DECEMBER 7, 2007

Analysing the Renault decision

The World Council has now published its decision in detail explaining why Renault was not punished for having been found to be in breach of Article 151(c) of the International Sporting Code, which prohibits "any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally".

The key point, known before the hearing, was that different Renault engineers received and considered confidential McLaren drawings from former McLaren engineer Phil Mackereth. Renault admitted that this was in breach of Article 151(c) of the International Sporting Code.

There were 33 files on 11 disks which Mackereth took home from McLaren and he also e-mailed a file called "peak2.tif" to himself. He also had possession of two hard copy drawings: one of the McLaren mass damper and one of a so-called "J-damper". This amounted to 762 pages of data. When he arrived at Renault he asked an IT person to load the data on the Renault IT system. Renault said that this was not viewed by anyone and this was accepted by the WMSC. Thus it is clear that the McLaren data was inside Renault computers whether or not it was in a personal directory or not.

This did not happen at McLaren.

The FIA says that Mackereth took a huge amount of data from McLaren but ruled that "the WMSC can be concerned only with what Renault had access to (rather than what Mackereth took) from McLaren".

This is a concept which does not seem to have been applied to the McLaren case where there was never any serious proof that anyone at McLaren had more than a glimpse of the 780 pages of Ferrari information that Mike Coughlan had and yet the 780 pages was referred to throughout the McLaren case.

The World Council was thus looking at just four drawings that Renault engineers admitted having seen. The fact that three were deemed to be "either of no use to Renault or were not in fact used by Renault" does not detract from the fact that they were examined by Renault engineers.

McLaren's so-called "J-damper" was used by Renault "to try to have the system McLaren was using declared illegal." This failed because Renault did not understanding the operation of the system.

Renault's own inquiry concluded that there was no dissemination beyond Mackereth but this was later demonstrated to be incorrect - not unlike the McLaren situation when the team said it did not know that the drivers had been told anything by Mike Coughlan.

McLaren argue that other documents might have been discussed, disseminated or used by Renault but the FIA seems not to have accepted this argument as there was no evidence found to back it up.

It is interesting to note that in the case of the four drawings that the FIA did consider that the McLaren fuel system was seen by the chief designer and a mechanical design engineer and the gear layout was looked at by the chief designer and the head of transmission so that obviously the right people were seeing the right drawings rather than it being a random inspection of the data.

There is also the case of the technical specifications of the McLaren MP4-22A which was revealed to be a "screen grab" of the 2007 McLaren car. Mackereth and Renault both denied that the file was sent to anyone.

The WMSC accepted this.

The WMSC went on to say that it is only concerned "with what Renault had access to or was influenced by as only this could have had an impact on the Championship."

This was not the case in the McLaren hearing where there was no evidence that McLaren had access to anything and yet the team was still punished.

The WMSC also said that it was not "live" data as there was no evidence of continuing flow of information between the two teams.

There was some criticism of Renault management noting "with strong disapproval the fact that there were individuals of sufficient seniority within Renault who should have known that the drawings that Mackereth showed them contained proprietary confidential information" and pointing out that "This organisational failing meant that they did not report the matter to their line managers as they should have done".

Once again the WMSC said that if any new information comes to light the matter may be re-opened by the FIA but there was no demand for a look at the 2008 car as happened with McLaren.

When all is said and done it is up to individuals to conclude what they will about the decisions. The differences between the two cases are worrying and the lack of evidence in one case and the evidence that has been rejected in the other is something which is bound to lead to questions.

One thing we do know for certain is that the two decisions taken feature completely different attitudes towards the teams in question with one being given the benefit of the doubt at every turn and the other being doubted at every turn and indeed ruled to have been doing something wrong based on no real evidence. Why was that?

The other message is that the FIA is not going to reconsider the possibility that the McLaren decision was excessive.

The key point now is how the F1 world views what has been done and whether the FIA is seen to have been fair.

When all is said and done the sport will get the governance it deserves and if that governance affects the blue chip companies involved in the business of the sport then that is the price that must be paid. As Sir Jackie Stewart said yesterday morning companies that have to be completely transparent and answer to shareholders will turn away from anything that has even a hint of trouble. We live in a post-Enron world where such things are simply not tolerated.

Similarly with the fans - and the media are nothing but the representatives of the fans - if we turn our back and walk away the sport will be poorer for it, but if that is what the sport deserves then so be it. We will watch it crumble or turn and watch something else.

If F1 wants to move forward the air must be cleared once and for all, decisions must be seen as being right and fair. There must be 100% faith in the governing body and no niggling questions and inconsistencies.