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A very difficult moment for Renault’s Pat Symonds
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A very difficult moment for Renault’s Pat Symonds
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Sep 2009   |  6:19 pm GMT  |  90 comments

Who would want to swap places with Renault’s Director of Engineering, Pat Symonds? The veteran, whose F1 career goes back almost 30 years to the Toleman team, is the only senior engineer to have worked with Senna, Schumacher and Alonso and is always fascinating on the subject.

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It has been a career of great distinction. He hasn’t worked for Ferrari, Williams or McLaren but he has helped a new team break their stranglehold on F1 glory, with Benetton in the 1990s and Renault in the 2000s. Both phases brought double world championships and although there was a whiff of controversy about some of the technical aspects of the 1990s successes with Benetton, no-one in F1 would deny that Pat is one of the good guys and a very well respected engineer and strategist.

His successes have all come in partnership with Flavio Briatore and the two have a very strong relationship, but now Symonds has been offered the chance to save himself and his career by telling ‘the truth’ about what happened in Singapore last year over Nelson Piquet’s crash. Piquet has already been given immunity by the FIA in return for spilling the beans and that same privilege has now been extended to Symonds. The FIA feel that he has a lot he is able to tell them, and may be more willing to do so in return for a deal.

Judging from the transcript of his interview with the FIA investigators below, Symonds was being very cagey. But as more and more evidence emerges into the media ahead of the hearing next Monday 21st, Symonds has to make a very difficult decision; to risk his career and his reputation or to drop Briatore in it.

Of course if it transpires that everything happened exactly as Piquet alleges, with Symonds suggesting the accident and showing Piquet when and where to crash to guarantee a safety car, then Symonds’s reputation will take a serious knock anyway.

The radio transcripts from the period around the crash are released in the Times newspaper today. They are interesting but not conclusive. So far the only weighty evidence has come from Piquet himself. But that is one man’s word against two others. Symonds has already said that the idea of crashing was Piquet’s and was made the day before the race. He does not however confirm nor deny whether the discussion on Sunday covered this subject, so he has left himself room to confirm everything Piquet alleges, if indeed that is how things transpired.

This is a real life, high stakes dilemma of the kind Hollywood script writers dream up in their imaginations. It shows why movies about F1 are pointless; because the real thing is more than dramatic enough already.

As with McLaren over Dave Ryan and Ron Dennis through their various scandals, the human damage is likely to be high in this case as relationships and loyal friendships stretching back decades are shattered.

Here is the transcript of the FIA interview with Symonds.

FIA adviser: In your own words Mr. Symonds what do you recall being said to Nelson Piquet Jnr at that meeting? This is shortly before the race.
Symonds: I don’t really remember it.
FIA adviser: You don’t remember?
Symonds: No.

FIA adviser: Nelson Piquet Jnr says that he was asked by you to cause a deliberate crash. Is that true?
Symonds: Nelson had spoken to me the day before and suggested that. That’s all I’d really like to say.

FIA adviser: Mr Symonds were you aware that there was going to be crash at Lap 14?
Symonds: I don’t want to answer that question.
FIA adviser: There is just one thing that I ought to ask you and put it to you so you can think about it at least. Mr. Piquet Jnr says that having had the initial meeting with you and Flavio Briatore you then met him individually with the map of the circuit. Do you remember that?
Symonds: I won’t answer, rather not answer that. I don’t recall it but it sounds like Nelson’s talked a lot more about it.

FIA adviser: Mr. Piquet Jnr also says at that meeting you pointed out a specific place on the circuit where he was to have the accident and said it was because it was the furthest away from any of the safety or lifting equipment and gave the most likely chance of a safety car being deployed.
Symonds: I don’t, I don’t want to answer that question.
FIA adviser: [Referring to the pre-race meeting] Was it you that did the talking at that meeting Mr. Symonds?

Symonds: I’m sure it would have been both of us but I don’t know for sure. Sorry that’s a contradiction. I would imagine it would be both of us that would be normal. Actually probably more often it’s Flavio that does the talking himself. I wouldn’t necessarily always agree with what he’s saying but the majority.
FIA adviser: Because just to be absolutely clear here what Nelson Piquet Jnr has said is that at that meeting it was you that asked him to have a crash deliberately?
Symonds: I can’t answer you.

FIA adviser: Can I say that if Mr. Symonds you’d been put in the position where you were made to ask Mr. Piquet Jnr to crash it’s much better, it would be much better for you in the long term to tell these stewards to hear that today?
Symonds: I fully understand that.
FIA adviser: Yes.
Symonds: I have no intention of lying to you. I have not lied to you but I have reserved my position just a little.

FIA adviser: And you’re aware that the stewards may draw conclusions from your unwillingness to assist them in relation to what went on in that meeting?
Symonds: I would expect them to. I would absolutely expect that.
FIA adviser: I think I haven’t got any further questions.

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1

Thank you.Great site.

2

So breaking news…. Flavio and Pat are both gone…. Renault are not going to dispute the allegations!!!

In a statement, Renault said: ‘The ING Renault F1 Team will not dispute the recent allegations made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

‘It also wishes to state that its managing director, Flavio Briatore and its executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, have left the team.

‘Before attending the hearing before the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris on 21 September 2009, the team will not make any further comment.’

3

Flav and Pat have left the team!!!

WOW!

4

Alonso qualified badly because of problems on on the Saturday.

Quite reasonable to gamble that on a street circuit there might be a safety car incident. Seems like a good idea to take a chance. What else was he supposed to do?

People seem desperate to drag Alonso down.

If Pat and Flav both deny the plan … there’s no proof against them as far as we have seen.

Piquet claims the telemetry shows he accelerated rather than braking when spinning. But on the warm up lap he also spun but accelerated out of the spin. He seems to have negated his own claim of irregular behaviour.

If Piquet had this incident over Flav and Pat, I can’t see they would have let him go – let alone humiliating him by sacking him mid-season.

The FIA should ban Piquet for life.

If Pat/Flav say they have done something wrong, then they should also be punished. If they deny the accusation and the FIA can;t provide hard irrefutable proof, then they should be exonerated.

5

I recall Alonso looked so promising in saturday practice only for a fuel pump problem to thwart his progress, call me cynical could this be a conspiracy to legitimately get him down the grid and then to run light for an early pitstop we know the rest!! I have always respected and admired Pat for his off the cuff and seemingly relaxed comments i wish him well for the future he will be sorely missed, after all these years at the top now is the time to do all those outside F1 interests and money permitting enjoy them.

6

Oh what a tangled web they’ve woven…

It does seem, with the immunity option for Symonds, as though Max has some kind of personal vendetta. A “you’ve pushed me out, thus I’m taking you down with me” kinda thing… Max has had his suspicions for a long, long time (I’m no fan of Max though).

I’m not surprised by the machinations of F1 teams, the will to win means you will goto the edge and beyond it, in some cases. You could accuse many drivers of being too extreme; thus you could accuse the management of the teams too.

It’s very, very, very sad… but we’ve had drug-cheats in cycling and athletics; blood-gate in rugby; reports and incidents of match-fixing in snooker and horse-racing. You name it, it’s probably happened.

The desire to be top of the pile outweighs any relevance to “playing fair”… but hey, F1’s a business now… and most businesses don’t “play fair”. If there is an advantage to be gained, they will take it! Regardless of the fallout.

So Flav and Pat and whoever may have a dent in their reputation… they can go back to their expensive yachts and houses etc, whilst those that actually do the work (the crews and engineers) scratch around wondering what to do… as always it’s the “little” people, that have nothing to do with the actual decisions, who are truly affected.

7

Hi James,

Perhaps worth pointing out that the transcript above isn’t the transcript of the conversation, but what have been termed “the relevant parts”. There are missing sections of discussion between various questions.

I’m intrigued by this idea of “relevant”. Relevant for whom, and to what purpose? Why are all these leaks happening and what are they for?

One could infer that the FIA believes it has a weak case, as Harveyeight suggested, because they’ve also offered Symonds immunity – why would they need to? – and have felt the need to leak all this information to skew perceptions of the case.

But it would be nothing more than an inference at this stage, of course…

8

James,

As long as I have been a fan of F1 , I have always thought that there are two schools of people who are in the game. The first group and most visible are the ones who will cheat and lie to get to the front no matter what it takes. The second are the ones who have the integrity to realize that you can win without cheating and walk away knowing that they can hold their heads high about not compromising the sport. If this story of what Nelson claims is proven to be true ( and I tend to believe him ) then the FIA must rid itself of two of its biggest repeat offenders. That being Flavio and Pat Symonds. If they allow Pat immunity Flavio will make him take the fall. If the FIA does this they loose all control of what happens from there. If this incident is proven it will show that the FIA letting Pat and Flavio off over the years on the various infractions and down right cheating has contributed to a perception that it is OK. I think that Neil Barr post clears one’s vision of Pat Symond’s being a nice guy by reminding us of past infractions. I hope this turns out to be Nelson Sr. trying to make every one in the Renault team pay for his son’s lack of relative talent. But I will not bet a penny on Flavio or Pat being clean.

This blog is incredible. Keep up the good work James.

9

Thanks for that Terry, nice to see someone talking some sense here about this mess.

I just wonder sometimes whether Nelsinho is quite as bereft of talent as he has been painted. But in the current circumstances it’s pretty unlikely now that we will ever have a chance to find out if he really is, because his career has probably finally hit the buffers, whatever the outcome of this is.

Flav has a way of putting down anyone whose face doesn’t fit in the team for one reason or other, generally because they refuse to do his bidding to the letter. I seem to remember that he very nearly managed to blight the career of the current leader of the drivers championship when the latter refused to take Flav on as manager during his ill-starred stint at Renault.

10

I hope he has a fallback career all lined up. Hey, maybe he could be a commentator?!

11

Well, he would surely be better than Legard…

12

James, do you think Alonso knew about the race fix? Perhaps in a future article, you can spread more light about his lack of knowledge regarding “Crashgate”.

13

From what I can deduce from the leaks, the prosecution case virtually depends on Alonso being in some way implicated.

The FIA are suggesting that the tactic of fueling Piquet so light was so ridiculous that it can lead to only one interpretation: the crash was planned by the management, Pat and Flav, post qually when they took his Renault to the pump. When Alonso came to pay, he must have been shocked at the price.

Many might feel it irrefutable that Alonso, who historically has taken a great deal of, some say controlling, interest in his race strategy would not have asked what was going on. One might feel that if the short-fueling was an issue then when FA brought it up an unevidenced homily suggesting he should trust Flav would have been met with hilarity. Indeed, FA might well be Flav’s secret weapon. Or, of course, might be Mosley’s. We’ll know if FA is offered immunity.

Mind you, FA is on dodgy ground. He’s already coughed to cheating, albeit as minor partner to PdlRosa, but with the immunity there is the condition that they don’t offend again.

Remember that whether or not Piquet crashed deliberately is not the issue. Nor even that Flav and Pat might have thought that he’d done so. It is whether or not the three/four of them discussed the matter before the race and came to a decision that Piquet should crash.

Whilst much has been made of Pat Symond’s limited answers to questions before the hearing, if, as he says, Piquet did bring up the question of deliberately crashing then he should have gone to the FIA. That would explain him not being as open as he might be.

Certainly post race he, and Flav if he’d passed the info on to him, should have done so. These matters will, no doubt, be raised.

One can’t help but wonder if the Ferrari reluctance to kick Raik out of the car amounts to hedging bets.

The Spanish connection is vital to F1. The Santander factor is overwhelming. And Alonso, the only thing that really holds the bank and two GP to the sport, is already on a yellow card.

The FIA case depends on the willingness of four people to conspire together to act dishonestly. I don’t buy an explanation that simple.

14

Harveyeight, great reply. I can totally see your point!

15

All three are guilty and should fry accordingly.

16

Fully Pat was in the know and likely even more. Being a bit more than cagey with his responses I would think James. Usually people will at least take an opportunity to deny something fully untrue and hedge on the funny stuff. Did Flav have blackmail pics or something?! Pat was totally involved. Amazing.

17

The fact that vital evidence has been leaked to the likes of The Times and Autosport for all of us to read is quite astonishing. This IS F1 hanging out it’s dirty laundry to dry in public. Who is to blame? Something tells me a lot of this has been deliberately leaked.

18

Symonds confirms that he knew of Piquet’s intention to crash for the Team’s benefit the day before. He is highly experienced and second in command of a high profile corporation with 598 subordinates who must answer to him. Why wouldn’t he tell an inexperienced, young driver not to crash purposefully? I realize that, as much as I love Formula One, much that goes on is neither fair nor ethical, but this exceeds the lowest possible standard. And in Piquet Junior’s defense, it seems that his father has more to answer for if any one here believes that silence has honor.

19

If Symonds has such a part in this that he requires immunity from punishment, then you would have to say that it is the last thing the FIA should grant.

You cannot, for one second, convince me that Briatore has more strategic insight than Pat Symonds. I am not suggesting that Flavio is clueless, but you have to admit that it is hard to countenance that the idea or the detail of where and when to crash came from Flavio. I am sure (if any if this is true) that he knew, but I don’t think he was the architect. This smacks of a witch hunt.

20

Perhaps a guilt-edged chance for the FIA to make a fair and transparent ruling that is unequivocally ‘in the interests of competition and motorsport generally’ has turned into another Mosleyan score settling exercise.

The ‘impossible to trace’ press leaks, the immunities granted to key parties. It seems that Max wants to take the rest of them down with him. The only one he can’t get to was Montezemelo.

21

This is absolutely crazy!

I didn’t really think it could happen a few days ago but given Symonds responses here it makes me suspect that Renault are in fact guilty.

The major thing i don’t understand is why Piquet would offer to crash in the first place, if that is indeed true.

The car was pretty good at that race and surely he could have had a chance of the points. You can’t really say that it was a majorly suprising win for Fernando given he dominated the race at the next GP – china i think it was.

This is really bad if its true. What kind of bans would occur? Surely thats Flav and Renault out of F1?

22

If Symonds was party to this debacle then he should come clean. To do so would show great maturity at the end of an awful sequence of bad decisions and I’m sure people would be kind and find forgiveness.

To cover up and lie in the face of deception would be unforgiveable.

I hope he does the right thing by himself and by the sport.

23

It seems that the first night race has brought out the dark side of some people 😉

Bye bye Briatore. And Symonds.

What’s next? The Singapore GP result is corrupt and void. The best thing is to re-calculate the championship without the results from Singapore?!

24

maybe that is max’s secret plan… one last kick in the teeth to ron dennis when he takes away lewis’ championship?

25

It seems that the first night race has brought out the dark side of some people 😉

Bye bye Briatore. And Symonds.

I didn’t see any light sabres.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoXmqIptjK0

26

“Symonds has to make a very difficult decision; to risk his career and his reputation or to drop Briatore in it.”

So does that mean Pat Symonds’ reputation will be “saved” should he decide to cooperate with the FIA? I think the “Crash-Fixing” put his reputation in question in the first place, whether he drops Flavio or not will change nothing for the fans. Personally I’ll always have respect for people like him and Ron Dennis despite the few scandal they’ve found themselves in recently as they’ve done a lot for the sport for me to concentrate on their mistakes.

27

Read on, it says that if proven that he did this his reputation will take a hammering, you’ve only read half the story

28

But even if he drops Briatore in his reputation would be affected aswell as being one of the participants of the fixing,no matter the immunity.

This is what I can´t understand.

Wouldn´t be better for him to deny everything?

What´s his advantage in accepting the FIA proposal?

29

From that transcript he’d probably have been better just saying “No comment” eight times.

30

it’s pretty implausible to think that piquet suggested the idea… what would be in it for him? sure, he’d keep his drive, but i don’t think any racing driver would concoct that plan themselves. otoh, the team suggesting it is very plausible, and clearly piquet agreeing to it would make sense if it were worded that he would keep his drive by so doing.

32

Incredible stuff. It’s amazing how hugely important things just vanish from the memory banks.

Seriously, I can see these guys saying: “I don’t recall attending the birth of my first child, but I do remember my wife being pregnant a day or two before a child magically appeared in the house.”

33

Where did this transcript come from James?

34

Autosport has it.

35

When I first read in the press that Piquet had made these alogations, I think like many I thought it was a case of sour grapes. The longer this goes on and the more evidence that comes to light, it really looks like the story is true.

I certainly wouldn’t want to be in Symonds or Flavs possition right now!!

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