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. HounslowBusGarage said on 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.

    • Jonathan said on 16th September 2009, 9:42

      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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. Karlos said on 16th September 2009, 8:10

    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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  5. Toby Bushby said on 16th September 2009, 8:20

    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….

  6. 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

  7. 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).

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. What about that? extracts of the radio communication

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

  13. 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…

  14. 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??

  15. 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…

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