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DECEMBER 5, 2007

The night before the World Council

Thursday is going to be a highly-charged day in Formula 1 circles as the FIA World Council members gather in Monte Carlo to decide what to do about the espionage claims against Renault F1. After the Council's astonishing ruling in September, it is going to be difficult to try to justify a lesser punishment against Renault as the evidence put forward appears to be far more damaging than that in the McLaren case. The FIA may argue that McLaren was punished because it tried to hide what it had done and that Renault was much more open but such a judgement is stepping into a legal minefield because there is no evidence that McLaren did anything beyond what it has said it did. Thus, to be totally fair, the same rules must apply in the Renault case.

The level of discontent in F1 circles is now just below the surface and a controversial decision could lead to an outburst of public criticism of the federation as those involved become more determined to see that justice is properly done and that the espionage problems be ended quickly and fairly. There is the possibility of an amnesty for all concerned and a new code of conduct but that would involve giving back McLaren's points and withdrawing the $100m fine. Ferrari might make a fuss but as it has won both World Championships (assuming that the McLaren points in Budapest remain outside the decision) so there is less reason to be difficult. That might be the wisest thing to do and if teams wish to take civil action against one another then that will be left to them to do. Once those have been settled the FIA would be in much stronger position to justify punishment. In such a case it would be wise for all concerned to agree not to go after one another for damages to their reputations. That would wipe out the problems in an instant and get the sport moving in the right direction once again.

The danger is that the World Council decision against Renault may open up even bigger problems if it is not perceived to be on a par with what happened to McLaren. There would no doubt be much justification of such a decision but would that be enough to stop the unrest?

Obviously much has been going on behind the scenes in recent days and on Wednesday evening the FIA asked McLaren to make corrections to a press briefing that was given to certain journalists about the Renault case. This is rather odd as there were all manner of wild stories circulating before the McLaren case back in July but there was no FIA reaction at that point, although there was much speculation that the media was being briefed by Ferrari.

Whatever the details, the story is not much better news for Renault. There were, for example, 18 witness statements from Renault employees admitting that they had viewed McLaren confidential information but these were provided not by 18 individuals but rather only from 13 and only nine of them admitted that they viewed the McLaren technical information. There were 11 disks loaded on to Renault computers but it seems that all that Renault staff are admitting is that they saw computer print outs or hard copies of the documents. The documents ran to 762 pages which included 18 technical drawings rather than the suggestions that there were that many drawings. Renault engineer Phil Mackereth admits that he took hard copy drawings of McLaren™s dampers and McLaren says that the drawings plus the information in a confidential MP4-22A specification document taken by Mackereth constitute "a technical definition of the fundamental layout of the 2007 McLaren car and the technical details of its innovative and performance enhancing systems".

The details are a little different to what was suggested - but the reality is that this does not affect the charges against Renault. This interlude could, in theory, provide the FIA with a loophole to try to say that the team cannot be given a fair hearing because of the information that leaked into the public domain, but that did not stop the federation making a decision against McLaren back in September and there is no reason why it should now stop a similar penalty being applied to Renault.

A decision that is perceived to be unfair is likely to be big trouble. Attitudes have been hardening in F1 for some months and there are signs that a decision seen as being unfair will lead to calls for resignations within the FIA. The federation does not have to listen to such criticism - and is unlikely to do so - but that is not going to solve the problem of an erosion of credibility that some feel has been going on.

McLaren is unlikely to appeal nor go to a civil court, but if the team is not happy with the judgement there is a sound argument for putting in charges implicating yet another team, thus forcing the FIA to consider more charges and make more decisions.

The proceedings of the World Council will presumably be recorded and made available to the international media - as was the case in the McLaren hearings. To do anything less than that would be perceived as being unfair as all of McLaren's supposed transgressions were detailed in endless pages of transcript.