When I was a poor student living in Montreal in the mid-1960s, I stayed for a year with family friends. He was a vice-president of Canadian National Railway and very politically connected; she enjoyed English society and supported the arts.
One evening at dinner, the subject turned to hockey and the third-period collapse the previous Saturday night of the Boston Bruins, who had been leading 4-1 when the period started and wound up losing to the Canadiens, 5-4.
I thought it had been an extraordinary sporting comeback, and said so. I was shocked to the core when the gentleman looked at me and said: “It was fixed.”
“What?” I stammered.
“It was fixed. All sports are fixed – one way or another. Whenever there’s big money involved, you can bet the fix is in.”
I didn’t believe him then and I don’t think I believe him now. But his words keep coming back to me every time I read or hear about what’s going on in Formula 1.
To review: Nelson Piquet Sr. and Jr. have reportedly told the FIA that Junior was ordered to crash on purpose at last year’s Grand Prix of Singapore on a particular lap (shortly after his teammate, Fernando Alonso, pitted) and at a particular part of the street course (where there weren’t any cranes, thus guaranteeing a safety car).
Piquet Jr. wasn’t hurt in the ensuing accident; Alonso wound up in first place when the safety car was deployed and went on to win the race.
The allegations have been taken seriously. The FIA is investigating and the matter will come before the World Motorsport Council in the coming weeks.
Renault has not responded to the allegations. Team principal Flavio Briatore and engineer Pat Symonds have reportedly acknowledged meeting with Piquet and discussing the accident scenario but Symonds said it was Piquet’s idea, not theirs.
(Is this professional wrestling, or what?)
The thing about F1 in this high-tech age is that hardly anybody can get away with anything any more. A driver, for instance, can’t say it’s the car’s fault if he spins because the team has the telemetry and can tell if the driver stayed too long on the throttle, or hit the brake too hard, or whatever.
And all of this material – telemetry, radio transmissions between driver and team, and so-on – is copied and sent to the FIA after every race. So when the FIA investigation of the Piquet incident gets down to the nitty-gritty, and all of this evidence is examined, it could be pretty clear who’s telling the truth.
And although Briatore is pointing fingers and claiming it’s a shakedown orchestrated by the Piquets as the result of his letting Junior go in mid-season, where there’s smoke there’s usually fire and the words of that CN executive in Montreal back in the 1960s keep popping back into my head:
“Whenever there’s big money involved, you can bet the fix is in.”