Formula 1

Crashgate scandal: How Fernando Alonso won from P15 at Singapore GP 2008

Chetan Anand

April 5 2023
Fernando Alonso P15 Singapore Grand Prix 2008 F1 Formula 1

This was one of the biggest scandals in sports history.

Max Verstappen is in the form of his life and it can’t be debated. Last weekend, he couldn’t make it past Q2 because of the gearbox failure. He was placed P15 in the grid due to not completing his lap. “He has won from P14 in the past (Belgium ’22). Shouldn’t be too hard from P15” was the mood around. However, he couldn’t go all the way but finished second with the fastest lap to maintain his championship lead.

Has anyone won starting particularly from P15? Say no more, the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix produced one of the biggest scandals in sports history – Crashgate.

“Historic Race”

Following a regulation change, Fernando Alonso moved to McLaren in 2007. He ultimately lost the title by one point. He returned to Renault the following year. However, since the Spaniard had left, Renault had secured only two podiums without a win. The Singapore GP was the 15th round of the season. Alonso had qualified only fifteenth while his teammate Nelson Piquet Junior was just behind him. In Lap 12, Alonso came in to refuel and came out bottom of the field. Moments later, in Lap 14, Piquet Jr. crashed into the wall and caused the safety car.

The preciseness of the crash gave Alonso the advantage in terms of pitstops. The field had crossed the pit gate so they had to wait until the safety car made a lap around.

This turned out to be a massive boon for Alonso; as per 2008’s sporting regulations, the pit lane was to remain closed during a safety car period until all running cars had lined up behind the safety car. This meant that anyone who pitted during the safety car period would be forced to rejoin at the back of the field, as opposed to the more traditional regulations that would allow cars to stop during a safety car period and lose very little track time. Teams were forced to do double stacking and most of them weren’t as smooth as one would hope.

When the race restarted, Alonso didn’t lead right away, but he did gain significant track position because many of the leaders pitted and returned to the track blended in among much slower cars. However, the cars in front of Alonso were those that had stayed out – meaning that, eventually, they’d need to come in.

He maintained the lead till the end to register Renault’s first victory since Japan GP 2006. After the victory, Alonso said, “This is a historic race”.

Piquet Jr’s Statement

The Brazilian opened up to FIA and revealed that the result of the Singapore GP 2008 was manhandled. This came as a shock to the Formula 1 fraternity as fixing a race wasn’t even considered a remotely viable possibility back then. It was speculated a bit at that moment because of the perfect coincidence of the events. But all faded out and it was almost a year since that happened. But Piquet Jr’s statement sparked a major controversy and in no time, the meeting was called in.

Renault didn’t settle. They sued Nelson Piquet Jr. and his father, a three-times champion himself, for attempting to make false allegations. Later on, the Brazilian was stripped off his seat and was replaced by Romain Grosjean.

Piquet Jr. alleged that he was in a “fragile and emotional state of mind” because he had no idea if he was going to be signed by Renault for a second season. “When I was asked to crash my car and cause a safety car incident in order to help the team, I accepted because I hoped that it could improve my position within the team at this critical time in the race season,” Piquet said. “At no point was I told by anyone that by agreeing to cause an incident, I would be guaranteed a renewal of my contract or any other advantage. However, in the context, I thought that it would be helpful in achieving this goal. I, therefore, agreed to cause the incident.”

Who Suffered?

Following the scandal, Piquet Jr’s Formula 1 career was put to full stop. No team signed him up and he was forced to NASCAR. He later went on to become the first-ever Formula E champion in 2014. Fernando Alonso remained harmless as he stated that he had no knowledge of the potential crash.

Renault were disqualified from the sport and were banned for the following two years. They were further told that if they do the repeat of Singapore ’08, they would be banned indefinitely. However, they continued in Formula 1 as engine suppliers and formed one of the most iconic partnerships with Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel.

Flavio Briatore was handed out a lifetime ban from FIA as he adamantly refused to accept his deeds. He couldn’t even manage drivers as the drivers associated to him would be stripped off their Super License. Pat Symonds was given a five-year ban from FIA Events – his punishment was less severe because he accepted his deeds.

On the track, no one was the bigger loser than Felipe Massa. He started the race on pole but due to the reshuffling, he could only finish 13th. His rival Lewis Hamilton’s P3 finish sent him seven points clear with only three races to go. The Brazilian Ferrari driver ultimately lost the 2008 championship in the last lap of the season by just a single point. To this date, he blames the scandal for keeping him from his first-ever Formula 1 Championship.

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