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. 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

  2. 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…

  3. 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.

  4. 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….

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. mp4-19b said on 16th September 2009, 12:31

    Max has won the war!!

  11. Edward B said on 16th September 2009, 12:51

    All those doubting the tactics of the FIA in leveraging Briatore admission by offering Symonds immunity, please stand up!

    • Bigbadderboom said on 16th September 2009, 12:56

      I must admit that I for one was against that immunity tactic. I think this is more of a result of Renaults own interpretation of the information presented to them by the FIA. There must be some damning evidence there. Does this mean that the case against the Piquets is dropped, because by persuing them will do them no favours at the hearing on th 21st.

    • I also think that immunity to only one is not fair, because they could have also offered immunity to Flavio, or to someone else… if someone is guilty, has to be punished.
      I still don’t get why only Flavio would be the responsible of the strategy, since according Piquet words, he doesn’t know anything about F1.

  12. Robert Silvestre said on 16th September 2009, 12:54

    Does anyone know whether the 13th team slot announcement was due this week? I’d find it suspicious if not… same with the BMW Sauber situation… now the FIA will ask the other teams if OK to have 14 participants next season? Got the feeling that the outcome of this whole thing is already known… Renault will be banned for a few years and the involved parties sent to a civil court. That way we start 2010 fresh with 26 cars on the grid and (almost) everyone is happy.

  13. antonyob said on 16th September 2009, 13:01

    its irrelevant. renault will leave f1, this is the perfect excuse. glad to see the back of Briatori though, what an oily tick he is. Its a shame for Pat Symonds but he must’ve known.

    Seems ALonso is trying to out Schumacher Schumacher off the track as well as on. How now will ferrari view him after he has been around blackmail, deception, cheating….actually he sounds perfect for them!

  14. Edward B said on 16th September 2009, 13:11

    I wonder if public opinion will be on the side of NPJ as the poor driver bullied into doing the wrong thing, or whether they will think even less of him for only coming clean when shopping the team that cut him loose?

    The irony would be if NPJ was such a bad driver that Britore and Symonds only wanted him to “crash”, whereas he couldn’t do that properly and it ended up as “…CRASH!” :-)

    It doesn’t dilute my honestly-felt seriousness about what they did, it’s just part of me imagines Briatore seeing the footage and slapping his hand onto his forehead as he realised NPJ had done even that wrong!!

    Anyone want to open the book on whether Alonso knew?

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