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“I’m sorry” : Pat Symonds’ letter to the World Council
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“I’m sorry” : Pat Symonds’ letter to the World Council
Posted By: James Allen  |  22 Sep 2009   |  10:40 pm GMT  |  54 comments

This is the letter Renault director of engineering, Pat Symonds, wrote to the World Motor Sport Council.

Symonds "I destroyed my life's work'
It played a part in the decision to give him only a five year ban, rather than a life ban, because he admitted his part in it, unlike Flavio Briatore.

But two things stand out; he sticks to his line that the idea was Nelson Piquet’s originally and he does not implicate Briatore. He was offered immunity but did not take it, as this letter proves.

“In mitigation I would like to acknowledge my role in this incident. I was the one
who, when the idea was first suggested to me by Nelson Piquet Jr , should have
dismissed it immediately.

“It is to my eternal regret and shame that I did not do so.

“I can only say that I did it out of a misguided devotion to my team and not for any
personal gain whatsoever. I consider the role I have played in bringing the team
to where it is today to be my life’s work. I started the nucleus of the team 28
years ago with only 19 other people. Today it has grown to an organisation that
directly employs over 500 people and supports innumerable local and
international businesses.

“The last thing that I ever wanted to do was to jeopardise that team and the many people to whom I had an overwhelming responsibility. In a single action I have destroyed the high reputation I have built up during a 33 year career in motor sport. I am a competitive person who worked in a high pressure environment. This can, at times, cloud one’s judgement. I have always tried to be an honest person, a fact I hope you will give me credit for by witness of my statements to the stewards in Belgium. On that night in Singapore last year I made a mistake the consequences of which I could never have imagined at the time. For that mistake I can only offer all of you, and all those touched by the action I was involved in, my profound apology.”

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54 Comments
  1. Finn says:

    Jr looks ever worse now.

    Who was witness X?

  2. Mike from Medellin, Colombia says:

    “I can only say that I did it out of a misguided devotion to my team and not for any
    personal gain whatsoever”

    OK Pat, so will you also come clean on Option 13 and tell us who told you to do it and whether this was also misguided devotion.

    Translation is: I have been caught with my pants down, but it was some 22 year old boy’s idea and I should not have listened to him….I have been a silly billy.

    Misguided devotion = cheating and doing anything at any cost without regards to safety and morality in order to win.

  3. Martin P says:

    First Dave Ryan and now Pat Symonds; two highly respected, long serving and talented devotees to the sport who’ve made career ending judgements this year.

    James, is the pressure higher now than ever on these guys for some reason? Or are we just seeing an era of transparency where activities that have always gone on are getting more attention?

    1. Michael C says:

      I suspect the second to be more applicable although both factors must play a part – any comment James

      1. CTM says:

        I agree, the latter. Cheating hasn’t caught up with technology. Blackbox onboard technology, monitored comms, media, and the high media profile, of f1

  4. rv says:

    uhmmm…. yeah, we all make errors in judgement at one time or another, some are real doozies though.

    I feel bad for him, but he is right, he should have squashed the idea, and if not him FB should have told NPJ that if he wants to keep a seat in F1, that is not the way to do it. Wow… what a season it has been at the technical and personal level for all involved in F1.

    I think 5 years is a bit harsh for him. He came out clean when made to realize the enormity of his error, as opposed to FB, life time for him is about right.

  5. Dave P says:

    I find it a bit unbelievable that he suggests it was Piquets idea. How did Piquet stand to benefit? a renewed contract with a team he did not have success in with a manager he despised. Moreover, I do not think Piquet had the knowledge skill or forethought to come up with such a cunning plan. Moreover, to suggest such a plan to someone such as PS who everyone thought was the upstanding member of the community would lead you to think you would get sacked on the spot by a team who was trying to get rid of you. It would be the perfect way to dismiss him summarily.

  6. Just A Bloke (Martin) says:

    Well that seems a heartfelt contrite letter. I had the privilege of visiting the team at the Station Lane site in Witney in the mid 80′s they had Teo Fabi’s Pole sitting car and I think the first of the Ford V6 turbo cars on the shop floor. I have always had a soft spot for the team since the Toleman days and really do believe Pat acted on the spur of the moment with misguided loyalty rather than an outright structured plan to cheat. I sincerely hope Pat can return to the profession in the future and close out his career with style.

  7. ByTor says:

    Symonds sounds genuinely contrite and remorseful. Also interesting that his “line” does not contradict what Piquet said in his statement to the FIA. I think therefore that we can take the likely actual events as: Piquet suggests idea of deliberate crash to Symonds. Whether this was as a genuine suggestion or an idle off-hand comment we shall never know. He probably thought it would buy him some sort of favour with the team, as he suggested in his FIA submission. Symonds considers the idea and discusses with Briatore. They decide to go for it and call in Piquet for “the meeting” where they formally ask him if he will do it. He agrees and then Symonds meets him again later “in a quiet conrner” without Briatore to discuss details like where and when to effect the crash. The rest, as they say, is history.

    I think the penalties for Briatore and Symonds are about right. Briatore as Team Principal should have never agreed to it when proposed. Also he continued to deny even when it was clear it was going to be exposed. Lastly he acted pretty badly by accusing Piquet of blackmail, and also by the personal comments against him during the furore.

    Symonds, has pretty much admitted his part, and as far as one can be in such a situation, appears to have acted honourably. I suspect from his words in the FIA interview that he didn’t lie to them.

    I’m undecided about Piquet Jnr. Without his testimony/whistleblowing and immunity the whole sorry affair would never have come to light. His motivations are questionable (e.g. revenge against his perceived bad treatment by Briatore and the Renault Team). He should never have suggested/agreed to doing it in the first place. However, despite having got away “scot free” in actuality I think his F1 career is over as it is very unlikely that any other team (or their sponsors) would be willing be associated with him.

    My only other worry is what other things go on within F1 that we haven’t yet heard about? There were a large number of F1 “commentators” and “insiders” that have said words to the effect that: it’s not such a big deal, this sort of thing goes on all the time, teams are always trying to bend the rules and see what they can get away with.

    This isn’t an isolated incident. Virtually every season we get some example of basically cheating or attempted cheating in some form or another. Fans are gettig more and more disillusioned.

  8. Silverstoned says:

    Can’t help feeling thinking that Prost (if it is to be him) will have lost the two main assets of that team when he takes over: Symonds and Alonso.

    1. Tony says:

      Would that be the same Prost who deliberatly crashed into Senna?

  9. John says:

    It’s interesting that Symonds still says it was Piquet’s idea to crash. Honestly, I see no reason to doubt him on this. Ironically enough, he does not seem to have lied during the investigation. He refused to answer some questions, but he specifically said he didn’t want to lie when he avoided questions.

    If Piquet did bring the idea to Symonds, I see a couple possibilities:

    1) Piquet came up with the idea on his own.
    2) Piquet Sr. came up with the idea.
    3) Flavio Briatore came up with the idea and told Nelson to bring it to Symonds.

    To me, numbers 1 and 2 seem unlikely. If I were in Piquet’s position, I’d be more interested in driving faster to improve my standing with the team than I would be in helping my team-mate. Also, sorry, but I just don’t see Jr. as being savvy enough to come up with this on his own.

    I really doubt Piquet Sr. would jeapordise his son’s career with a scheme like this. Although Sr. is certainly capable of ruthlessness, it seems really unlikely in this case. In any event, he wasn’t in Singapore anyway.

    It seems a lot more likely that Briatore may have been the genesis of the idea. But, that is obviously speculation on my part.

  10. PaulL says:

    I’ll miss Pat, good people do bad things and he seemed like a decent bloke in the sport.

    I’m in between sympathy for Nelson Piquet because I can understand his fragility, but that which he appears to have suggested the accident contradicts his view that he was asked to crash. He formed the impetus to carry out this absurd event and for that I feel far less sympathy.

  11. Werewolf says:

    One is tempted to believe Symonds but the fact remains that, as the second most senior player, he did not prevent the incident when he really should have instructed Piquet not to be so foolish (an undeservedly polite euphemism).

    That said, the apology, contriteness and refusal to shift the blame to others, despite the FIA’s offer, makes him seem the least of the villains in retrospect. I just cannot believe an intelligent (and ostensibly honest) man could be so bloody stupid.

  12. JohnBt says:

    I would like to wish Pat Symonds all the best and that his 5 year ban will be lifted when compassion comes into play. After all that happened NOBODY GOT INJURED OR DIED.

    1. John Pugh says:

      I would like to second that. It was an uncharacteristically bad exercise of judgment by a fundamentally decent person who has contributed a huge amount to motor sport and Formula 1 over the rest of his life.

      I have no difficulty accepting the truth of what he says in his letter to the FIA.

      I hope we will see him on the pit wall again and hopefully within the five years currently envisaged.

  13. john says:

    Pat did not want to drop Briatore in.
    If he had taken the immunity I bet next year he would have found a new team to work with.

  14. Simeon says:

    Hi James,
    I’d be curious to know your opinion about Pat Symonds’ letter. His version of the facts seems to be confirmed by the mysterious “whistle blower”
    “The whistle-blower was told of the idea suggested by Nelson Piquet Junior by Mr Symonds whilst in the presence of Mr Briatore”
    Also, what leads me to believe that he is telling the truth is his attitude when questioned by the stewards. His reluctance to lie was what gave FIA a solid case against Renault.
    Thanks a lot for this excellent blog

    1. James Allen says:

      It certainly changes Piquet’s role in this and makes the immunity seem even odder

      1. Graeme says:

        Hi James

        Thanks for great blogs!

        I think immunity doesn’t count much, as Piquest’s credibility is stained already and no team will take him on which is punishment in it self. I think he came out to the FIA is when he realised he wasn’t going to get another drive or at least with Flav as his manager and tied in for 15 years to a something I read so he need a reason for breach or to get out.

      2. Renn Sport says:

        Perhaps but I think Piquet is finished in F1. Its over for him and now he has to look elsewhere.

        In a way the stigma of these events will haunt him for a very long time. Although I think they should have given him a nominal punishment at least.

  15. F1 Kitteh says:

    The WMSC was probably the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end. You have to wonder why he would accept the 5 yr ban when he could have easily got off scot free .. would not make much sense to protect Flav, as he is doomed and would have nothing to offer Symonds anyway. Maybe, just maybe he is telling the truth that it was Piquet’s (Jr or Sr?!) idea all along. Or maybe, when this gets to the next level in the real courts, the immunity would not stand at all (i.e. if unforunately Piquet harmed someone in the incident, all the immunity granted to Piquet would not stop the lawsuits against him…), so he might as well do the right thing… anyway like Mika says, the show must go on .. on and off the track…

  16. Steve says:

    Immunity can be retracted if it is determined the person is not telling the truth. I suspect Mr. X’s version was close to Piquet jr’s version.

    1. Steve says:

      I was wrong.

  17. Ali Adams says:

    Well done Pat and here is a song for you:

    Postman Pat, postman Pat, postman Pat and his black and white cat ….

    Early in the morningin, just as day is dawing, picks up all the post packs in his van …

    You can never be sure, when the FIA knocks :)

    Ali
    God > infinity

  18. Opposite Lock (Ken) says:

    Of everything that has happened Pat Symond’s involvement in this sordid affair was by far the most shocking and disappointing. I hope that the FIA takes his statements into consideration and realize that once again they have been played by Piquet Jr. and Sr. Mr. Symonds has not reason to point the finger a Jr. and has been quite careful to state only the truth or say nothing to the investigators and the FIA. It is obvious that Piquet Jr. has not been completely truthful, as required by his agreement with the FIA. As such, the FIA should reexamine his immunity. If Jr. is indeed distorting the events to make himself look like more of a victim, the FIA should come down like a ton of bricks on him as well. I believe Pat Symonds under these circumstances far more than I could ever believe Piquet Jr.

    I am sincerely distressed that one moment of weakness caused Mr. Symonds to destroy an exemplary 33-year career which will only be remembered for one thing now. What a waste.

  19. Andrea says:

    Given how Piquet was treated at Renault: why would he want to do any favour for the team or Alonso? I doubt, it was the idea of a young racing driver in his first F1 season. No way.

  20. Harveyeight says:

    I know the letter has probably been written in the presence of lawyers but in comparison to Piquet jnr’s you’ve got to say that Pat’s contrition seems to be genuine.

    It doesn’t take anything away from the offence of course. He did jeopardise so much and so many. But at least he does admit it and apologises unreservedly for his actions.

    I like the bit about the ‘employs over 500 people and supports innumerable local and international businesses.’ That was a nice bit of pressure to exert on the FIA.

    He uses the words ‘shame’ over his actions. This was so apparent by its absence in Piquet’s statement. And rather makes the lad’s version of the incident less excusable.

    It is a rather sad letter. Not much to put on the gravestone of his career. For me at least there is the reassurance I wasn’t totally wrong in my estimation of his character. He didn’t opt for immunity, presumably so he didn’t have to put Briatore away.

    It’s not as if he’s going to learn anything from it. He knew all along that what he was doing was wrong.

    What a mess.

    1. Martin P says:

      Harveyeight, you made a very interesting point in a previous post, something along the lines of ‘people only offer immunity in return for what they want to hear”.

      It seems to me so far that Pat has told the truth and been banned. His alternative would appear to have been to tell the truth and be let off like Piquet under an immunity deal.

      I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories but, given how “full and frank” he seems to have been already, the only reason I can see for Pat not taking the immunity is if he was under pressure to say something very specific. I’m sure we all have our suspicions what this could have been, about who and by who!

      1. Harveyeight says:

        Martin,

        Not one for conspiracy theories, eh? Then why are you reading my posts?

        My hope, and it is no more than that, is the Pat didn’t opt for immunity because he’d have to put Flav away.

        I’ve modified my orignal guess that Pat was a reluctant participant.

  21. Mark Jenkins says:

    This is a very sad letter. I think it underlines that Pat Symonds is the biggest victim in all of this (with Filipe Massa a close second). Admittedly through his own actions, but he had the opportunity to deceive the investigators at Spa which he did not take. I for one would like to see him back in the paddock in five years time.

    1. Steve says:

      Victim? He could of just said “No”.

      He was less then honest in Belgium when he refused to answer several questions.

      1. " for sure " says:

        Declining to answer does not constitute dishonesty.

  22. Renn Sport says:

    Pat… why?
    We held you in such high regard and you had the real respect of the fans and the paddock.

    You’re involvement in this scandal is the thing I found absolutely shocking.

  23. " for sure " says:

    In a very sad saga Pat appears to be the only one to have genuine contrition, and yet in some respects he has paid the biggest price.

    Piquet was never good enough, crashgate or otherwise, and is young enough to rebuild his life, and avoided any punishment.

    Briatore is fabulousy wealthy, has the hide of an elephant, other interests, and will continue as if nothing has happened.

    Renault, astonishingly, got away scott free.

    Teflonso had nothing to do with it.

    Pat bids goodbye to his lifetimes work and passion and appears to be destined to fade into obscurity.

    Pat was wrong, he was honest about that, he loyally blamed no one else, he declined to take the FIA immunity on offer, and pays the most.

    That’s FIA justice for you.

    1. John Pugh says:

      I agree with every word ‘for sure’, except the last line. There was no pretence at justice by the FIA. My opinion is that their decision was motivated by sporting politics, keeping Renault (or more accurately their money)in Formual 1 and an unacceptable element of personal vindictiveness.

      ‘Justice’ does not make the employer unaccountable for their choice of and lack of supervision of their employees, nor does it let the master escape with a chiding whilst ‘employees’ shoulder 99% of the penalty.

      ‘Justice’ was delayed and by its delay was denied to every other team and driver in that race, especially Felipe Massa.

  24. Kirk says:

    So Pat is saying that Nelson Piquet Jnr alone came up with the idea of crashing – how does that work? How does a racing driver plan the whole thing in his head, to the point it not only impressed his boss but it also leads them into executing it during the GP?

    Did NPJ wake up and think “I fancy a heavy crash today, will probably do my lower back some good”?

    Did NPJ know that Alonso was going for a daft 3 stop strategy just a few hours before the race and quickly work out this plan? Personally, knowing about the crazy 3-stop for Alonso I would have tought “I can beat him easily on a 1-stop today”, not on a plan where I get more bad press.

    Did NPJ think “Pat, a very honest and respected guy, is going to love this cheating idea I have” and then come out with it? You got to be very desperate or know he isn’t that honest, to say it out loud, because any decent boss would have (more likely) sacked him on the spot for suggesting something so awful!

    Just doesnt add up, sorry Pat.

    1. Brace says:

      It makes you wonder what was senior’s part in all of this.

      1. Kirk says:

        Reports in Brazil indicate he wasn’t in Singapore and only found out about the mess 2 days after the GP – he was far from happy about his son being involved in this.

      2. Brace says:

        It might turn out that it was all his idea.

        Also there’s one thing no one confirmed, but it’s more than obvious that it was senior’s idea to “make Renault pay” after junior was sacked.
        Junior is getting a lot of scorn for bringing this up only after he was sacked but I have a feeling, it was Senior who insisted upon that and made Junior make it official with FIA.

        If the idea was really suggested by Piquet, it might be that Junior really only suggested it but it was Senior who came up with it, so he could forever blackmail Briatore into keeping Junior on board.

        From all I’ve heard from and of Senior, it wouldn’t be a bit out of character for him to do it.

    2. Opposite Lock (Ken) says:

      He’s saying Jr. suggested the idea and he and Falvio ran with it rather than dismiss it.

      On one hand I desperately want to believe Pat’s version, but on the other hand, alas, I don’t think Nelson is bright enough to think it up all by himself.

  25. Simon R says:

    Usually in these scenarios, the senior guys get to scapegoat some junior as a ‘bad apple’, the junior takes the brunt of the blame, and the ones who had the most responsibility get away with it after they sack/prosecute the junior.

    The greatest responsibility is clearly with Briatore and Symonds and is it entirely appropriate that they should have the greatest punishment. The FIA has reached an appropriate conclusion, albeit in a rather questionable way and presumably only because they finally had an opportunity to ‘get’ Briatore. If that had not been in their interests, I have no doubt that Piquet would have been the fall guy.

    I don’t see that because Symonds held his hands up (in a rather limited way, he hasn’t divulged the whole truth to investigators) he should not be punished for the wrong doing. If he hadn’t, presumably he’d have been banned for life too.

    ‘Justice’ is sadly an ideal that always seems to be subjugated to power politics, certainly in the corporate/political worlds.

  26. Shaun says:

    Yet again Piquet Jnr pops up as the instigator of the crash.

    Reading through Pat symonds statement, i too believe what is written. To others who ask what would Piquet gain from this, the answer now seems clear:

    Spilling the beans when the final push came from the team. He knew that his days at Renault had to numbered, and this was the ideal way to exact revenge on his “executioner”

    Both Piquets should be brought to book. Piquet is more of a disgrace in my opinion.

  27. Nicollers says:

    NPJ’s immunity is bonkers. I really hope this goes to the European Court. We’ll all find out the truth then because let’s face it, everyone involved with this, is lying in some shape or form.

  28. Ian Curtis says:

    I like how he has phrased this part…
    “… when the idea was first suggested to me by Nelson Piquet Jr …”

    Note he doesn’t say it was JR’s idea.. just that JR was the one who suggested it to him.

    Cagey way of not crossing Flav methinks.

    1. Brace says:

      I personally think Piquet Sr had more to do with all this than we know right now.

  29. VicWeir says:

    Along with many of the above contributors, I am also very sad to read Pat Symond’s letter. I also felt him to be a truthful and honourable man. I have difficulty understanding what drove him to pursue this course of action; he says that benefit to the team was always his motivation, so what on earth caused this mess?
    Is it solely Mr Mosley who has the right to wave his wand over certain individuals to grant anonymity and freedom from prosecution, or do any other members of the FIA have to be consulted before such decisions are taken?
    It’s the final irony, amongst many, that Renault F1 should have had regulations in place to deal with whistle-blowing and associated issues.
    I think they are not alone in having to look again at matters governing the relationships and obligations drivers have to their teams, the guidance given to rookies concerning on and off-track behaviour, the role that the Drivers’ Association plays in the governance of the sport, and perhaps consider a ban on the presence of fathers of young racing drivers within a 20 mile perimeter of the track!

    1. Leon Allen says:

      Yes… not much good have a whistleblower policy if the guys who are doing the dirty stuff are very senior to you and even your line manager is it ? Who the hell do you talk to then ?

      Best systems have independent panels who are not directly employed by the company concerned and have freedom to take any action they feel is appropriate.

      Imagine walking into Carlos Ghosn’s office one bright morning and telling him the happy news that his most expensive marketing tool ( F1 )
      is being run by bent managers. Go down a treat wouldn’t it ?

  30. Ossian says:

    It is clear that Mr Symonds deeply regrets his part in this awful affair, however, I don’t believe it was solely Nelson Piquet’s idea as he suggests in his apology letter. These things are never this simple or clear cut. I imagine race strategy is developed during discussions based on a number of different scenarios. The impact of a safety car will be considered. Mr Symonds may have discussed both the detrimental effects and the benefits of a safety car on the teams strategy without necessarily presenting a specific course of action. Any discussion along these lines would have presented the idea to any one of the team members present.

  31. Miguel says:

    Too bad about Symonds, I think he was an OK guy, but he shouldn’t had done that.
    But Piquet is really a disgrace both as a driver and as a man. If what Symonds said its true, and it was Piquet’s idea, then he lied to FIA and the immunity should not be applyed. Ban him from race too, he really sucks anyway.

  32. Peter says:

    Reading the papers from the FIA meeting on Monday I am struck by the reply from PKjr’s lawyers about who first suggested the crash. The lawyers use the term “deliberate crash” three times, never just “crash”. This leaves open the possibility of PKjr being the first to mention “a crash”, perhaps in a moment of self-depracating black humour, it only later becoming a “deliberate crash”.

  33. chris says:

    Yeah we all believe that a young new driver to formula one, or for that matter any series, has the knowledge to figure this scheme out, along with the fueling strategy to pull it off – NOT!!!

  34. Mark Vadnais says:

    Dear James,

    Please emphasize in your reporting that is was Nelson Piquet Jr. who came up with the idea to crash. Please don’t let the FIA (Max Mosely) spin this fact away.

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