NOVEMBER 23, 2007

The case against Renault

Things have gone pretty quiet of late about the Renault espionage allegations with only Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore banging on about how the team has not really done much wrong and that his engineers took only cursory glances at the various systems and that the information was just a few old floppy discs. Renault has already admitted that it is more involved in this than McLaren was ever proved to be in its case with the FIA. Presumably the team's defence will be an apparent open-ness but the argument that the data was not that important and that no-one much looked at it.

The World Council may not have liked the way McLaren defended itself in its case, but it failed to produce any clear evidence that McLaren had used any of the information that was in the paperwork that was found in Mike Coughlan's house. McLaren's case against will presumably be based on explaining just how much data was involved and who had access to it.

So the big question is what did Renault get from McLaren and who saw it. The complete dossier from the various parties are now with the FIA and we hear from our sources that these make very interesting reading. The file apparently includes 18 witness statements from Renault F1 employees, admitting that they saw the data from McLaren and an indication that this was viewed on as many as 11 different Renault F1 computers. The list apparently includes the following engineers: Tim Densham (Chief Designer), Martin Tolliday (Deputy Chief Designer), James Allison (Deputy Technical Director), Robin Tuluie (Head of Research and Development), Nick Chester (Head of Vehicle Performance), Peter Duffy (Head of Mechanical Design) and Tony Osgood (Head of Transmission Design). This sounds like rather damaging evidence against Renault given that the most the FIA could prove against McLaren was that one engineer was briefly shown a single drawing by Mike Coughlan.

The other key point, of course, is the content of the disks that Renault received from former McLaren man Phil Mackereth. It seems from what we hear that there were 33 files included on 11 discs and these featured something in the region of 800 individual drawings, which outlined much of the detail of the McLaren 2006 and 2007 cars.

McLaren is apparently claiming that Renault knowingly and deliberately disseminated the data amongst its engineers, which is very different from what Briatore has said in his public statements and, apparently, what he said to the FIA President Max Mosley as well.

"We've had a dossier from Renault which doesn't look particularly damning," Mosley said at Spa. "But then again, you wouldn't expect it to. It's allegedly an employee who took some floppy disks with him, but we must wait and see what comes out from McLaren."

Now that information has been provided Mosley may wish to ask Briatore about the earlier submission.

If any of this is shown to be true - not that that really mattered in the McLaren case - then Renault is in big trouble with the FIA - if the federation is consistent in its judgements. And it cannot really afford not to be consistent because there remains the constant threat that this could escalate and civil authorities could be called in to look at the way in which the sport is run.

No doubt much of the paperwork will eventually come into the public domain and, if nothing else, we can read the transcripts of the case - as we were able to do in the case of McLaren - and so see what has been going on.

We have heard various rumours about whether or not Renault has been cooperating as much as it says it has.

The charge facing Renault is that the team breached Article 151c of the FIA International Sporting Code and was involved in "fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally". Defending that is going to be hard. The World Council may have been irritated by the way McLaren behaved at its hearings but that is not really the issue at hand. Evidence is what matters and the punishment will need to be very carefully thought out unless Mosley wants to face all manner of allegations himself.

One cay say that F1 needs to to try to suppress all the bad publicity about the spying. This, after all, does not have to be the last such case. But then again the spin doctors might prefer to argue that a little public purging is probably not a bad idea to show that the sport is clean and will remain so in the future. That will be a good thing as F1 moves towards a more corporate future.

Some are not sure that such things are ever really possible.

"Such things have always gone on in the industry and will always continue to do so," said Red Bull Racing's Adrian Newey recently. "The fact is that there have been far bigger breaches of personnel taking info with them from one team to another in the past which have gone undetected or without penalty. My personal opinion is that anything anyone can take with them in their head is fair game, but anything that is written or in electronic format is not."