Would you drive into a wall if someone asked you to?

September 10, 2009

Crashing a Formula One car is easy. Even I could do that, although fitting into the cockpit might be a bit of a squeeze. It’s the driving that is difficult.

In the old days, when there were fewer races in a season but more funerals, you crashed at your peril. 

“In my era, if you crashed a car it was pretty serious. Nowadays if you crash a car you can’t get hurt really badly because it is so fantastically made,” Stirling Moss observed this week in an interview ahead of his 80th birthday.  

That said, crashing deliberately is simply counter-intuitive. Everything in a driver’s instincts tells him to back off, correct the slide, lift the throttle, avoid the wall. Self-preservation is a basic instinct.

All of which makes the allegations being levelled against the Renault Formula One team, who have abstained from commenting, all the more extraordinary.

The former champions will be hauled in front of the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) in Paris on Sept. 21 to face accusations that they ordered Brazilian Nelson Piquet to deliberately crash in Singapore last year to create a situation that would allow team mate Fernando Alonso to win the race.

Alonso pitted early, Piquet crashed a lap or two later and the safety car came out.

As a result of the accident, Alonso (who said on Thursday he knew nothing of any plan to fix the race) went on to win. The race leader until the safety car interlude, Ferrari’s Brazilian
Felipe Massa, failed to score after a bungled pitstop.

Without that interruption, Massa might have won the race. And don’t forget that he lost out on the championship by a single point in the end.

The accusations are heavy indeed, not least because — if true — they would suggest a wanton disregard for the safety of the public as much as the driver.

You hear of ordinary roadgoers hitting trouble after blindly following the voice on the satnav but one of the best racing drivers in the world agreeing to crash on demand? Surely not?

“I think it is a very stupid thing to do because you take a lot of risk for nothing,” Red Bull’s title contender Sebastian Vettel told reporters at the Italian Grand Prix when asked whether he felt any Formula One driver would really be prepared to do that.

“As the driver you have the control of the car and yes we are always driving on the limit and sometimes things go wrong and sometimes you might have a crash.

“But if you do it on purpose you know there is risk for yourself and also risk for others, you can’t anticipate how big it is going to be and what will happen. Therefore I don’t think it’s a good or clever thing to do.

“The most important point is why would you take the risk, for yourself, for others, for spectators or whosoever?

“I wouldn’t do it no matter what situation I was in…it doesn’t make sense to you as a driver. In the end you are the one looking after yourself and deciding for yourself. You have the steering wheel in your hands and you are the one to decide.”

PHOTO: Former Renault Formula One driver Piquet of Brazil drives during practice session for Singapore F1 Grand Prix. Sep 27,2008 REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

6 comments

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It’s very easy to say that you will not do that. Great that reaction of Vettel, but he can’t imaging how it was for Nelson. Nelson worked his whole life to become a formula 1 driver. Of course he have had some advantages that his dad was a threefold world champion, but he also has had en still have a lot of disadvantages of this fact. At the moment that Nelson drove for the Renault team, he didn’t get the support of the Renault team and because it was not going that well, it was important for him to keep his car. When you really are in such a difficult situation, you make other decisions than you should do normally. So, everyone can have a opinion about this, but you should keep in mind how the situation was for Nelson! So, don’t judge him, blame the Renault team that they asked it him!

Posted by Mariette Lokate | Report as abusive

In answer to the headline…
If it meant I would drive the Renault F1 car I would ask
‘How hard do you want me to hit it?’

Posted by Caccarella | Report as abusive

Nelson Piquet has lost his driving seat because he is just not good enough ( regardsless of who his father is)This is the worst case of sour grapes ever seen and he claims he crashed on purpose – what an idiot ( read the comment from Vettel-nobody of sound mind crashes on purpose) No team will ever put him into a car again. No loyalty, no principals – he does not deserve to be in Formula 1. Get a life Nelson!

Posted by Mel Arenhold | Report as abusive

Surely Alonso would be aware of this plan, deliberately taken a light fuel load to get into pole position. Does look like a carefully planned conspiracy involving Briatore, Symonds and Alonso. Having read the full transcript of Piquet it seems to me a honest confession.

Posted by B | Report as abusive

I believe that despite the many different points of view relating to what the truth might be, we should still look at the facts:-

(1) Alonso qualified in the lower part of the grid, yet he started
with a light fuel load. Why?? All the engineers in the paddock would tell you that this is a strategy that would never work. Sure, you might overtake the heavier cars in the early period of the race, but then you lose the advantage later.
(2) Alonso refuels early and, just by sheer coincidence, his team mate crashes a short time later, at a place on the track where it was impossible to remove the wreckage. Safety car deployed to everyone’s disadvantage except Alonso. If you read the race report, there were many people within the teams that were highly suspicious of the so called coincidences that contributed to Alonso’s win. And it wasn’t “sour grapes”.

Posted by Colin | Report as abusive

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