NOVEMBER 9, 2007
Following the announcement of an FIA investigation into Renault yesterday the ING Renault F1 Team has issued a statement "to clarify the situation". The team admits that on September 6 2007 it discovered that engineer Phil Mackereth, who joined the team from McLaren in Sept 2006, had "brought with him some information that was considered to be proprietary to McLaren".
The team went on to say that this was contained on floppy discs and included copies of some McLaren engineering drawings and technical spreadsheets.
Renault admits that this information was loaded "at the request of Mackereth" on to his personal directory on the Renault F1 Team file system. This was done "without the knowledge of anyone in authority in the team". Renault says that "as soon as the situation was brought to the attention of the team's technical management, the following actions were taken: the information was completely cleansed from the team's computer systems and a formal investigation was started. We promptly informed McLaren of the situation and immediately after the FIA. Since then we have constantly and regularly kept McLaren and the FIA informed on all relevant findings. Mackereth was immediately suspended from his position".
Renault says that the original discs were impounded and sent to its solicitors to be returned to McLaren.
"Our formal investigation showed that early in his employment with Renault Mackereth made some of our engineers aware of parts of this information in the form of a few reduced scale engineering drawings," Renault went on to say."These drawings covered four basic systems as used by McLaren and were: the internal layout of the fuel tank, the basic layout of the gear clusters, a tuned mass damper and a suspension damper. Subsequent witness statements from the engineers involved have categorically stated that having been briefly shown these drawings, none of this information was used to influence design decisions relating to the Renault car. In the particular case of the tuned mass damper, these had already been deemed illegal by the FIA and therefore the drawing was of no value. The suspension damper drawing hinted that the McLaren design might be similarly considered illegal and a subsequent clarification from the FIA confirmed this based upon our crude interpretation of the concept."
Given what Renault has admitted it is fairly clear that the team is in at least as bad a situation as was McLaren - something which Flavio Briatore denied when the first rumours emerged about the problem.
Some would argue that this is much worse as Renault is admitting that the information was inside its factory and in its computer network - something which McLaren denied being the case with the documents that Mike Coughlan received from Ferrari and of which not trace has been found despite strenuous efforts by the FIA.
The argument that not much information was involved is irrelevant as the FIA rules do not quantify how much espionage is acceptable. A dozen disks are as bad as 780 pages of paperwork.
The fact that there are witness statements from a number of Renault engineers (we hear the number is 15) admitting that they have seen the data suggests that this is much more of a problem than was the case against McLaren.
The question we cannot answer is what was included in these witness statements and what was admitted by the engineers involved. Renault says that only minimal information was seen. That argument did not work for McLaren and there is not reason to suggest it would work for Renault. These details will no doubt come out in either the judgement of the case or in the transcripts of the World Council meeting.
Renault says that it has cooperated fully and has been "proactive in solving this matter". This did not help McLaren and so there is no reason to suggest it will help Renault.
On the face of it, therefore, the least that Renault can expect is a similar punishment to McLaren: a fine of $100m and the loss of all the team's points for 2007.
For the punishment to be anything less than that - given what the team has admitted - would not be fair.