity whatever result come to light.

    • so the only remaining should be Flavio.

      I wanted to say: the only remaining would be Flavio.

      Sorry!

    • Jonathan said on 16th September 2009, 9:35

      Why are Symonds and Briatore at fault if B is correct?

      If Piquet chose to crash despite his team rejecting the plan, only Piquet is at fault.

      It’s not an impossible scenario. Piquet may have deliberately wanted to behave as though he’d been told to crash so that he could then threaten to implicate the team if they refused to give him a contract.

      Wacky but possible.

      • If B is correct, then Briatore and Symonds should have acted accordingly, given the gravity and risks taken by him, mainly when he was asked by them to not to do it.

        In that scenario, the provoked crash woudn’t been their fault, but doing nothing after that happened is as serious as Nelsinho fault. They, as top managers of a team cannot just look to other side when, at least for them, was pretty clear what had happened.

        In a court the would be condemned as accomplices.

    • UnicornF1 said on 16th September 2009, 11:39

      E) Alonso told Briatore and Symonds and then “A”. :-P

  4. Jonathan said on 16th September 2009, 9:30

    Trying to get Symonds on board is a forced move from the FIA: they have no choice.

    Why? Because Piquet Jnr is a hostile witness giving circumstantial evidence. On the basis of Nelsinho’s evidence alone, the FIA would probably have to exonerate both Symonds and Briatore.

    But Symonds can’t be sure of that, so he may come on board. But does he have a smoking gun against Briatore? The FIA are gambling that he does, but I’m not sure.

  5. Ayrton said on 16th September 2009, 9:30

    Um…if one peruses the transcript of Symonds interview with the FIA it seems to me by refusing to comment and offering little information and not flatly refusing he was aware the FIA may offer him immunity. I do not think it would have been good for the FIA to charge renault with espionage a couple of months after mclaren. This would not be a good look for F1. Now with some distance to the mclaren espionage case, the focus can be put back on Renault. I never liked Nelson Snr but I do not believe he would go this as it would clearly not reflect well on his son either. To me this may not be a briatore witch hunt, but it perhaps is about the biggest player having to fall to account for what may prove to be the most damaging case of cheating to have ever come out of this sport.

  6. The constant drip of small pieces of information, most likely leaked on behalf of the people who wish to influence public opinion, makes it easy to jump to conclusions, much more difficult to know whether those conclusions are correct. It is possible to conclude that Pat Symonds and Nelson Piquet have been offered immunity because this is a clear attempt to get at Flavio Briatore personally, not just Renault. It is equally possible to conclude the opposite.

    Piquet Jr has been given immunity, based on the precedent set during the “Spygate” affair when all three McLaren drivers were offered the same deal for providing information to the FIA. In some ways, this doesn’t feel right – Piquet Jr has made some very serious allegations against his former team and should be prepared to live with any and all of the consequences of making those allegations. Much like unsuccessful claimants taking possible liability for costs in the civil courts – putting their money where their mouth is, so to speak. There should not be a perverse incentive for drivers to make malicious and false allegations against their former team, i.e. on the basis that there will be no comeback and so they have nothing to lose.

    However, the flipside of that argument is that Piquet’s F1 career was probably over before these allegations came to light and that even if it wasn’t then it certainly must be now. After all, what sane F1 team boss is going to take on a poor performing driver who turns on his team when things don’t go his way? Immunity or no immunity, Piquet is now an ex-F1 driver and probably beyond the FIA’s reach. Could/would the FIA really look to take punitive action against a former F1 driver? Granting Piquet immunity therefore makes no real difference to his situation, but may have encouraged him to share information about a potentially serious charge which has implications for the credibility of the sport.

    Symonds has been offered – but not yet accepted – immunity. One interpretation of that is that the guiding motive behind this investigation is a personal vendetta against Briatore. Alternatively, it could mean that the FIA has legitimately concluded that Briatore probably has the most serious case to answer and is going after him. Or it could simply be that Symonds appears to have more information than he has provided so far and the offer of immunity is intended to try to get him to provide it. Whether the offer is well founded or not, Symonds must know that by accepting it he risks tainting his future career prospects in F1 – much better to go down with a sinking ship (if indeed it is sinking) then sell out your former team mates. On that basis, I’d be surprised if Symonds accepted immunity.

    • Jonathan said on 16th September 2009, 9:38

      But if Symonds is found guilty his career prospects will be worse than “tainted” – they may well be killed off by a life ban from F1.

      He might take immunity to escape that.

      • A guilty verdict wouldn’t absolve Symonds of any wrongdoing (if indeed he has done anything wrong) if he’s accepted immunity – it simply means he can’t be formally punished for it. It doesn’t mean he would escape with his reputation and future prospects intact.

        Indeed, it would be difficult for Symonds to accept immunity and continue in his position in the long term – even assuming that Renault continues in F1. Very few senior whistleblowers remain in their post for long. Accepting the FIA offer would be tantamount to Symonds writing his resignation letter from a team he’s worked for since it was known as Toleman in the early 1980s.

        A guilty verdict sans immunity is unlikely to result in a stronger punishment than was handed out to Coughlan and Stepney over Spygate, both of whom are now free to be employed in F1. Being guilty and deserting the sinking ship would probably be looked at more harshly by future employers than simply being guilty, I suspect.

  7. What about that? extracts of the radio communication

    http://www.planetf1.com/story/0,18954,3213_5562506,00.html

  8. steph90 said on 16th September 2009, 10:15

    Thanks roser, well if the key workd for Piquet was ‘push’ then Flav is involved. I don’t trust Symond’s at all in the trannscript, I know they may not have accepted bringing Fernando in early unless there was a good reason (Symond’s ‘the reason being we’ve got this worry on the fuel pump’) but it sounds like he’s always in control (Don’t worry about fuel because I’m going to get him [Alonso] out of this traffic earlier than that.’).
    FIA must really have steam coming out their ears over whoever has leaked this stuff.

    • OK, but maybe they just wanted Piquet to push… the problem is that we cannot know the mind of the people, just what they say and they do, and this can be interpreted in many views…

  9. There is one point most people are ignoring: in any serious sport the Singapore results would be invalidated. Do you know what that would mean in the final driver standings?

    • Hamilton finished 3rd in Singapore and got 6 points. Massa was 13th, no points.
      So if the results were discarded, Massa would be crowned 2008 champion…

      • graigchq said on 16th September 2009, 14:47

        i believe this has been answered elsewhere, there is a cut off date for all grievances for any particular season, and i believe its around november or december of the end of that year, so in essence, even if they decide the whole race was to be shambled, the results for 2008 would remain. Perhaps this is why it was left so long before it came to light??

  10. I have no firm idea of whom is telling the truth without seeing all available evidence, and not just a few leaks.

    But I find it incredible that Symonds is given immunity. what if it transpires that Briatore is an innocent party and it was chiefly Symonds idea? However unlikely that may seem, without seeing all the evidence, it’s entirely possible. If the Piquets are being truthful – and it’s still an if – then I suspect not enough heads will roll.

    On a side point, interesting the amount of fuss over this form of alleged cheating because it was seen as endangering lives (which I totally concur with) compared to the relatively small fuss and minor punishment dished out back in the Benetton days, when they risked the lives of a whole pit crew and set Jos Verstappen on fire by (proven) tampering with the fuel rigs…

  11. Patrickl said on 16th September 2009, 11:09

    If you read the stewards report of the Spa hearings, it’s clear they feel that Briatore is responsible, but that Symonds is covering for him by not giving testimony.

    There is no witch hunt going for Briatore from the FIA. They simply want to punish the biggest fish in the chain.

    Sure Piquet has it in for Briatore, but he only came forward because he KNEW that Briatore was behind it. What point would he have to only implicate Symonds?

    Piquet never changed his story. Dont know where Prisonar Monkey got that from. I’ve never seen another story than that he was told to crash. The testimony that leaked gave more insight and Symonds added to that. But Piquet always said the same thing. Nonsense to assume that he is lying.

    So forget all the silly conspiracy stories, apply Occam’s razor and simply read the facts as they are.

    Briatore looks guilty => FIA wants him punished and needs proof that Symonds can provide

  12. UnicornF1 said on 16th September 2009, 11:09

    Probably FIA doesn’t have strong evidence to accuse somebody 100%.

    But this strategy could be done in order Flavio to feel abandoned and threatened since the others will be able to say things about him at FIA under immunity.
    This could trigger him to tell things that he wouldn’t say otherwise against Symonds and Piquet. Have in mind also that this could happen even if Symonds, doesn’t say any bad thing about Flavio. Flavio wouldn’t know this and would accuse Symonds if there is anything to accuse him for.
    So some truths may come in light that wouldn’t come otherwise…

  13. mp4-19b said on 16th September 2009, 11:13

    I definitely think Alonso knew the plot. Maybe a lie-detector test would put to rest any speculation. But again the point is that Max wants Flav’s head, not Alonso’s. He’ll naturally be offered immunity. Poor Flav, i dunno what sort of humiliation he’ll be subjected to come next Monday. I can safely assume that its the end of the road for Flavio. I really don’t know how Pat will be able to get away with this. Maybe he, along with Alonso will come up with some incriminating evidence against Flav to save their own skins. When I first heard of the decision the provide PK Jr & Pat with immunity, I was reminded of the erstwhile german secrect police Gestapo & their way of doing things. FIA & Max operate in the same way as them. First take into confidence the victims themselves by offering them “immunity”, round up more victims with the help of the “immunized” victims. Exterminate the lot & finally exterminate the “immunized” victims themselves. I’m sure, once Max gets rid of Flavio, he’ll see no use & purpose of having pat & PK Jr. He’ll have them removed from the sport. As for Alonso, He’ll maintain his diplomatic stand on this issue, atleast in the eye of the public & getaway with this. I really dunno why Max let go of Flav during the J-Damper spying case. the fact that Renault had been using Mclaren’s patented design itself is reason enough to have punished them.

    Professor Malcolm Smith’s “inerter” device and concept has been deployed in Formula One racing (A genius idea, and why McLaren hasn’t tried to stop others using it”). McLaren signed an agreement with the University for rights to exploit the technology in Formula One. After a rapid and confidential development process the inerter was raced for the first time by Kimi Raikkonen at the 2005 Spanish Grand Prix, who achieved a victory for McLaren. The inerter had been used for the first time in practice by McLaren at the previous race at Imola.

    During development McLaren invented a decoy name for the inerter (the “J-damper”) to keep the technology secret from its competitors for as long as possible. The inerter featured in the 2007 Formula One “spy scandal” when it was reported that the Renault engineering team failed to understand the purpose of the device from a McLaren J-damper drawing they had acquired

    Here is a LINK to that article.

    Symonds is as guilty as Flavio or Piquet or for that matter, Alonso(if he knew of this plot). This is all Max’s doing. I really hope all this ends once and for all. Flavio’s “Head” is what Max wants, let him take it. I dunno what max is going to do with Flavio’s head. Always though of him to be a dimwit, especially after Singapore 2008 . Let this be Max’s final act of madness. I’m sick of this revengeful attitude of max Mosley.

    The best thing for Flavio to do is to just tell the truth. Even if he’s not found guilty, Max will manipulate & fabricate & have his head. Flav must exit with some dignity.

  14. F1 Nonsense said on 16th September 2009, 11:20

    No, because he is one of the very guilty parts and will be punished accordingly.

    What Piquet did is stupid as many say, OK, but remember he was an employee following order from his boss.

    Put ourselves in his shoes – would you like a race position for next year? So do this. – What would you do?…

    And since it was one thing that didn’t put anybody in jeopardy, only him, kind of, I understand the immunity given to him by FIA, but if they give immunity to all involved, after the truth is known the guilty parts can’t be punished.

    I feel sorry about Renault the company, but whoever put Briatore in charge must have known the possibilities…

    And there they are…

    If they are expelled from Formula 1, it will be a blast even a big car company like Renault will find very hard to overcome… Sales will drop, stands and garages will shut down, people will loose their work… Very bad.

    Only hope the punishments given to the guilty ones will be as bad. And also hope FIA really check is Alonso wasn’t in on it, because this is something just like something he could do… The hunger to win is bigger in him than in Briatore, so… better check really good who had the idea. Because even if he wasn’t on that meeting were Piquet was told to do what he did, it’s very hard to believe the Spaniard didn’t know what’s was going on….

  15. to be honest, the way im looking at this is that there is no smoke without a fire, and i dont think that piquet being sacked is a big enough fire to have caused this much smoke, plenty of drivers have been angry because of sackings in the past, with bordais coming to mind recently, but nothing like this has ever happened to the best of my knowledge which makes me think that something must have taken place behind the scenes.

    this, coupled with the telemetry, symonds resonse and also the fact that piquets statement clears up alot of weird things from that singapore race, like why would alonso start in 15th with only 12 laps of fuel, and why piquet crashed on such an easy corner (where conveniently there was no crane).

    although i really dont want it to be true i think that it is looking ever more likely that piquet is telling the truth, but i just cannat get my head around symonds immunity offer, because if piquet is telling the truth then symonds is just as guilty as flav.

  16. mitchibob said on 16th September 2009, 12:16

    I wonder Renault would have bothered already taking Piquet to court outside of the FIA case, if they thought Piquet really had a case. I also wonder whether if Piquet is found guilty of blackmail in the UK, whether he will ever be extradited from Brazil. Piquet must have known his F1 career was over, whatever the outcome, unless he really is the spoilt brat, living off his father’s legacy, that he has so far shown to be.

    This is very much like the recent bloodgate scandal in Rugby union. In this case, the player being asked to fake a blood injury in order to get their kicker back onto the field. Later, the player asked the team doctor to inflict a real blood injury to be shown to the doctor of the opposing team.

    Piquet is no different than this player, only in his case, he endangered many more people by crashing his car mid-race, than a player getting his own lip cut with a scalpel.

    I’m sure every F1 team has cheated at some time in the past. To me though, I still have to wonder whether this is something that NPJ imagined up all by himself, rather than with real instruction from the team. I can easily imagine it being discussed, but I still doubt that it was something a team would actually ask a driver to do. Perhaps knowing that he was not going to get a good result from the race, he decided that ditching it in the wall was the best thing to do, seeing as they’d previously talked about it being a way to get a good result in the race. He could probably use it as contract leverage in future too.

    I’d also be surprised if Symmonds takes immunity. As mentioned, he’s been with that team for ever. It’s his team. And if Renault are satisfied that they can prove NPJ wrong, why should he bother with their offer.

    What a difference there is between the two sons of former F1 drivers that started in F1 recently… Rosberg, reliable, fast, great character, then Piquet Jr, unreliable, slow, spoilt brat.

  17. Breaking: “Briatore and Symonds leave Renault”
    http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/78668

    Renault has announced that team boss Flavio Briatore and engineering chief Pat Symonds have parted company with the team and that it will “not dispute” the allegations of race-fixing when it appears before the World Motor Sport Council next week.

    • mp4-19b said on 16th September 2009, 12:30

      OMG! What does this mean? Will there being a hearing at all?

      • From that article:

        As the Renault team – rather than Briatore and Symonds themselves – has been charged over the allegations, today’s announcement by the team is unlikely to have any bearing on next week’s hearing.

      • Jonathan said on 16th September 2009, 13:16

        There will be a hearing but Renault will surely escape sanction unless others are implicated.

    • Jonathan said on 16th September 2009, 13:18

      Amazing! The latest leaks must have put the nail in the coffin. It seems Briatore and Symonds no longer had the benefit of the doubt at Renault.

  18. So, Briatore and Symonds admit thier guilt. The question now is will Renault avoid expulsion now that the two rogues have left the team. What would have happened in Singapore without the safety car? A victory for Massa no doubt and with it the world championship. Ironic that Alonso winning by the team cheating lateer handed Lewis Hamilton the championship by 1 point. This is a new low for Formula 1, but you know what they say. “There is no such thing as bad publicity”

    • Nitpicker said on 16th September 2009, 13:24

      I don’t think Renault should go unpunished. With Symonds and Flav leaving, Renault are in a similar position to McLaren when they got rid of Coughlan. Renault’s case is more severe because of the safety issues of deliberately causing a crash.

  19. Breaking News!!

    Briatore and Symmonds have left the team. Surely that means Renault cannot get banned now? But what of Renault will they try and run the team next year?
    http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/78668

    • Maybe they will get banned. Just because they get rid of Briatore and Symmonds does not stop the FIA imposing any punishment if they find them guilty.

      The FIA have accounted Renault Team responsible and not those two individuals.

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