Renault in the dock

Yet another scandal rocks Formula One as the French team is accused of unauthorised possession of documents and confidential information belonging to McLaren. By Alan Henry.

Soon after the FIA experts swooped on the McLaren factory for a detailed technical check on the team’s 2008 car, the rival Renault team found themselves propelled into the centre of controversy when they were summoned to appear before a hearing of the FIA World Motor Sport Council to answer charges of spying. A statement issued by the FIA, the world governing body, said: “Representatives of the Renault F1 team have been requested to appear before a hearing of t he FIA World Motor Sport Council in Monaco on December 6, 2007.

“The team representatives have been called to answer a charge that between September 2006 and October 2007, the Renault F1 team had unauthorised possession of documents and confidential information belonging to McLaren-Mercedes, including details of the McLaren fuelling system, gear assembly, oil cooling system, hydraulic control system and a novel suspension component used by the 2006 and 2007 McLaren F1 cars.”

These accusations come two months after McLaren were fined $100m and lost all their 2007 constructors’ world championship points after it was established that they had benefited from illicitly obtained technical data from Ferrari. McLaren’s lawyers had alerted the FIA to the Renault case the day before their own hearing in September, which prompted the investigation by the sport’s governing body. It was alleged during the hearing that a former McLaren staff member had taken several CDs containing confidential data to the Renault team when he switched employment.

Renault meanwhile rejected allegations of espionage. It confirmed that a former McLaren engineer, who joined them in September last year, was suspended when it became clear he had brought confidential information with him to his new job. Renault named the employee as Phil Mackereth and said they had been made aware of the problem on September 6. When the subject was first rumoured in September, Renault’s principal Flavio Briatore told ‘Gazzetta dello Sport’ that he was confident his team would be found to have done nothing wrong. “We told the FIA what we had, so there’s no problem,” he said. “I don’t know what (the McLaren principal Ron) Dennis refers to; he’s throwing stones a bit everywhere. We are calm, no problem at all.”

McLaren were trying to be similarly relaxed about the FIA inspectors’ visit to their headquarters in Woking on November 7. “We are unable to make any comments,” said a spokesperson, “other than to say that an inspection had always been part of the WMSC decisions.”