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Formula 1 is anything but a controversy-laden sport. The premium form of motorsport has rarely seen huge scandals or controversies since its inception. However, the 2008 scandal in the Singapore GP shook the foundation of the sport, almost.

The recent Oscar Piastri saga with Alpine & McLaren or last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix controversy was arguably demeaning and damaging to the sport. However, the Crashgate scandal is one such incident that has almost took people’s faith away from racing.

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Even though racing prevailed and no further incidents occurred as such, the Crashgate scandal will always remain an event hard to forget. Here is everything you need to know about the scandal.

What is the Crashgate Scandal?

The sporting scandal caused by Renault in Formula 1 in the 2008 season is known as the Crashgate scandal. The name Crashgate was coined by the media as Nelson Piquet Jr. allegedly crashed in the Singapore GP on purpose, which provided a huge cushion to his teammate Fernando Alonso.

As Singapore Grand Prix laid the foundation of night racing, on September 28, 2008, Nelson Piquet Jr. of the Renault F1 team crashed his Renault R28 against the wall in turn 17 of Lap 14, bringing in the safety car. Prior to this crash, Alonso had already pitted for fresher tires and refueling. As a result of the safety car, all the cars piled up behind the safety car.

This resulted in all the other cars waiting for the pit lane to open, and once open, they all went for pit stops, creating a huge ruckus. Teams had to double stack in order to give impetus against rival teams. Alonso, on the other hand, had already pitted and gained the solid advantage of reaching P1 without much effort as all the other cars went into the pits and fell behind.

The Spaniard held off his lead till the end and finally won the 2008 Singapore GP, despite starting from P15 on the grid. Piquet Jr, son of F1 legend Nelson Piquet, described the event as a “simple mistake.”

Even though few people didn’t want to believe the simple race ending, FIA dismissed the complaints as speculations. Renault F1’s executives in charge Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds got away without any signs of trouble regarding the race fixing for the time.

The backdrop of the scandal

Fernando Alonso won the 2005 and 2006 F1 world championships with Renault. Both the parties were ecstatic about the back-to-back wins until the Spanish driver decided to part ways with the team. Alonso left Renault to join McLaren for 2007.

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However, a stiff contest from Hamilton and the pain of losing the title by one point to Kimi Raikkonen brought the current Alpine driver back to Renault again in 2008. As a matter of fact, things didn’t turn out to be fruitful this time around, as Alonso failed to make a mark in the 2008 season.

As McLaren was fighting for wins with Hamilton, it was Renault’s Alonso who was languishing in the bottom half of the top 10. Hamilton was fighting for the title with Ferrari driver Felipe Massa. As the Singapore GP approached, a win here proved to be a much-needed boost, both for Alonso and his team.

How the scandal became public?

Even though it was regarded as a “simple mistake” by Piquet Jr. at the time of the incident, later on, he revealed the story behind this. It was Nelson Piquet Jr. himself who raised the curtain. As Renault sacked the Brazilian driver for his lack of performance, Piquet Jr. opened up to the FIA about it.

As Piquet Jr. was replaced by Romain Grosjean, it was a huge blow for Renault and FIA as he decided to drop the bomb in 2009, almost a year later of Singapore GP. FIA soon after decided to take effective action. This has come as a shock, as few people can comprehend that a race result can be manufactured!

While addressing the media, Piquet Jr. reported, “Because I am telling the truth I have nothing to fear, whether from the Renault team or Mr. Briatore, and while 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”.

FIA decided to hold the World Motorsports Council Meeting on the 21st of September 2009. Amid all this, Renault F1 started a legal battle against Nelson Piquet Jr. and his father against what they referred to as ‘blackmail’ to stay in the team.

What followed past the allegation and what’s the final verdict?

Prior to the verdict made in FIA’s meeting, Briatore left the team stating, “I was just trying to save the team. It’s my duty. That’s the reason I’ve finished.” The other accused, Pat Symonds, also left the Enstone-based F1 team.

As the verdict came out, FIA suspended Renault from F1 for two years. Pat Symonds was banned for five years and Flavio Briatore was banned indefinitely from any FIA-sanctioned events. However, the decision was overturned a few years later. Interestingly, Fernando Alonso was cleared of any wrongdoings.

As for Nelson Piquet Jr., he moved to American motorsport NASCAR, and from there on to Formula E.

How did the F1 world react to the scandal?

F1 legend late Niki Lauda stated, “The biggest damage ever. Now the FIA must punish Renault heavily to restore credibility in the sport.”

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Jackie Stewart, another stalwart in F1, shared, “There is something fundamentally rotten and wrong at the heart of Formula One. Never in my experience has Formula One been in such a mood of self-destruction.”

F1’s Martin Brundle conveyed, “Piquet didn’t deliver at Renault, he wasn’t fast enough, that’s why he was released and that’s why he has dropped hand grenades into the system ever since.”

Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone stated, “You can’t defend him [Briatore] at all. What he did was completely unnecessary. It’s a pity that it’s happened.”

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All in all, the Marina Bay Street race will remind fans about the ‘Crashgate scandal’ from time to time.

Written by

Sabyasachi Biswas

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Sabyasachi Biswas is an F1 and NASCAR writer at EssentiallySports. He has completed his Master's in Mass Communication and Journalism from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Sabyasachi is an ardent Red Bull and Max Verstappen fan and has been following the sport for over a decade now.
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Edited by

Ranvijay Singh