Renault claims 'blackmail' attempt

Updated: September 11, 2009, 12:47 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

MONZA, Italy -- Renault took Nelson Piquet Jr. to court on Friday over race-fixing allegations that the French team said were used in an attempt to "blackmail" it into renewing the Formula One driver's contract.

Renault team principal Flavio Briatore started criminal proceedings in Paris against the team's former driver and his father Nelson, a three-time world champion, for making allegations that it ordered the Brazilian driver to crash into a wall to help the team secure a victory.

Briatore labeled Renault a "victim" after investigation documents were leaked to the media ahead of the Sept. 21 hearing date, which could see the team thrown out of F1.

"Things came out that should have not been said. We can't defend ourselves and our position after such a leak," Briatore said from the Italian Grand Prix. "It's not right to call a team guilty before it is judged."

Renault, which has also referred the matter to the police in Britain, has been summoned by governing body FIA to answer the claims that Piquet Jr. was asked to crash at last year's Singapore Grand Prix to improve teammate Fernando Alonso's chances of victory. The Spanish driver went on to win the race.

Regarding the current FIA investigation, I confirm that I have cooperated fully and honestly with the sport's governing body. ... Because I am telling the truth I have nothing to fear ... and whilst I am well aware of the power and influence of those being investigated, and the vast resources at their disposal, I will not be bullied again into making a decision I regret.

-- Nelson Piquet Jr.

"I can't answer that," Briatore said when asked if he had ordered Piquet Jr. to crash.

In a deposition given to FIA investigators on July 30, Piquet Jr. said that Briatore and director of engineering Pat Symonds ordered him to crash into the wall at turn 14 where it would take the most time to clear the damaged car and result in the longest possible delay.

Piquet Jr. said that Symonds took him aside after the meeting to pinpoint the exact spot where the "accident strategy" should take place and on which lap he should do so. Piquet Jr. said he radioed into the pits several times to confirm the lap number.

Symonds refused to directly answer any of the claims, according to documents from the FIA investigation.

FIA president Max Mosley said that he hadn't seen "anything that is a forgery" when asked about the validity of the documents. The FIA has promised immunity to Piquet Jr. in return for his testimony, and on Friday the driver issued a statement confirming that he had spoken with the body's investigators.

"Regarding the current FIA investigation, I confirm that I have cooperated fully and honestly with the sport's governing body," Piquet Jr. said. "Because I am telling the truth I have nothing to fear, whether from the ING Renault Team or Mr. Briatore and whilst I am well aware of the power and influence of those being investigated, and the vast resources at their disposal, I will not be bullied again into making a decision I regret."

Piquet Jr.'s contract for 2009 had not been renewed at the time of the Singapore GP. Briatore fired the Brazilian driver following this season's Hungarian Grand Prix after 1 seasons with the French team.

Piquet Jr. said he was in an "emotional" and "fragile" state of mind because his contract had not yet been renewed.

"Piquet attacked me from day one," Briatore said. "I tried everything to bring out the best Piquet for the team. He did everything but perform for the team -- [with] no results."

The Formula One Teams Association expressed "concern" at the leaking of the document.

"All parties to the dispute should have the right to a fair hearing carried out in private and not in the public arena, which is producing adverse publicity damaging to the corporate image and credibility of Formula One," FOTA said in a statement.

Piquet Jr.'s crash after 14 laps at F1's inaugural night race brought out the safety car shortly after Alonso had pitted. The two-time world champion was then able to position himself for victory by moving up the grid behind the safety car, which lapped the track seven times before coming into the pit lane.

"I'm not losing even one second in this matter," said Alonso, who denies having any knowledge of the alleged plans. "I support the team and hopefully next week everything goes well. Whatever happens, happens."

Mosley stressed that the accusations were unproven but said the Renault case was potentially more serious than the McLaren espionage case in 2007. He added that Renault had asked for more time to submit documents and had been given until the middle of next week.

Mosley said race fixing was "one degree worse than cheating."

"If you're a cyclist and you take dope, that's cheating. If you bribe the other cyclists, or you get somebody to have a crash in the peloton so the yellow jersey guy crashes, that's more serious," he added.

"Then if it puts human life at risk, whether it's the spectators, the marshals or the drivers, then it's more serious again."

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.