Piquet lifts lid on Crashgate discussions with Briatore
In an exclusive interview in the Times, Nelson Piquet Jnr has spoken of the events at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix which triggered what was to become the Crashgate scandal.
What happened on that Sunday evening is well documented. But in the aftermath of yesterday's court decision, which saw RenaultF1 apologise to both Piquet and his father and pay "substantial" damages, Piquet has for the first time gone into detail about what happened.
Both Renaults qualified down the field - Fernando Alonso in 15th, Piquet one place back - and in the minutes before the race Piquet said Renault boss Flavio Briatore, who was also Piquet's manager and agent, and director of engineering Pat Symonds were nervous.
Eventually Symonds approached Piquet. "'Look, both cars are at the back of the grid,' he told me. 'We are in a situation where we are not going to get anywhere in this race unless something extraordinary happens.'" Briatore agreed, saying it would be "a disaster for the team" unless something extraordinary happened.
"I just sat there listening because I couldn't figure out where this was going," Piquet said. "They were both very fidgety and the situation was incredibly tense. I don't think I had said a word by this point. It was only after five minutes that Flavio made his pitch. 'Look, the only way we can benefit in any way out here is by getting a safety car on the course at the right moment,' he said.
"I just sat there, looking at them. They both reminded me of what had happened in Germany when someone had crashed just after I had pitted and I came second in the race. 'Do you want to help the team?' Flavio said. 'If you crash at the right moment, it could change everything.'"
Piquet was under pressure after a lacklustre season and Briatore had made his feelings clear. "He was not the kind of person where there was normal communication. He would bark instructions and never ask your opinion. Everything was short and sharp and he would get angry if you did not agree immediately. After a while, I started to get very nervous. Even when he walked by, I felt under pressure.
"I was still trying to establish a reputation in Formula One and he always reminded me that my fate was in his hands. I did everything to try to please him, but he only ever seemed to criticise me."
Flavio Briatore to Nelson Piquet Junr
It was against that backdrop Piquet agreed to crash his car. "I thought it was a way to please the guy a little bit, put him on my side."
Once he had said he would do as they wanted, the three men worked out the details. "They wanted the safety car on lap 14. It actually felt good to agree to do something for the team after all the criticism I had taken. I did not even consider the morality of it." Symonds showed him a map of the circuit and indicated the best place to crash "because there are no cranes or anything".
"As the laps ticked by, I knew what was coming, but it was difficult to believe what I was going to do. I was almost more nervous of messing it up for the team than for my own safety.
"I was so scared, I could hardly breathe. I was straining my eyes to see the board each time I completed the circuit so I would know which lap I was on, but it was dark out there and I could hardly see a thing.
"I screamed into the radio again and again, 'What lap are we in? What lap are we in?' They confirmed the lap and I began to brace myself because I knew what I was about to do - even if I could not believe I was going to do it.
The plan worked perfectly. The safety car came out, Alonso pitted at just the right time and went on to win the race, while Piquet's explanation of his crash to the press as a simple mistake raised few eyebrows. "Afterwards, Flavio tapped my back and said, 'Thanks'."
That would have been that, but midway through 2009 Piquet was dropped by Renault, leading to him going to the FIA with his story. "If I am being honest, I think I was motivated more by anger against Flavio than by a desire for a clean conscience," he admitted.
He was given immunity by the FIA for his testimony, Renault were given a two-year suspended ban, while Briatore and Symonds were hit with a lifetime ban from motorsport, subsequently reduced to a three-year suspension on appeal.
But the world of Formula One turned its collective back on Piquet, arguably the one who was used and who others were prepared to risk for the greater good. In fairness, he had not really done enough to warrant many more chances, but once he spilt the beans, nobody was going to even give him a chance.
"Looking back, it seems like a lifetime ago, but I know I will never fully escape from its shadow," he told the newspaper. "I apologise unreservedly for what I did. I just hope people will understand the pressures I was under. It is no excuse, but I was a deeply unhappy person. I am a stronger man today. If the question was asked again, I am sure I would have the strength to say no."