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.
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?
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.