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Renault to pay Piquets 'substantial' libel damages

7 December 2010

Renault F1 has agreed to pay Nelsinho Piquet and his father Nelson Piquet 'substantial damages' for defamation over the infamous 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal that rocked the sport last year – with the team 'apologising unreservedly...for the distress and embarrassment caused'.

In the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix two years ago, Piquet was instructed by then Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds to deliberately crash in order to enable team-mate Fernando Alonso to benefit from a safety car period and – by dint of having made his own pit-stop just a handful of laps earlier – scamper away to victory from a distinctly unfavourable grid slot.

Although he held his tongue at the time, Piquet subsequently blew the whistle on the conspiracy shortly after being dismissed by the Enstone-based outfit midway through 2009, by informing F1's governing body the FIA of what had happened. In the subsequent World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) hearing into the matter, Renault was lucky to escape an outright ban from competing in the sport, though the very public and global embarrassment that ensued was enough to convince the French car maker to all-but pull out anyway come season's end.

Now, following a High Court hearing, Renault F1 has accepted that it was wrong to issue a 'sensational' press release on 11 September, 2009 – at the very time that the FIA was investigating the circumstances of the incident – in which it accused Piquet Jnr and Snr of having 'lied' by 'deliberately inventing...false allegations' in an effort to 'blackmail' the team to keep the former on-board until the end of the 2009 campaign, thereby suggesting they 'were guilty of a serious criminal offence'.

'Today, the Renault F1 Team apologised in the High Court for defaming my two clients, the motor racing father and son Nelson and Nelsinho Piquet,' read a statement from the pair's lawyer, Dominic Crossley of Collyer Bristow LLP. 'This marks the start rather than the end of the long journey they are both taking to correct many of the wrongs that took place during last year's 'crashgate' scandal.

'They were both treated appallingly by Renault F1 when they dared to reveal the scandal to the governing body, and Nelsinho was abused terribly throughout his absurdly short career in F1. It is to the immense credit of both my clients that they have refused to be deterred from righting the wrongs, despite the ferocity of the attacks and the size of the opponents they have had to confront.

'Nelson Piquet dominated F1 during the early '80s, and his reputation as a motorsport legend should remain untarnished by this saga. F1 has been deprived of the best of Nelsinho, and it is to its detriment that his talent is now being demonstrated elsewhere. Whilst neither of them should ever have had to prove Renault F1's allegations false, they are both delighted with the successful conclusion of the case.'

Following their libel victory and Renault F1's agreement to pay an undisclosed but 'substantial' sum in damages to them as well as the team's co-operation in 'setting the record straight', the Piquets confirmed that they are now 'prepared to let the matter rest'. An official apology from Renault F1 acknowledged the 'hurt and distress' it had caused through its 'regrettable publication' and 'wholly untrue...suggestion that the Claimants had lied by making false allegations'.

'On 11 September, 2009, Renault F1 Team Limited issued a press release, which was repeated on our website, in which we suggested that Nelson Piquet Jnr and his father had lied by making false allegations that members of the team and Nelson Piquet Jnr caused a deliberate accident in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix,' read the statement.

'We also suggested that these lies were invented in order to blackmail the Defendant into allowing Mr. Piquet Jnr to drive for the team for the remainder of the 2009 season, and [that] he and his father were therefore guilty of a serious criminal offence.

'The team fully accepts – as it did before the World Motor Sport Council of the FIA and as found by the WMSC in its decision of 21 September, 2009 – that the allegations made by Nelson Piquet Jnr were not false. It also accepts that Mr. Piquet Jnr and his father did not invent these allegations in order to blackmail the team.

'As a result, these serious allegations contained in the press release were wholly untrue and unfounded, and we withdraw them unequivocally. We would like to apologise unreservedly to Mr. Piquet Jnr and his father for the distress and embarrassment caused as a result. As a mark of the sincerity of our apology and regret, we have agreed to pay them a substantial amount of damages for libel as well as their costs, and have undertaken not to repeat these allegations at any time in the future.'


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