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

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

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  1. darkblueturbo said on 5th December 2007, 11:38

    ‘If’ they are found in the same position as McLaren was then the WMSC HAVE to apply the same penalty.
    From his comments at the time this is surely exactly what Briatore himself would expect!

    Renault will then cry about it and leave the series.

    Leaving the way open for Prodrive to buy them lock stock and barrel (at a reduced rate) and enter as a contructor of rebadged Renaults, with a double world champion (Fernando) and a future world champion (Heiki) as their pilots.

    OR… WMSC fearful of a major (potentially competitive, unlike Toyota and Honda) manufacturer leaving the series will back out and give some wishy-washy nonesense statement that lets them off scot free, or with a much reduced penalty.
    Mindful of the fact that as it’s off-season most of the F1 audience will be unaware of it and not too bothered and just sit down next year and carry on watching.

  2. The FIA are not exactly known for their consistency these days. I wouldn’t depend on precedent to determine what penalty Renault will get, or even whether they will be penalised (remember McLaren’s “cool fuel” appeal was rejected on the equivalent of not filling in the right form).

  3. What is to prevent the FIA doing exactly as they wish with the problem? Obviously, they don’t want to endanger Renault’s continuing participation in the sport so they will fudge the issue by declaring it entirely different from the McLaren case. Yes, there will be uproar over such a decision but when has the FIA had a problem with that? They’ll sit tight and let people think what they want, confident in the knowledge that they run the sport and no-one can tell them what to do.

    The worst of it is that, after Renault have been allowed to escape scot free, we can expect more crowing and jeering at McLaren from that prize buffoon, Flavio Briatore.

  4. McLaren penalty was so huge to be proportional to their budget – that is what FIA said. So Renault with smaller budget may escape with smaller penalty… FIA left the doors open for this …

    The other difference from FIA point of view may be, that McLaren would not leave F1 no matter what fine (unless joined by all other manufacturers in their doomed breakaway series). Renault however might and I doubt Max and FIA would want that at this moment …

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th December 2007, 14:46

    Actually the most recent figures available indicate Renault F1 Team’s turnover was higher than McLaren’s in 2005.

  6. well, than Max would have to find different excuse :-)

  7. I’ll wager that there will be some kind of legal loophole or procedural technicality that will see Renault escape scot-free from any wrongdoing whatsoever, whilst McLaren are punished for allowing an employee to take sensitive McLaren data to another team.

  8. Rohan said on 5th December 2007, 15:46

    “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”

    And yet McLaren complained about leaks coming from Ferrari. Yet another example of McLaren’s double standards.

  9. Number 38 said on 5th December 2007, 16:20

    Read all this legal gobbly-gook:

    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.

    and then consider one or more Michelin employees have joined Bridgestone. Is the WMSC or FIA now going to fine Bridgestone? Ban Bridgestone from 2008? You get the picture. This was not a spying case, McLaren didn’t plant a spy in Ferrari the data came to McLaren on it’s own. This happens everyday, a disgruntled employees takes data to his new employer, so what!
    There’s no evidence McLaren ever got to use the Ferrari data.
    The bottom line is McLaren were fined for “bringing disrepute on the sport” but the real truth is the FIA is guilty of that “crime”.

  10. Daniel PT said on 5th December 2007, 18:16

    Actually i don’t want Renault out of F1, but anything less than a fine is outrageous. There are slight diferences between both cases, but i still believe that, at the end, both are guilty and both employees are guilty. And Renault will be fined. Afterall they are guilty of using Mclaren 2006 data according to their crappy season.

  11. Keith

    Quick question. Those “spending” numbers are turnover. Is it clear that there is a link between spending and turnover (I mean there is some but how robust).

    Renault could have had a bigger turnover because they won the Drivers and Constructors championship, which not only guarantees more loot but attracts sponsors … it may be that because of this they ploughed more money into R&D.

    Anyway, it is immaterial. The fine should be weighted by turnover, not spending.

  12. Vertigo said on 5th December 2007, 18:30

    Daniel PT is right, the cases are too similar to have different punishments. I don’t want Renault out of F1 either, as Flavio brings character to an often-dull paddock.

  13. I’m no Renault supporter, but I think we must remember the outcome of the first McLaren hearing which looked at the possession of the 780 page doc by their chief designer- they received no penalty.

    It was only after there was evidence discovered that members of the team were receiving live real-time info on pitstop strategies,technology, testing results etc. (ie. the existence of an active spy) that the verdict was reviewed and a severe penalty imposed. There was still some debate over whether they actually used the info, but common sense and the actual published testimony by driver Pedro DLR shows that at a minimum, there was intention to use the info “if it was useful”.

    The question is whether Renault’s infringement is similar to the first instance or the second. Seems more like the first, so for consistency with McLaren judgement – no penalty?

  14. If it is true that renault did have mcclaren information on various computers – then they should have an equal fine applied – if they did not then this should be thrown out and no further action taken – but people move jobs as more than one commentor has said and you cannot (apart from taking people out and literaly shooting them) stop them speaking.
    Its a mad situation that the fia has instigated on the world of racing put about by an envious team(ferrari) who could not undersand how a rookie driver was beating their cars and drivers – it had to be spying – he couldnt be that good – but he is that good and there is more to come from him – so get used to it ferrari!!

  15. after reading today’s retraction from mclaren, and their admission that pretty much everything they leaked about this case was complete bull, i’d say that renault will get away with a minor fine.

    mclaren, however may have to watch their back.

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