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DECEMBER 7, 2007

Comparisons between the Renault and McLaren cases

The decision by the FIA World Council in September to fine McLaren $100m and take away all the team's Constructors' World Championship points and the decision yesterday not to give Renault any punishment despite very similar charges will lead to much analysis of the differences between the two cases as it is hard for observers to understand why one warrants a massive penalty - the biggest in the history of any sport - and the other warrants no action at all.

In justifying the McLaren punishment the WMSC said that it was "not necessary for it [The World Motor Sport Council] to demonstrate that any confidential Ferrari information was directly copied by McLaren or put to direct use in the McLaren car to justify a finding that Article 151(c) was breached and/or that a penalty is merited". Nor did the WMSC feel the need to show that "any information improperly held led to any specifically identified sporting advantage, or indeed any advantage at all". The justification was that the WMSC "is entitled to treat possession of another team's information as an offence meriting a penalty on its own if it so chooses."

In the case of Renault there was no question of possession.

The WMSC in September went on to say that "neither the finding of a breach nor the imposition of a penalty require evidence of McLaren having directly incorporated Ferrari technology. Nonetheless, the WMSC have noted and taken account of the open and co-operative nature of this offer and taken this into account in reaching this decision."

So McLaren and Renault both cooperated with the FIA.

The World Council concluded that "the information has been disseminated, at least to some degree, within the McLaren team".

True of Renault too.

The WMSC in September ruled that "there was a clear intention on the part of a number of McLaren personnel to use some of the Ferrari confidential information in its own testing. If this was not in fact carried into effect it was only because there were technical reasons not to do so".

According to journalistic sources close to the FIA the decision to let Renault off the charge was based on a technical report by the FIA's Charlie Whiting that indicated that Whiting had visited the Renault factory to see if any of the McLaren information specifically related to the case has been used in the 2007 car.

He seems to have concluded that it had not been.

But is that proof that it was not considered for use, which appears to have been McLaren's crime?

The WMSC ruled in September that "a number of McLaren employees or agents were in unauthorised possession of, or knew or should have known that other McLaren employees or agents were in unauthorised possession of, highly confidential Ferrari technical information" and that "there was an intention on the part of a number of McLaren personnel to use some of the Ferrari confidential information in its own testing".

If there was no value in the documentation that Phil Mackereth took to Renault from McLaren why did so many of the Renault engineers look at it if there was no intention to try to learn from it? The fact that it was not used is not the point if the arguments are based on what happened in the McLaren case. The knowledge that they gained from looking at this information would have taught them something, if only that it was not what they wanted.

McLaren was ruled to have obtained "some degree of sporting advantage" from the data it saw, and it is hard to understand why the same is not true of Renault.

The FIA said it was impossible to quantify this in the case of McLaren and one must argue the same in the case of Renault.

On the surface therefore it is hard to see why the two cases are different but hopefully the FIA will clarify this later today.