Intentional crash

On the 14th lap of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, racer Nelson Piquet Jr. crashed into a wall. He did it on purpose.

Benjamin Chia / CC BY

Most match-fixing involves deliberately underperforming, but usually that means doing a mediocre job (dropping catches, pulling punches, taking a dive). The 2008 Renault Formula One racing car team took match-fixing to a new and dangerous level: they purposely crashed a car during the race.

How would this help? Well, it certainly didn’t help the driver of that car, Nelson Piquet Jr., but his teammate in the same race got a huge boost. Cars always lose time when they go into the pits to refuel and change tires. It was odd then that the other Renault F1 racer – Fernando Alonso, who was quite far back – took the first pit stop of the race. This put him dead last… but with a very heavy and fuelled-up car. Three laps later, this would go from a big problem to a big advantage.

On Lap 14 (of 61), Alonso’s teammate Piquet Jr. spun out and crashed into a wall. He was fine but the car was smashed.

That meant a safety car (pace car) would come out and slow everyone down until the crashed car could be cleared from the track. And under the Formula One rules of the time, the pits were closed.

This crash had several knock-on effects. First, every car was bunched up behind the safety car, cutting down on the leaders’ leads considerably. Because most cars had not refuelled, they still needed to make a pit stop. Some were so low on fuel that they pulled into the pit anyway, and were penalised for it. A Ferrari driven by Felipe Massa was released from the pits with the fuel hose still attached, and it nearly crashed into another car leaving the pit stop at the same time. In other words: total anarchy.

Piquet Jr.’s teammate Alonso, having fuelled up before the crash, was in an ideal position to weather these problems. When the dust had settled, he was in first place, and went on to win the race. At the time, it was seen as a combination of good driving and good luck. But that perception didn’t last.

The next year, Piquet Jr. was dropped from the Renault team. The same month, presumably in retaliation, he accused two of the team’s directors of ordering him to crash. One of them in turn alleged that the crash was Piquet Jr.’s idea in the first place. In the end, all three were out of Renault F1 – the two directors resigned ahead of a disciplinary meeting, and Piquet Jr. never raced in Formula One again.

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