The Renault F1 team has apologised to Nelson Piquet and his son Nelson Jr and agreed to pay a large amount of damages for libelling them in September last year over the Singapore crash scandal. The matter was heard in the High Court and Renault accepted the outcome.
The Piquets however have indicated that this is “the start rather than the end” of their mission to clear up “wrongs” over what the case which rocked F1.
Piquet Jr was involved in a plot with then team boss Flavio Briatore and engineering director Pat Symonds to deliberately crash his car at a key moment in the race at a specified corner in order to help his team mate Fernando Alonso, win the race.
When Piquet was dropped by Briatore, he went public with the details of the plot and Renault and Briatore’s first reaction, on 11th September, was to put out a statement saying that the allegations were lies and that the intention was to blackmail the team into letting Piquet Jr continue with the team.
Since then the facts of the case have been established, Symonds admitted that the allegations were true and both he and Briatore are serving a temporary ban, which expires at the end of 2012.
After a hearing in the High Court, the Piquets won and Renault F1 has been forced to pay them a “substantial” amount of damages. I asked around in legal circles tonight among lawyers who do this kind of work and heard estimates of £100,000 for the damages and probably slightly more again for costs. But these are pure estimates from legal professionals.
The Piquet’s lawyer, Dominic Crossley, who acted for Max Mosley in his action against the News of the World, said “Today the Renault Formula 1 Team apologised in the High Court for defaming my two clients, the motor racing father and son Nelson and Nelsinho Piquet.
“This marks the start rather than the end of the long journey they are both taking to correct many of the wrongs that took place during last year’s “crashgate” scandal. They were both treated appallingly by Renault F1 when they dared to reveal the scandal to the governing body; and Nelsinho was abused terribly throughout his absurdly short career in F1.”
After the hearing Renault made a statement too: “On 11th September 2009, Renault F1 Team Limited (“the Team”) issued a Press Release, which was repeated on our website, in which we suggested that Nelson Piquet Junior and his father had lied by making false allegations that members of the Team and Nelson Piquet Junior caused a deliberate accident at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix,” said Renault.
“We also suggested that these lies were invented in order to blackmail the Defendant into allowing Mr Piquet Junior to drive for the Team for the remainder of the 2009 season, and he and his father were therefore guilty of a serious criminal offence.
“The Team accepts – as it did before the World Motor Sport Council (“WMSC”) of the FIA and as found by the WMSC in its decision of 21 September 2009 – that the allegations made by Nelson Piquet Junior were not false. It also accepts that Mr Piquet Junior and his father did not invent these allegations in order to blackmail the Team.
“As a result, these serious allegations contained in the Press Release were wholly untrue and unfounded, and we withdraw them unequivocally. We would like to apologise unreservedly to Mr Piquet Junior and his father for the distress and embarrassment caused as a result.
“As a mark of the sincerity of our apology and regret, we have agreed to pay them a substantial amount of damages for libel as well as their costs, and have undertaken not to repeat these allegations at any time in the future.”