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Patrick Head the voice of reason on Renault crash investigation
Patrick Head the voice of reason on Renault crash investigation
Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Sep 2009   |  11:16 am GMT  |  105 comments

Veteran Williams engineer Patrick Head has seen it all in his 30 plus years at the sharp end of Formula 1.

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This weekend he spoke out about the FIA investigation into Nelson Piquet’s allegation that Renault F1 management got him to deliberately crash his car at a specific time and place in Singapore last season in order to bring out the safety car and help Fernando Alonso win the race.

Head has seen plenty of young drivers, under pressure for their futures, do some desperate things, but the notion that a driver would go along with something like this is extraordinary even to a seasoned F1 pro like him.

He said that he became aware that Piquet may have crashed on purpose when a journalist friend of his told him that Piquet had let him in on the plot, not long after the race.

Many in the sport had their suspicions at the time and I was one of them, privately, because it was just such a huge co-incidence. But knowing the Renault engineers pretty well I dismissed the notion from my mind because to do that would simply be nuts and I don’t see the guys I know as capable of that kind of thing.

Being a bit clever with electronics or dampers is one thing, but doing something like this would cross the line.

Patrick said that the case is a real acid test for the sport and for showing the public that the FIA’s disciplinary processes have integrity after a few cases recently where the public have come away thinking that it was more about personalities than justice,

“The FIA have raised this, I hope that what goes on in Paris and whatever punishments are handed out can be looked at and stand up to scrutiny,” said Head. “If the regulators of F1, which is not just the regulators of the car but the race, if they are not thought to be proper regulators then it calls into question lots of things.”

As for his analysis of the Piquet incident, he firmly believes that no driver, however much pressure he is under, should do things like this. Piquet says that he sees that now, but it’s hard to believe that – if all of this actually did take place – he didn’t have enough of a support network that he had no-one he could turn to for advice about what to do. Where was his father?

“Young drivers, before they have established their name in F1, are in quite a difficult position,” said Head, “But if young Nelson was asked to deliberately crash or spin his car, regardless of his contractual position, in my view he should have said no at the time.

“If that did happen, then the people responsible should be dealt with pretty firmly.”

Head articulates a fear that F1 should take seriously, that the public could easily lose interest in F1 if it felt that it was watching something that was being manipulated,

“If that proved to be happening in a consistent way I think rightly nobody would have any interest in Formula 1 racing because you couldn’t believe what you were looking at, ” he said.

“If someone has used operational procedures to gain an advantage as has been suggested, then it needs to be dealt with quite firmly because you wouldn’t believe anything that you were looking at – and you couldn’t write an article saying that whoever wins the race did a fantastically good job because you’d think how were they cheating.

“It’s a complex sport. Some people say it isn’t a sport. But if all the cars are designed to the same rules and the engines are to the same rules, for all the shenanigans that go on beforehand and all of the commercial deals and everything, when the lights go out at the start one would like to think that was a straightforward race.”

This is dangerous ground for F1 and it is vital that next Monday the FIA gets to the bottom of what happened in Singapore and reaches the right conclusions. It’s probably the most important disciplinary matter ever to come before the World Council.

On the face of it, the case may come down to two men’s word against one, but the supporting evidence, like telemetry and radio will be decisive.

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I tried to post this under your question by I kept getting the message that Java was void.

You ask what I feel about granting immunity:

A difficult question. I’ve now got to stop moaning and be constructive. I’m not sure I know how.

My instinct is to say that if you can’t trust anyone to tell the truth without inducements you can’t trust them to tell the truth.

The FIA do not have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, as explained by Werewolf. So we have the threshold of the balance of probabilities. It you can’t reach that without some kind of prepayment then your case must be pretty weak.

Further, the FIA has protection against a duff decision built-in to the law. To go into pope mode and grant forgiveness of sins without repentance seems an abuse of the protection.

The penalty for Flav, the sponsors, Renault itself and, as you pointed out, the Renault workers, is severe. The decision must be 100% certain. Anything else is a betrayal of the FIA’s responsibility. The innocent victims in all of this cannot be seen as collateral damage.

Further, and this is a personal moral stance I know, ignoring all the political implications which the FIA must have cognisance of, if three people have conspired then they should all be punished.

I had a hero, a detective sergeant who criticised me for my long interviews in order to obtain confessions. He said: If you can’t prove it without a cough, you shouldn’t try and prove it with. It was easy for him because he was a real thieftaker. But the premise is a good one.

Many people have suffered in this matter already. Heaven knows what is going through the minds of the team workers and their families. How will they feel after, perhaps, losing their houses, their kids education, their holidays and their security to see Piquet walk free and back to his life of indulgent luxury? SBS CEO anyone?

I know life is not fair but the FIA have treated Piquet as some kind of hero for, if he is to be believed, keeping stum about the incident for 12 months and then, when galvanised into action by his sacking, eventually got daddy to go to the FIA. Some hero. But some reward, eh?

My personal experience of those offered some kind of deal – never immunity at my level – is that they remain selective in their memory. Informants are one thing, co-conspirators are another. My belief always was that they started lying for their mates and ended up lying against them. Either way, not to be trusted.

You suggest in your question that they are being given immunity for the truth. That’s not quite correct. They are being given immunity for saying what the prosecution wants to hear. A difference, and not a subtle one. Piquet is not an insider, giving evidence against those for whom he worked. This is against, if he is to be believed, those who conspired with him.

So to be rather Micawberish, in short I don’t trust evidence gained by absolution. But, as importantly, if Piquet and Pat have conspired, they should be punished. And severely.

I hope, but rather doubt, that I’ve made my feelings clear on the matter.


Thanks, I’ll post that, It’s really interesting.


The biggest loser in all of this? Felipe Massa. That caution brought in the flurry of activity in the pits and the botched pit-stop by Ferrari, causing Felipe to go from 1st place at the time, to out of contention. If Felipe even just garners one point in that race, he is world champion in 2008. Shame on Briatore. May karma haunt him for eons for this classless move.

Racing not politics

and now Symonds has been given immunity by the FIA – looks like Flavio is beeing singled out here. Taht should suit Max nicely


Personaly I think Jnr practiced a spin on the parade lap and screwed it up when he was meant to deliver it during the race, spin and stall it not crash, same as his normal performance really.

I can believe it being premeditated by Flav but not Pat.

Possibly it was mentioned before the race: “What would be perfect is a SC coming out just after FA pits” as part of a strategy meeting and Jnr thought if I spin it Flav might love me again.

A bit like the mistreated puppy bringing back the ball and rolling on his back?

Just some thoughts…


James lets look at Alonso for a second.

Do you remember that he himself gave evidence to the FIA that he personally had requested information from the McLaren mole? I bring this up as evidence of his willingness in the past to personally be involved in underhanded activity.

Now I ask the question: Did Alonso really have NO involvement in planning his race strategy? He just happened to have qualified light and come in early? What was to ‘no safety car involvement’ strategy behind this plan?

And IF Renault had planned this, did Alonso not question why he was being put onto a qualify-light-come-in-early strategy?

And IF Jnr planned this all on his own, why were Renault running Alonso so light in the first place? Clearly for the plan to work Alonso HAD to stop before ANYONE else!

So Renault would have us believe that for no reason at all Alonso was on a qualify-light-come-in-early strategy and Jnr all on his own opportunistically planed this crash JUST to help Alonso win out of the goodness of his heart?

No I don’t believe it.

And Alonso would have us believe that he had no idea of any crash plan and did not ask the question ‘hey, why am I so light and coming in so early?’ The double world champion who knows this team inside and out…

No I don’t believe this either.

Alonso was given immunity at the McLaren hearings for his testimony. What about this time? He was the direct beneficiary from all this but yet The FIA is not asking if he was directly involved…?

I point out again that Alonso was directly involved in the McLaren scandal.


… and what about Piquet’s car?! How much fuel did he have? I hope not too much if they were planning the crash?!

Is it possible to retrieve the fuel load data?


As Jason briefly mentioned earlier, for people like me who gamble on the sport, this is a major issue.


All becomes clear now. Mosley is offering Pat immunity. As in Stepneygate, there is just the one target. There would appear to be only the one person in the crosshairs. Who would have thought it, eh?

This is primarily an attack on Pat. The FIA/Mosley has gone for their biggest hurdle, the respect Pat has in the pit lane. In this straightforward move they have suggested to the world that Pat would not tell the truth.

There was no need to spread this all over the news media. It could have been a simple offer to Pat, or rather his legal rep, in a room with closed doors, although I’d have suggested a tape recorder. But no, it is across The Times.

I was once called to the sound of ‘a machine’ a neighbour of an old biddy could hear. A quick raise of the letterbox revealed thousands upon thousands of bluebottles. I had to go in that flat so I know smells. Believe me, there are few who know smells like I do.

This smells.


I agree. After reading the Times article, I’m still not convinced there is any actual evidence; certainly not on the basis of what has been released up to now.

Firstly, the radio transcripts released so far are pretty meaningless, and only show concern from the team for Nelson, and disdain from Briatore; no change there.

Also, Symonds’ interview transcript sounds much worse than it is – he is being careful not to incriminate himself; remember Melbourne this year and Hamilton’s thoughtless lie that proved so costly?

The pre-race ‘meeting’ is also odd, if one reads between the lines. Was it simply an informal briefing that has been made to sound like “The Singapore GP Symonds/Briatore/Piquet race-fixing conspiracy committee”; reading the coverage, one would think so. Also, Symonds briefing Piquet with a map of the circuit? That in itself indicates nothing out of the ordinary.

My theory is this whole business is little more than a hit on Briatore’s position at Renault. He’s the target.


I wonder why this “other journalist” didn’t say anything at the time?

It would have been the story of the year and would have made him famous.

Sounds odd to me.


In terms of drivers and Piquet this is not nearly as bad as Hamilton running into Raikonnen in the Montreal pit lane. Piquet had more than just implied pressure on him from Briatore from the get go. Hamilton had nothing but ambition. The fact that Piquet did the hard crash to achieve the outcome also speaks of that pressure.


If this was any other respectful court and institution the whole case could be declared void because of the leaks which could influence (and are already influencing) public opinion and thus create a climate which would encourage those who are making decisions to act in certain way.

Make no mistake they DO need public approval to hand out a hard punishment. They didn’t have it with Hungary/Valencia ban and they had to cave in. They were wrong to give them a ban in the first place but they wouldn’t have caved in if whole paddock and half a world didn’t think the ban was right down stupid.


Reaching a verdict, however, crucial will take the standard form. Determination of the events of the pre-race meeting will come down to cross examination of statements made at separate times, which should allow for a reasonable view of whether Briatore and Symonds are being truthful.

Anaysis of the telemetry will also be significant but all data relating to human actions requires explanation. So Piquet’s foot was hard down throughout the accident (as the sound to the footage would seem to confirm), was this to cause the accident or was he trying to spin-turn the car to avoid the wall? More interesting will be at what point was the power applied in relation to previous laps: just slightly earlier or considerably earlier? Again, a view will be formed on cross examination and in conjunction with radio evidence.

As this is not a criminal investigation, the allegations will not have to be proved or disproved beyond reasonable doubt; a strong balance of probability will suffice. The strength of that balance will, however, probably impact on the severity of the sanction.

Should matters escalate outside of the FIA into open courts, then the FIA will only need to show it has acted reasonably, with propriety and in the genuine belief it was correct. To be forced to overturn its decision, the FIA would probably have to be shown to be negligent or outwith its own procedures. The leaks may have a bearing here.

The procedings against the Piquets are criminal and will need the standard of proof required of the country in which they are filed. In Europe, this is normally beyond reasonable doubt. As an observation, even if the Piquets are found to be quilty of blackmail, it would not necessarily mean the crash was not premeditated, unless, of course, Briatore’s false accusation claim was also successful.

Patrick Head’s ‘evidence’ is legally hearsay. Its only impact on the case will be if he identifies the journalist and that person provides evidence of any conversation with Piquet Jr.


Thank you, as usual, Werewolf, for the correction on the burden of proof here. I keep thinking in criminal law terms. As with Harveyeight, it would be an honor and privilege to cross swords with you in court.


Never argue with the DA!


When Patrick Head speaks people should listen. He, along with with Frank Williams, are characters of cast iron integrity and are indeed the voice of reason, and both love this sport like few others.

Amongst all the teams on the grid over the past 30 years I struggle to think of any team that embody the spirit of racing and sportsmanship better than Williams.

Whilst, if rumours are to be believed, another Williams/Renault marriage is on the cards for next year and beyond – they will want no shadow of doubt hanging over a major technical partner.

This is an important case in so many ways.


Wonder if Piquet’s F1 career is over all ready. He’s either crashed on purpose or made up the allegations. Either way, he’s disgraced himself.


Hi James , firstly can I say that I much prefer you as an F1 journalist than as the ITV (as was) tv commentator. Your commentary infuriated me on many occasions and like Mr Di Montezemolo post Brazil 2008 the TV set bore the brunt.

The issue I have with your article is this ; was it really wise for Mr Head to say that he was made aware of “the plot” shortly after the race when a journalist friend of his made him aware of what Piquet Junior has told him. I thought journalists never revealed their sources ? , why did Mr Head not come forward before ? Had he done so and the FIA did what they are doing now the outcome of many things , including the world championship , could have been very different.


No, he didn’t find out then, the journalist did. He found out recently when the journo told him.


Thanks for clarifying that James although having looked at the piece in question again it does read as you have just explained.


Whatever is decided next week, one or both parties will have the right to appeal?

The disciplinary actions (If any) could be halved or removed entirely upon appeal…

I doubt this will be finalised for a while at least and could possible drag on beyond the end of the season, is this why the Alonso to Ferrari deal has been postponed?

I wonder if all the Renault squad will travel to Singapore next week?


That is correct, they have the right of appeal


The FIA have to follow the evidence and make a fair and just ruling based on evidence on hand where all of the participants are dealt with severely.

Nelson has already confessed to the offense. he should not be granted immunity because he is a principal figure in the commission of the offense. In fact all the FIA should think about now with respect to nelson jr. is the severity of his punishment. Granting immunity is just the same as letting a murderer go Scott-free.

The FIA screwed up earlier this year by letting lewis hamilton go virtually Scott-free for deliberately cheating in the austrailian grandprix.

If true that immunity will be granted to nelson jr., the FIA will have reinforced a very bad precedent, that if you are a driver and just confess to cheating you go free while the other members of your team who are as guilty as you are get punished.

Stop protecting the drivers and let justice and truth prevail.

Right now the evidence dictates that nelson jr. is guilty by virtue of his own confession.

If it turns out other people are involved including the whole team then they should be dealt with severely.

I had so much respect for the FIA in their previous rulings such as the indianapolis tire fiasco where they were right in saying that michellin should have brought a suitable tyre for the track and it is not the job of the FIA to modify the track to suit their tyre, the spygate scandal when they did not hesitate to severely punish a superstar team such as mclaren for spying on ferrari, and the recently ruled diffuser row wherein the innovations of the smaller teams were upheld.

All of a sudden the FIA loses its balls by letting Lewis Hamilton and mclaren virtually go unpunished for a deliberate act of cheating and now letting nelson jr. go practically scott-free for cheating.

Whatever the verdict will be as long as nelson jr. is not prosecuted and found guilty, the whole trial will be a farce.

Right now the FIA is saying it’s all right for the drivers to cheat as long as they confess!


Remember that Alonso was also granted immunity in the McLaren scandal, despite giving his own personal emails as evidence in which he was personally asking for information from NS so that he Alonso could BOTH plan his race strategy and work on weight distribution set-ups using the McLaren simulator.

In other words Alonso presented his OWN personal involvement in the cheating as evidence AGAINST McLaren AND was granted immunity for it!


You should have known by now that Mosley isn’t interested in dealing with drivers or dealing with right and wrong at all. He is only interested in settling the score with F1 team bosses and other big figures with whom he has a personal agendas.


So what was he supposed to do when a driver comes to him with allegations like these? Ignore them?


The allegation could in no way be ignored but the tragedy is that Mosley’s past behaviour has tainted an undeniably valid investigation by making observations such as Brace’s both inevitable and widespread. He has not been a man that inspires trust for some time.


A good point made above regarding punishment. Personally, I think deliberately crashing is very serious and the driver and anyone else involved should face lifetime bans from motorsport.

As mentioned above, though, other drivers have deliberately crashed before. Schumacher crashed in to Villeneuve in 97, which should maybe be viewed as even more dangerous than Piquet’s crash. He was DQ’d from the WDC that year, but faced no other punishment. After having given such a weak punishment in the past for an arguably worse offence, surely the FIA are stuck with handing out that same punishment at worst.

Singapore does have quite draconian criminal law, doesn’t it? I wonder if they have the equivalent of the American “reckless endangerment” charge, or maybe as has been mentioned before in a previous post’s comments, anti match-fixing laws relating to gambling.


Talking of Jerez ’97, maybe Patrick Head could comment on the last few laps of that race and the McLaren/Williams race fixing allegations at the time…


The crimes are different. Schumacher’s actions were those of an individual driver and probaby not premeditated. If Piquet crashed deliberately in the way he claims, this is a planned action by the team that goes beyond a professional foul.

Comparisons with NASCAR, as made by some, are irrelevant simply because F1 isn’t NASCAR; nor is it FIA-regulated. The two disciplines have very different concepts, cultures and traditions.


The BBC have a column by Brundle saying Flavio MIGHT leave the team BEFORE the hearing on 21 Sept.

The BBC had a clip of Singy last year where Alonso remarks to Flavio about the safety car whilst they were waiting to go on to the podium … if Alonso knew about the plan it was either a crazy thing to come out and say or a wild double-bluff.

Really looks like Alonso didn’t know of any pre-race discussions for Piquet to crash.

I don’t think this damages F1 – it just makes it look like a brutal and ruthless sport. The real issue is that the rules and the enforcement of the rules have encouraged such behaviour.

Piquet Sr comes out looking like a nasty piece of work. He doesn’t seem to be much in terms of a character witness! Unless they have a recording of the discussion or a guilty plea by Flav/Pat, I can’t see how the court can find sufficient evidence to convict Renault. Even the telemetry is inconclusive: it might show that Piquet kept his foot on the pedal but that could be (1) Piquet crashing deliberately on his own or (2) Piquet just making a genuine error but now trying to pass it off as being part of a conspiracy.

Surely, Piquet’s best claim on a seat for 2009 was to start performing well … not to go around crashing his car all the time.

Unless they have 100,000 percent proof, the FIA should just kick this out of court. They should then elect a new President and write some water tight rules and hand out meaningful, fair, and CONSISTENT punishments when they are broken.


Your last paragraph. It should be put forward as one of the statutes of the FIA. 🙂

I personally think Mosley always liked this ambiguity because it was allowing him to practically do however he wanted and hand out punishments not according to crime but according to his personal agendas and vendettas he had with his F1 rivals.


Regarding Mr Head’s statement that the public would lose interest in F1 if it thought it was watching something that was being manipulated. Has he not heard of NASCAR? An organization vying neck-and-neck with the WWE at the very pinnacle of manipulated “sports”. And laughing all the way to the bank.


If this is true why didn’t Patrick Head speak out at the time? Surely not thinking of an uncertain future for Toyota and a possible future Renault engine deal?


As I understand it, it was the general opinion in the paddock after the race that PKjr could only have crashed in that particular place on purpose. Massa certainly thought so, as did everyone else, according to Nick Heidfeld. No doubt these rumours came to the ears of the stewards, but, without evidence or a direct accusation, what could they really do ? Even with the telemetry and the radio conversations, there was not really enough hard evidence. Now it’s different.

In passing, I can’t help but be amused by PKjr talking about this to a journalist friend after the race. Is this guy completely stupid, or does it only seem that way ?

Finally, you ask James “where was his father ?” I’d say, he was there right behind him, egging him on. It seems to me that the old streetfighter which is Nelson sr is perhaps settling a few old scores here, and that despite the deep stuff in which this is putting junior. Am I missing something ?


Thanks to those who clarified that Patrick Head didn’t in fact hear about it at the time.

My understanding is that the answer as to why PKjr told the journalist and why the journalist said nothing may be related to certain other comments made today by Flavio.


No, I mean where was his father on that Sunday afternoon in Singapore?


Well, I doubt PH was thinking about a Renault deal 12 months ago – so that has nothing to do with it.

PH probably didn’t believe the journalist 100%, and even if he did there was no proof available to him, so it would just be a rumour. People then would have probably dismissed it as something Williams would say just to have Alonso disqualified so they could win the GP with Rosberg.


At the end of the day, I feel sorry for the 600+ families (ie Renault employees) that are getting caught in this cross fire. If this looks like the work of 2 individuals, then punish them, not everyone in Renault. On the other hand, this whole process smells, and for this I blame FIA, specifically Max, for leaking information that paints one situation which might not be the whole truth. It hardly serves justice, if it looks like Max has an axe to grind.


James,by reading your blog at the time I thought you had a suspect on this,although you didn´t say it explicitly.

But the other big point of this weekend you haven´t talked about yet has been the big NON-announcement of Alonso as Ferrari driver!

I will not ask what your sources are,only if you still believe there is a deal between Alonso and Ferrari.


There’s a post on its way this evening.


Did Mr. Head have anything to say about the collusion between competing teams at Jerez 1997? Or did the voice of reason become mute? Shouldn´t the FIA investigate that too, as there appers to no statue of limtations?

Or how about the way March (Mosleys own team)cheated their way to their first pole position?

Or the supposedly illegal fuel that Piquet snr. had in his Brabham (team owner Ecclestone)to win one of his championships?

FIA – Selective procecution with extreme prejudice.


“He said that he became aware that Piquet may have crashed on purpose when a journalist friend of his told him that Piquet had let him in on the plot, not long after the race.”

I think Head said that the reporter found out shortly after the crash, but Head himself didn’t find out until probably around the same time as the rest of us.


Yes, the wording doesn’t imply that Patrick knew about it back then, rather that the journalist in question did. He presumably told Patrick recently when the case came to light.


I think if Patrick had known soon after the race it might have been good grounds for an appeal, after all Rosberg was in 2nd position….




Firstly thank you for insights this season from ‘inside the ropes, an alternative perspective has been much appreciated.

It is very concerning that so many insiders, including your former colleague Martin Brundle, believe there is a case to be answered. It is even more concerning that these views include past and present drivers who you have to think have the best knowledge on which to base their opinions.

What will upset me the most, and I have not seen this raised particularly during the debate, is whether Felipe Massa has been indirectly denied the World Championship. People need to remember this was a race he was leading well, until the Safety Car turned the strategies upside down, no doubt contributing to the pit stop fiasco.

What are the potential FIA sanctions ? If that race were erased from last year’s championship then that expunges Lewis Hamilton’s 3rd place and therefore Felipe is champion. Given what we know of Felipe I am guessing he would not want to inherit the title in such a fashion, however there are business / sponsorship related issues in terms of having the reigning World Champion in your team. Is it right to expect yet more litigation to follow if Renault are found guilty ?

Another very shabby episode for Formula 1.


Everyone but Alonso was under the same conditions, if you withdrew Alonso from the points Hamilton would have won the WDC by an even larger margin.


When someone does something wrong and someone else is impeded in some way, the FIA would never repair the damage to the other person’s position, however strong the case because it is just impossible to do fairly. All teams and drivers therefore accept that once you are out you are out. It works for qualifying and the race.

It is impossible to predict what would have happened at Singapore if the race had run its course.

In the end, although the safety car was an indirect cause of Massa stuffing up the race, the direct cause was Ferrari incompetence on the pit stop – ultimately their fate was in their own hands. Haven’t seen the traffic lights this season and their pitstops haven’t been too shabby.


Spenny, I do not disagree, I am just intrigued to know what the possible sanctions are. If the case is proven then Alonso obviously can no longer be considered the winner, therefore what happens ? Is there no winner ? Is the race expunged from the 2008 Championship ? Do Alonso / Renault lose all their 2008 points and therefore financial winnings, I am just intrigued to know.

Reference your comment, I would contend that Felipe did not ‘stuff up the race’ unfortunately his team did that for him. I just think it’s an intriguing point. Given the dignity Massa showed all year and to have come so close, this will only add to his feelings of “what might have been”. In his shoes I would be feeling incredibly bitter over this, knowing I was leading the race comfortably, on a circuit with very limited passing opportunities, and to have been (allegedly) cheated out of it.


“In his shoes I would be feeling incredibly bitter over this, knowing I was leading the race comfortably, on a circuit with very limited passing opportunities, and to have been (allegedly) cheated out of it.”

He didn’t mind inheriting Lewis’ points from an entirely undistinguished drive at Spa though, did he?


I understand Mosley has said it is too late to change the results of the race or championships.

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