Car (South Africa)
A TIMELINE OF EVENTS
Had Renault not hit rock bottom in 2009, the truth behind Piquet’s crash may have never emerged.
After 10 races, Alonso had a meagre 13 points to his name, and Piquet zero, which led to the latter’s immediate dismissal after the Hungarian round early in August.
However, the world would soon find out that hell hath no fury like a dumped driver. That humiliation of underperformance in F1 was nothing compared to the embarrassment of a corporate automotive giant caught race-fixing.
30 August 2009: Brazilian TV station Rede Globo drops the bombshell: Piquet had been ordered to crash at the previous year’s Singapore race to allow Fernando Alonso to win. F1’s sanctioning body, the FIA, launches its investigation.
4 September 2009: The Renault team is formally accused of conspiring with Piquet and interfering with the outcome of the 2008 race.
10 September 2009: Piquet says he was asked by team principal Flavio Briatore and executive of engineering Pat Symonds to intentionally crash at Turn 17 of the Singapore Grand Prix, where there were no recovery cranes or escape roads, forcing a safety car period to strategically benefit Alonso. Piquet doubts his former teammate’s prior knowledge of the plot, but admits at the time that it was curious why the Spaniard wasn’t sceptical of the decision to start the race on low fuel from such a low position, when the opposite is the most prudent.
11 September 2009: In building its case, the FIA relies heavily on supplied telemetry and radio transcripts from the race. Key is Piquet’s testimony, which is exchanged for immunity from sanction, irrespective of whether Renault is found guilty or not.
16 September 2009: Renault declares it will not contest the charges and announces that Briatore and Symonds have left the team with immediate effect. Though a de facto admission of guilt, the FIA insists that Renault will be called to testify on 21 September 2009 regardless.
17 September 2009: Briatore issues a statement regarding his departure: “I was just trying to save the team. It’s my duty. That’s the reason I’ve finished.”
21 September 2009: Renault is disqualified from F1, but the sentence is suspended for two years owing to Renault’s swift intervention and, presumably, the incident occurring at a time (the 2008 recession) when manufacturers needed little convincing to depart the sport. Alonso is absolved from any responsibility; Symonds is handed a five-year ban and Briatore a lifetime ban from F1.
Apart from the human tragedies the sport has suffered across the decades, 2008’s Crashgate and 2007’s Spygate (when a disgruntled Ferrari employee photocopied and sent that year’s Ferrari plans to his counterpart at Mclaren) cast two of the longest shadows over F1 in recent memory back to back when the sport could least afford it. BMW, Honda and Toyota all pulled out of F1 at the end of 2009.
Ironically, either through a justifiable sense of penance, or misguided duty, Renault never left. For coming clean, albeit out of revenge, Piquet was rewarded with a destroyed F1 career, but his former team races on unruffled as the Alpine F1 team today with Alonso continuing as its star driver.
The truth, in F1, is indeed often stranger than fiction.