The consequences of Thursday’s Renault-McLaren spy hearing (updated)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Heikki Kovalainen, Renault, Istanbul, 2007 | Glenn Dunbar / LAT PhotographicThe most controversial season in memory drags on as the World Motor Sports Council waits to hear another enquiry into alleged spying tomorrow.

This could turn out to be an important moment for the sport particularly if Renault are found to be guilty of the same misdemeanour as McLaren.

It determine whether Fernando Alonso races in Formula 1 at all in 2008, whether Renault chooses to leave the sport, and whether F1 is to suffer another round of accusations of spying.

The consequences for Renault

What will Renault do if the FIA hit them with a McLaren-sized fine and penalty?

Many have suggested that Renault, being a major car manufacturer, would not wish to have its integrity attacked and so leave the sport. The team recently signed a new three-year deal with engine builder Mecachrome, so perhaps the team could be transferred to them?

Others suggest the FIA would avoid giving a manufacturer such a penalty in the first place, but I’m not convinced. Max Mosley had no qualms about throwing Toyota out of the World Rally Championship when they were caught cheating in the mid-1990s. And what did Toyota do? They came back to rallying after their ban, won the championship, and then set up an F1 team…

The consequences for Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, Monza, 2007, 2 | DaimlerHaving swiftly terminated his contract with McLaren following the end of the year Fernando Alonso was expect to return to his team of 2002-6, for at least one year as he is believed to have an agreement with Ferrari for 2009. The reason he hasn’t signed is believed to be because he is waiting to discover the outcome of the spying investigation which, ironically, was brought about by McLaren.

This hints at how seriously the matter is being taken by those in the know. Given the severity of McLaren’s punishment earlier this year Alonso must be genuinely concerned the team might suffer a debilitating fine, expulsion from the championship, or some other heavy punishment that leads it to leave F1 of its own volition.

The consequences for Giancarlo Fisichella, Heikki Kovalainen and Nelson Piquet Jnr

On the face of it, Alonso and Nelson Piquet Jnr seem the most likely contenders for Renault in 2008.

Fisichella is so confident of his future at the team he’s testing for Force India this week. But he may well be rooting for a (seemingly unlikely) scenario where Renault stays in F1 in 2008 but Alonso doesn’t join them, allowing the under-performing Fisichella to bag a fourth season with the team.

Kovalainen has already remarked that he would expect equal status at whatever team he drives for next year. Given Alonso vocal objection to that arrangement at McLaren this year, the two seem incompatible as team mates, despite how well they got on when Kovalainen was the Renault test driver in 2006.

The consequences for Red Bull

If Renault were thrown out of the 2008 championship, would they have to withdraw their engine supply to Red Bull?

Alternatively, others have suggested Red Bull as a home for Alonso should the Spaniard be unable to go to Renault. He would either swap with Mark Webber (who, like Alonso, is managed by Flavio Briatore) or David Coulthard – though the latter has loudly denied that could happen, and even suggested Alonso might go on sabbatical.

A further option might be Honda, presumably in Rubens Barrichello’s place, but new technical director Ross Brawn is very familiar with the Brazilian and has pledged his support.

The consequences for Formula 1

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault, Sepang, 2007 | GEPA PhotographicWhatever comes out of the verdict, there will be uproar if Renault are believed to have committed similar action to McLaren, but receive a substantially different penalty.

Material leaked by McLaren recently has indicated that several Renault personnel were aware of the team’s possession of McLaren intellectual property.

No doubt this is only McLaren’s side of the story. But it is worth remembering that it was never shown whether McLaren gained an advantage through possession of Ferrari’s intellectual property, and presumably this is all Renault need to be found guilty of. As the verdict against McLaren in September read:

The WMSC…finds 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. In addition, the WMSC finds 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. The evidence leads the WMSC to conclude that some degree of sporting advantage was obtained, though it may forever be impossible to quantify that advantage in concrete terms.

It seems likely that McLarens leaks so far have been aimed at putting people in the minds of these key points by which they were convicted earlier this year. But will the WMSC agree?

Update: McLaren today issued a press release (reproduced in full below) apparently at the FIA’s behest to correct various details about the case that had been reported earlier.

It seems McLaren’s charge against Renault has now been diluted to:
* Confidential information about the McLaren was copied onto a single Renault computer in September 2006.
* Nine employees saw it, two of which saw it on Phil Mackereth’s computer (including Mackereth).
* It constituted 18 technical drawings not 780 (it amounts to 762 pages when printed, but the 780 figure that many people thought was dodgy at first sight appears to have been so).
* The claim that Renault had an “entire technical blueprint of the 2006 and 2007 McLaren car” has become a “technical definition of the fundamental layout of the 2007 McLaren car and the technical details of its innovative and performance enhancing systems.”

Here’s the full statement from the McLaren website:

The FIA has asked us to correct certain factual errors contained in a press briefing given on our behalf by one journalist concerning Renault F1 and we are pleased to do so. The corrections are as follows.

In our briefing, we stated that there were 18 witness statements from Renault employees admitting that they had viewed McLaren confidential information.

To the extent that this implied that 18 different Renault employees admitted viewing McLaren confidential information it was inaccurate. 13 Renault F1 employees provided 18 witness statements and 9 of them have so far admitted they viewed and discussed the confidential technical information belonging to McLaren.

We stated that the confidential information on computer disks was uploaded onto 11 Renault computers.

This is not accurate. Mr Mackereth copied information onto 11 computer disks. The information on these 11 computer disks was uploaded by Renault IT staff in September 2006 onto Renault?s T: drive and then transferred by Mr Mackereth to his personal home directory stored on Renault’s network server. A back up copy of the material on Mr Mackereth?s personal directory was made onto an unknown number of Renault?s back up servers/tapes.

Our briefing could have been interpreted as suggesting that the Renault employees who admitted sight of McLaren Confidential Information all viewed it on computer screens.

Only Mr Mackereth and Mr Hardie admit viewing McLaren Confidential Information on Mr Mackereth?s computer. The other seven employees who have admitted seeing McLaren Confidential Information admit seeing it in the form of computer print outs or hard copy documents.

We said that the information on the 11 computer disks taken by Mr Mackereth included 780 individual drawings.

This was an error. The information taken by Mr Mackereth on floppy disks, in hard copy form and by email amounts to 762 pages when printed out. The 11 computer disks included 18 individual technical drawings. Mr Mackereth also admits that he took hard copy drawings of McLaren?s dampers.

We said that the McLaren information amounted to the “entire technical blueprint of the 2006 and 2007 McLaren car”.

This requires clarification. The position is that, the McLaren drawings plus the information in a confidential MP4 – 22A Specification document taken by Mr 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.

We are pleased to assist the FIA in making the above clear in advance of tomorrow’s hearing.

Photos: Glenn Dunbar / LAT Photographic | Daimler | GEPA Photographic

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