Today we got word that the FIA is going to open an enquiry into the events of the Singapore Grand Prix last season, when Nelson Piquet crashed, bringing out a safety car at precisely the right moment for his team mate Fernando Alonso to take advantage and go on to win the race.
The implication is that Piquet’s accident was deliberately caused in order to affect the result, which would be a contravention of the team orders rule as well as of several sporting and safety rules.
Renault are feeling the long arm of the law in the shape of another FIA disciplinary hearing coming soon after the appeal into their one race ban for allowing an unsafe car to leave the pits in Hungary.
The Singapore enquiry has echoes of the current scandal in the rugby world, where a player was encouraged to feign a blood injury using stage blood in order to leave the pitch and allow a specialist kicker on at a critical point at the end of the match. If the accusation is proven then it could have similar consequences with a possible ban and/or some forced resignations, as happened this year with McLaren after the Melbourne stewards scandal.
After that race in Singapore I remember that the conspiracy theorists, of whom there are many in F1, were straight onto it. It was just too much of a co-incidence to be believable, they said. And then when Nelson Piquet was given a new contract for 2009, when his performances all season had not appeared to deserve it, having been patchy at best, the whole thing seemed to make sense in conspiracy world.
I shall be absolutely fascinated to see what the outcome of this will be and it has potentially huge implications.
The FIA has access to all of the radio traffic, so if a verbal signal was given to Piquet, they would surely have noticed it at the time.
The enquiry has been triggered by “new information” which has recently come to light. The claims were apparently made on Brazilian TV network, Globo. It is not yet known whether Piquet, who described Renault boss Flavio Briatore as his ‘executioner’ following his sacking, has any involvement in the story breaking.
Whether Piquet has felt moved to go to the FIA, in the same way as Alonso and de la Rosa did over the Ferrari spying scandal, time will tell.
There is no doubt however that should there be any proof, 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.
His role in the recent FOTA breakaway series is also believed to have been a source of irritation.
This weekend has been a difficult one for the Renault team. Alonso had a shot at a podium but lost it after contact at the start damaged a wheel cover which malfunctioned at the pit stop.
And the team dropped to eighth in the constructors’ championship, as BMW moved up ahead of them.
Renault may well be completely blameless in this case, but if they do find themselves on the wrong side of it, they may point to the penalty awarded to Michael Schumacher at Monaco in 2006 when he deliberately blocked the track in order to prevent others from taking away his pole position.
His penalty was nothing more severe than being moved to the back of the grid.