Piquet blamed by Symonds for F1 crash conspiracy

Sep 23, 2009 - 2:39 PM By ROBERT MILLWARD AP Sports Writer

LONDON(AP) -- Former Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr. has been accused by a former team official of instigating a plot to deliberately crash his car during a Formula One race.

Pat Symonds quit as Renault's engineering executive director and Flavio Briatore as its team principal last week, amid allegations by Piquet that he was ordered to drive his car into a wall at last year's Singapore Grand Prix to help teammate Fernando Alonso win.

However, Symonds wrote a letter to the World Motor Sports Council, F1's governing body, claiming that Piquet came up with the plan.

"I was the one who, when the idea was first suggested to me by Nelson Piquet Jr., should have dismissed it immediately," Symonds said. "It is to my eternal regret and shame that I did not do so. ... I can only say that I did it out of a misguided devotion to my team, and not for any personal gain whatsoever."

The WMSC said that it had received differing accounts of who suggested the idea, but ruled it "immaterial" as the breaches "arise from the execution of the crash plan itself."

Alonso, who has been cleared of any involvement in the plot, had already made his pit stop ahead of the rest of the field when Piquet's crash brought out the safety car. That allowed Alonso to move up the field when the other cars had to refuel.

Piquet, the son of three-time world champion Nelson Piquet, was fired by Renault in July. He spoke at a WMSC hearing Monday after being given immunity by FIA for admitting his involvement in the conspiracy.

Briatore was banned indefinitely from any F1 activities and Symonds was suspended for five years. Neither attended the hearing.

The WMSC also said Briatore was directly involved despite his claims in a written letter that he had no knowledge of the scam.

"In the light of the overwhelming evidence, the WMSC cannot accept the account that Mr. Briatore has offered," the WMSC said. "The evidence strongly indicates that Mr. Briatore was personally and directly involved in the planning of the conspiracy."

Documents also reveal that a mystery witness, referred to as Witness X, also knew of the plot but was not part of it. He confirmed that Briatore knew of the conspiracy before the crash.

Renault, which escaped with a suspended ban from FIA, said at the hearing it had withdrawn criminal proceedings against Piquet and his father for allegedly making false accusations and attempted blackmail arising out of the scam.

Renault said it had considered pulling out of F1 due to the "prejudice caused to its corporate image by the conspiracy," but company lawyer Ali Malet told the WMSC the French team was now looking ahead.

"We are keen to put this whole affair behind us," Malet said. "It was a ridiculous plot, a one-off, and Renault knows nothing like this can ever happen again. This is a black day for us, but it is our intention to draw the line and to do everything we can to put this sad history behind us."

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