The Renault Formula One team apologized unreservedly to triple-world champion Nelson Piquet and his son on Tuesday and agreed to pay them substantial damages for libel resulting from race-fixing allegations last year.
“It’s a bit late in the story, but better late than never,” Piquet Jr, known as Nelsinho, said by telephone after the apology in the London High Court. “They’ve apologized. It’s nothing special. They should have done it earlier.”
Nelsinho Piquet triggered one of the sport’s biggest scandals last year when he told the governing FIA that he had been ordered to crash deliberately at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to help teammate Fernando Alonso win.
Former champions Renault, who were subsequently handed a suspended permanent ban, had issued a media release in September last year accusing the Brazilians of lying as part of a blackmail attempt.
The younger Piquet had been dropped by the British-based team in July before speaking to the FIA, which was still investigating the accusations when Renault F1 made their defamatory statement.
“The Team accepts ... that the allegations made by Nelson Piquet Junior were not false,” Renault said in a statement read out in the London High Court and posted on their Web site (www.renaultf1.com). “It [the team] also accepts that Mr Piquet Junior 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,” the statement continued. “We would like to apologise unreservedly to Mr Piquet Junior and his father for the distress and embarrassment caused as a result.”
The Piquets’ lawyer, Dominic Crossley, said both men had been treated “appallingly” by Renault F1, who parted from former team boss Flavio Briatore before the Italian was handed a lifetime ban from Formula One.
That ban was overturned in January.
Crossley added in a statement that the apology was “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.”
Piquet Jr, whose progression to Formula One was bankrolled heavily by his father, is now racing in the NASCAR truck series in the US after failing to find any further opportunities in Formula One.
He said he was on the verge of finalizing a deal for a full season next year and made clear Formula One was in the past.
“I am just a bit realistic,” he said. “F1 is F1. You don’t just go in when you want to. It didn’t work out and I’m not going to keep begging and putting in money to drive.”