"Crash-Gate" Analyzed

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The FIA website states that  "Representatives of ING Renault F1 have been requested to appear before an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris on Monday, 21 September 2009"

"The team representatives have been called to answer charges, including a breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code, that the team conspired with its driver, Nelson Piquet Jr, to cause a deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix with the aim of causing the deployment of the safety car to the advantage of its other driver, Fernando Alonso."

It seems some what coincidental that one of the drivers concerned has recently parted company with Renault on less than amicable terms.

Would a team really risk the life of driver to win a race?  If the charge is proved, this would surely rate as one of the most despicable acts in F1, perhaps sporting, history.

Let's look at what actually happened*.

Qualifying

During qualifying, Alonso had a fuel pump problem that resulted in him qualifying a lowly 15th with his team-mate Piquet fairing no better and lining up along side him in 16th slot on the grid.

Championship leaders Massa and Hamilton took Pole and 2nd place respectively after the final qualifying session.

The Start

Everyone gets away safely with Massa opening up a slight lead and Hamilton sucessfully holding off a challenge from Raikkonen.  Kovalinen drops a couple of spots and Alonso picks up three places to take 12th.

Lap 12

Alonso, starting on a light fuel load, is the first driver to pit and fuels for a long second stint.  Off come the super-softs and on with the softs.

Lap 14

Nelson Piquet hits the wall near turn 17 and the safety car is sent out.  However, both Red Bulls, who are just 3 seconds behind, drive into the pit lane just before it is closed following Piquet's accident.  Barrichelo also makes it to the pits but his race is over.

Laps 15 & 16

Rosberg and Kubica, low on fuel, are forced to pit on laps 15 & 16 respectively. With the pit lane still closed, they will both incur a stop-go penalty for the infringement a few laps later.

Lap 17 

With the pit lane open, a total of 10 drivers head into the pits headed by Massa's Ferrari.  Ferrari have a nightmare stop caused, in part, by the premature release of Massa by their unique electronic traffic light pit release system.  

This sees Massa accelerate out of the pit box with part of the fuel rig still attached. Massa knocks over one of the pit crew in the process.  When Massa finally rejoins the race, he has spent over 2 mins in the pits and is way down the field.

Massa will later be further penalized for the unsafe pit release with a drive through penalty, but his race is already ruined and he will finsh the race a lowly 13th.

Laps 27 & 29

Kubica and Rosberg (repectively) serve their penalties for violating the closed pit lane elevating Alonso into the lead.

Lap 49

Alonso is the quickest man on the track now after the second round of stops and is building a nice lead.

Lap 50

Sutil in the Force India goes off in the same place as Piquet earlier and the safety car remerges evaporating Alonso's lead.  Rosberg lies 2nd with Hamilton just behind in 3rd.

Lap 57 

Raikkonen clips the wall emerging from the chicane at turn 10 and retires.

Lap 61

Alonso wins for Renault, 3 secs ahead of Rosberg with Hamilton making it onto the podium a further 3 secs behind the Williams.

Now that we established what we know, let's examine some of the questions raised by this investigation.

Given the timing of the investigation, it would seem to imply that Nelson Piquet is maybe the source for some of evidence that prompted the investigation.  

It would not be the first time that a driver has incriminated his team.   Coincidentally, it was Alonso who was at the heart of the allegations against McLaren, a team with whom he was still contracted with at the time.

Let's, for the moment, assume that the allegations are true and Renault did indeed ensure Alonso's victory by "engineering" Piquets crash at just the right time.  How would they be able to do this?

"Causing" the accident

There are, I suppose, three ways this could have been done:

a) to tell Piquet to crash on lap 14 before the race started

The problem with this approach would be that this would be an extremely inflexible plan that would require Renault to put their trust in Piquet to put himself at incredible risk and to accurately predict the fuel strategies of all the other teams.

b) to tell Piquet to crash on lap 14 during the race

While this plan affords greater flexibility, it carries with it the risk of having to signal Piquet via the radio (or conceivably a pit board) when to crash and the chance that the communication is seen or overheard.

c) not to tell Piquet

Now this would be the most disturbing scenario if true.  Now, I am no expert and I am not even sure if it is technically possible for the pits to manipulate the setup of the car remotely in such a way as to cause a retirement on a specified lap.  If this were the case, or if they did so before the race, then the FIA would be the least of their worries as such actions would surely lead to extremely serious criminal charges.

My feeling is that noner of the above scenarios is particularly likely given the following facts:

1. Three cars still managed to pit legally after Piquet's accident, thereby opening up the possibility that one of the leaders may have made it into the pits before they were closed.

2. Sutil crashed in the same spot as Piquet, so Piquet's off was not without precedent (though I know it's technical not a precedent as it came after!)

3. Any of the above scenarios would have been ruined if another team had decided to run a similar fuel strategy as Renault and stopped on or before lap 14.

4. To take such drastic action you would need to be sure that the plan would result in a win.  There were just too many thing that could go wrong. 

5. Why not simply arrange for Piquet to run out of fuel?

I will be very interested to see what evidence the FIA has to justify making such an accusation.  I hope it is more than Piquet's belief that his crash must have been as a result of the favoritism he has alleged that Renault has shown toward Alonso.

If Piquet says he crashed deliberately at Renault's instruction, the FIA had better have something more to back up the charge....

*My thanks to f1.com/news.bbc.co.uk/wikipedia.org for helping me verify the chronology of events

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