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The rights and wrongs of immunity
The rights and wrongs of immunity
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Sep 2009   |  9:05 pm GMT  |  124 comments

I’m interested in the rights and wrongs of the FIA offering immunity from prosecution to Nelson Piquet and Pat Symonds – but not to Flavio Briatore – in the Singapore crash investigation.

I spoke to a London litigation lawyer this evening and he said that the key points here are that 1) this is not a case in the criminal courts, where, in the UK at least, plea bargaining is not really done. It is subject to the rules of the FIA. I don’t know what it says in the rules on disciplinary hearings and whether it says in there that the FIA has the right to offer plea bargains, but I will look into it; 2) were the FIA onto something anyway when Piquet gave his evidence, in other words did he go to them or did they quiz him first? The history we’ve seen so far seems to suggest that the Piquets started this, in other words the FIA was not on to them. As for offering Symonds immunity, is his offer of immunity to get at the truth generally or specifically to incriminate Briatore, in other words on what terms has Pat been given this immunity?

Offering immunity worked in the case of the Harlequins rugby player who was ordered to fake a blood injury in order to get a specialist kicker onto the pitch. The FIA will have taken note of this.

Earlier today I asked one of our regular readers, Harveyeight, who is an ex CID policeman, to give me his views on the whys and wherefores of granting immunity from prosecution in the Renault case to Nelson Piquet and Pat Symonds.

He has been involved in a lot of investigations and interviews of suspects in the real world and, as someone who has that experience, but is also clearly passionate about F1, I was interested in his view. Here it is:

“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.”

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quel surprise… pt1) max hates ron. ron is out.

pt2) flav is the ring leader in getting max to stand down in the recent FOTA / FIA war. in these cheating allegations, piquet and symmonds get random immunity (granted by teh FIA). flav is out.

watch out for the demise of di montezemolo next 😀

i think a behind the scenes documentary of bernie and max over the last 20 years would be totally fascinating. would be a very long film tho…


In a different set of circumstances, for example if NPJ had crashed and a marshal was hurt or killed, there would be a serious case of attempted manslaughter/manslaughter.

No immunity should have been given.


Dear James, forgive me for saying this article fell below your usual high standard. I was unconvinced by you quoting with implicit approval a lengthy comment from HarV8. For me one problem was that (as the beginning of the article actually explained) the FIA process is just not equivalent to the UK criminal process, which I assume is your correspondent’s background. And of course Pat Symonds is a known quantity to the FIA, not some anonymous defendant. My other problem was that your correspondent – let’s give him a name, say “Mr Smith” – has his own axe to grind and so an interest should have been declared. For Mr Smith, Max Mosley and the FIA can do no right; in “crashgate”, as in the Mclaren “liegate” saga, MM/FIA must still be some of the bad guys as far as Mr Smith is concerned. Another observation: I was curious why you declined to comment for several days on the leaked evidence, which I think was first in the public domain a week ago? Apologies, I feel someone must have asked this before … Peter


Well, this is not a criminal proceeding (not yet anyway) so to treat it like one is a bit excessive. Draw similarities as you wish, but in the end it has to be treated in the sporting sense, in the same way a football player dives in the penalty area, scores a goal with his hand, stamps on another player, or even a tennis player that swears at the officials… And F1 has many recent cases to use as a guide for this kind of thing, like Spy-gate and Lie-gate – none of these unmasked thanks to the goodness of any individual’s heart, but instead due to the interest these individuals had in the scandals.

The point missed here is this: without the imunity offer/deal NOTHING would have been done about Singapore 2008. We would be none the wiser about what happened, and the evidence leaked so far makes it crystal clear something DID happen. It’s simply a matter of pinning the tail on the right donkey now. Is that an acceptable option?

The case is and will always be about what was said in the pre-race meeting, and unless someone had the Renault office bugged, only the 3 people involved could come forward and blow the whistle.

So the lesser of two evils: take a deal with one (or two) of them and finally get an insight into what happened, so you can then have a basis to dig further, get some clues into how the jigsaw of radio conversations and funny/dumb fuel strategies fit in, have a chance of getting to the bottom of seems to have been a big fix and punish someone for it.

Or… when approached about the incident, you offer nothing except the further threat of a lifetime ban from the sport, severe sanctions, scare off any potential whistle blowers, now and in future, end up with a very clear idea that something disgusting did happen in that race (you were approached after all), but with no evidence to do anything about it. And watch as the people responsible laugh, joke and spray the champagne for years to come as if that was all good and proper. They might even do it again, who knows.

Make no mistake, Piquet Jr. may get imunity from action coming directly from the FIA, but his dream has been chattered, and his racing career has been damaged, he will pay for this one way or another down the line when a job he wants is not even given a thought by prospective employers. And yet he could have just chosen to keep quiet, carry on as if nothing had happened…


Excellent post. I agree wholeheartedly with the CID gentleman.

If Mr Piquet had any strength of character he would have told Pat and Flav how high to jump if they had approached him with such a ludicrous suggestion.

Renault should not get off scot free. They have a responsibility to ensure that their team is playing with a straight bat. Its no good to simply blame the troops no matter how culpable they are.

Did any one else have trouble accessing the blog yesterday – the biggest news in years and no blog to read. Tragic…..


If one had a peurile sense of humour, one might ask James if the site crashed, and if so, was it on purpose.

Thanks goodness I’m above that sort of thing.




Flav has also contributed to F1 in his own way. But sometimes he’s a just JOKER.


As for Alonso, deep in my heart I hope he’s innocent. If found guilty it will truly be a humongous loss for F1. What a GREAT DRIVER Alonso is and will always be.


But losing Pat Symonds will be a huge blow as he has contributed 30 years of his life to F1. This I feel SAD.


Nelson might kill someone for real the next time if he’s granted immunity hence keeping his superlicense. First of all he’s a thoroughbred idiot for agreeing to crash, whose idea does not matter anymore. An utterly selfish boy at all cost to keep his F1 drive and now causing stress to innocent employees whom might lose their jobs. Yes, Flav and Symonds are as guilty, but if Nelson is man enough he shoulda gave them the “**** YOU! You crash it yourselves”. Any team who hires him will, for sure, be a ‘paid drive’ by daddy. I don’t feel one bit sorry for Nelson, his daddy will have more than enough to feed him for the rest of his life. GOOD BYE NP!!!


Outstanding post, James. Harveyeight’s insight was excellent – and Rudy’s separate response was interesting, too. I always admire experts/commentators in any field who seek the views of those with knowledge in a different specialism when they need it.


I think its a bit much to say that Ferrari screwed Massa’s stop because of Piquets crash. The FIA would be very hard pushed to alter the outcome of the championship. With the latest news (resignations of Flav and Pat) surely a lifetime ban for both and penalising Renault financially for 2008 winnings would be a suitable sentence. I guess if Fernando’s involvemnt, if any, will become apparent after Monday but Piquet Jr was complicit no matter whos idea it was.

Jojo poses a very interesting question.


James this is for you,

I can see your point about Piquet which i absolutely understand. Then the same must have happened to Alonso in 2007 for blackmailing Ron dennis to get status in the team.

All the while (during winter testing, during the first few grand prix’s in 2007), he knew there was a mole and he used information from that mole but they gave him amnesty just because he came out with it.

If you think Piquet should not be given any amnesty! Don’t you think Alonso deserved a bigger bigger punishment. He knew something for 3 months and He used it to his and his team’s advantage. Piquet’s crash is atleast one event and finished in a day!

Whats your honest opinion?

And now more on Alonso in this case. To begin with i assume Alonso did not know anything to start with in this case(I might be totally worng though). I really doubt if he did not even get a small doubt on all this, given the facts that starting 15th in the grid in a street circuit (where you can hardly overtake) is given 15 laps of fuel, asked to pit 3 more laps before his in lap, his team mate crashes and brings on safety car, and he wins. Won’t he go and atleast ask pat symonds in the post race briefing why he was called in 3 laps earlier?

The reason this incident had to happen was to fernando win! If Renault winning was the case, they could have asked Alonso to crash and piquet to win! But that did not happen! Renault have gone winless in a year so many times in the last 10 years! Forget piquet, nobody cares about him if he gets amnesty or not. He is not going to drive anyway in F1 anymore. The Question is about Alonso. Guess what he might be driving a Ferrari next year!!!

I donno if there has been a coincidence here, but the 2 biggest scandals in the last 2 years and the 1 common thing in both of them is FERNANDO ALONSO!

Racing not politics

and Pat gone and Renault accept guilt

OMFG this is awful

Racing not politics

Falvio has resigned then

scapegoat or witch hunt?


Mail headline at 1241 hrs: “Renault accept race-fixing charge as disgraced Flavio Briatore is forced out of F1”

The link to this story is at:

If this doesn’t vindicate the FIA’s handling of this affair, nothing ever will. They have finally exposed the nastiest piece of dirty dealing in the history of modern grand prix racing, and it did need to be exposed.


Nice opportunity/excuse for Renault to quit and a great ooprtunity for Sauber to take their place. Watch this space Bernie!


Well, it looks like the allegations are true, Flav and Pat have gone, and they won’t dispute the events at the FIA hearing.

I suspect Renault will pull out of F1 as a result of this…



Briatore and Symonds leave Renault


Wow, Renault are not challenging the allegations. Briatore and Symonds have left!!!!!! Statement on the website!!


Although we can probably agree that ‘the FIA’ is motivated mainly by bile and personal vendetta, there may be some rational justification in there as well. They were faced with an allegation, strongly supported by circumstantial evidence, but no total proof. One accused denied everything and one refused to answer. Had things been left like that, the outcome could easily have been either that nobody was convicted or that only the one who refused to answer was convicted.

That would have been unsatisfactory. Not just because men who were possibly guilty may have walked free, but also because everybody would have seen that the FIA had not got at the truth. The smell of corruption would persist, the sense that something bad had happened, but provided you deny everything you can cheat all you like and get away with it.

But the fact is that, in refusing to answer, Symonds was refusing to lie. He was also indicating that he was not in a position to tell the truth. And hinting that he wished he were. In those circumstances, offering him immunity, even though he was guilty, can be seen as the lesser of two evils. In the final analysis, the FIA has acted in accordance with Patrick Head’s advice that maintaining the integrity of the sport is paramount – i.e., more important than the details of how it is achieved.



If these allegations prove to be true then Formula One should lose it’s status as a Sport.

If reflects very poorly on the current status of Formula One for such a accusation to be even considered credible. Can you imagine Clark, Moss, Fangio or Hill would ever contemplate a deliberate crash to win a race?


Fresh from the RenaultF1 web site:

“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”.

Sadly this was predictable.


The problem for Symonds is that if he takes up FIA’s offer of immunity, then presumably he would have to contradict himself, regarding the statements that he has already made.

If Renault of Flav’s lawyers are confronted with such evidence from FIA at the hearing, I’m sure they’ll be very happy to point this out, discrediting Symonds’ credibility as a witness. And after this, he may share Piquet Jr’s fate and never work in F1 again.

Based on this, and his long relationship with Flavio, I think he’ll stay loyal to him, UNLESS…

What are the odds that Renault’s top brass will say “Enough is enough” and ‘eject’ Flavio from the team? Is that even possible, contractually?

Such an outcome could make Symonds choose to side with Renault (and FIA, presumably), instead of Flavio and keep his job…


In my opinion the immunity could well become a moot point as it is only relevant to the FIA proceedings.

When it comes to the satellite litigation that will certainly follow then i know of no criminal or civil court that will offer the same immunity.

I am certain the Symond’s interview was e mailed to Piquet’s defense lawyers in the “blackmail proceedings” as soon as it became available I would imagine they would have stopped becoming defense lawyers there and then(Briatore’s main witness has just confirmed that Piquet is telling the truth) and become claimants lawyers for “defamation case” or similar.

Holding a press conference announcing you are suing for blackmail may well cost Briatore a lot more than he bargained for.

I am also certain that the blackmail litigation will be quietly withdrawn on the advise of Briatore’s lawyers.

Not certain what Renault’s position is in that litigation so would not like to comment on their position

The opinions floating around that the Singapore results should be altered accordingly will for the reasons above never happen. The litigation would be horrendous and Mosley as a trained barrister knows this.

If found guilty Renault will be stripped of the points and prize money all other results left as are.

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