Renault Spy Saga – In View Of Recent News

Flavio BriatoreAfter reading several of the lates news releases on this Renault case, visiting several forums to see what other make of it, in the process making fool of myself on one of them with my memory black out on the Stepneygate, I am trying to put some of the recent developments in a context.

The first information came out on September 11, 2007, just days  before the WMSC hearing and McLaren verdict FIA confirmed to Autosport:

“We have noted the speculation and we can confirm that McLaren lawyers have recently brought to our attention certain matters regarding Renault F1. But we can also confirm that the team (Renault) does not form any part of our investigations into McLaren’s alleged breach of Article 151C of the International Sporting Code. The FIA has reminded McLaren that the World Council hearing in Paris on Thursday will focus solely on the new evidence in that investigation. To the extent required, any other matters will be dealt with as part of an entirely separate process. Renault F1 are aware of this and are happy to cooperate fully.”

Flavio Briatore then responed with his now famous quote:

“We told the FIA what we had, so there’s no problem. I don’t know what Dennis refers to, he’s throwing stones a bit everywhere. We are calm, no problem at all.”

Then came weeks of silence and all of a sudden 2 days ago news broke out that Renault were called to appear before WMSC to answer the allegations.

Renault as expected came up with a statement to the media:

Following the notification of the FIA for the ING Renault F1 Team representatives to appear in front of the World Council, the team wishes to clarify the situation.On the 6th September 2007 it came to our attention that an engineer (Mr Phil Mackereth) who joined the team from McLaren in Sept 2006 had brought with him some information that was considered to be proprietary to McLaren. This information was contained on old style floppy discs and included copies of some McLaren engineering drawings and some technical spreadsheets.

This information was loaded at the request of Mr Mackereth onto his personal directory on the Renault F1 Team file system. This was done without the knowledge of anyone in authority in the team. As soon as the situation was brought to the attention of the team’s technical management, the following actions were taken:

The information was completely cleansed from the team’s computer systems and a formal investigation was started. We promptly informed McLaren of the situation and immediately after the FIA.

Since then we have constantly and regularly kept McLaren and the FIA informed on all relevant findings.

Mr Mackereth was immediately suspended from his position. The original floppy discs were impounded and sent to our solicitors for return to McLaren.

Our formal investigation showed that early in his employment with Renault Mr Mackereth made some of our engineers aware of parts of this information in the form of a few reduced scale engineering drawings. These drawings covered four basic systems as used by McLaren and were: the internal layout of the fuel tank, the basic layout of the gear clusters, a tuned mass damper and a suspension damper.

Subsequent witness statements from the engineers involved have categorically stated that having been briefly shown these drawings, none of this information was used to influence design decisions relating to the Renault car. In the particular case of the tuned mass damper, these had already been deemed illegal by the FIA and therefore the drawing was of no value.

The suspension damper drawing hinted that the McLaren design might be similarly considered illegal and a subsequent clarification from the FIA confirmed this based upon our crude interpretation of the concept.

ING Renault F1 Team have co-operated fully with McLaren and the FIA in this matter to the extent that the team has invited McLaren’s independent experts to come and assess the team’s computer systems and inspect the cars and the design records, to demonstrate that this unfortunate incident has not in anyway influenced the design of the cars.

ING Renault F1 Team have acted with complete transparency towards McLaren and the FIA, being proactive in solving this matter and we are fully confident in the judgment of the World Council.

Hm… Yes complete transparency, but only after a whole year of having the McLaren data in possesion and as disclosed a bit later, having 15 Renault people accessing it including head of vehicle performance, deputy technical director, deputy chief designer and chief designer Tim Densham. Add the claim that “This was done without the knowledge of anyone in authority in the team” and we have very similar situation with McLaren – Ferrari case. The fact that Ron Dennis probably did not know did not save McLaren from the heavy penalty.

Now go back few days, read the F1 Racing’s last page where Flavio Briatore sings odes on Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone. The excerpts were all over the web, here is one part that somehow starts making sense to me in view of the recent events:

“Personally, I wish F1 could be run by Bernie [Ecclestone], supported by Max [Mosley], as a dictatorship.”

Yes, he went on talking that this is impossible any longer and called for introduction of some sort majority voting system, but he made it pretty clear, Max and Bernie are his favourites. His article in general was pretty much about Briatore and Ecclestone being friends and buddies (and do not forget they took over a football club together recently). The timing of his public declaration of love towards Max and Bernie just about a week before the world learns about the extent of Renault’s “spy” case is a strange coincidence.

I do not think Briatore feels there is “no problem at all” any longer. Their case is very similar to McLaren’s case. I only see 2 differencies:

1) Renault had access to McLaren’s documents for almost 12 month before their took any action, in McLaren / Ferrari Stepneygate it was only about 2-3 months. Renault had the data in hand during the whole 2006/2007 winter development and testing season…
2) Unlike McLaren, Renault seem to have disclosed all to FIA and McLaren once FIA became aware of the case and there is no sign yet the drivers were involved.

Will their belated openess help them ? I am not that sure. Max Mosley and FIA will have difficult decisions to make. Damon Hill already questioned FIAs consistency and that is almost one month before any ruling on Renault is due. This only shows what kind outrage may follow if FIA does not get it right time. If FIA wants to be consistent with their previous decisions I do not see how they can make a “Not Guilty” decission in this Renault’s case. Perhaps if taking in consideration the degree of Renault’s cooperation with the investigation they may hand down much lower fine that $100 mil in McLaren case. But I am afraid Renault will not escape exclusion from 2007 championship… How will Mr. Ghosn’s commitment to Renault’s future in F1 be affected ?

It will be also interesting to see what all this will do to the future of Fernando Alonso and the entire drivers market. Will Alonso now be willing to join Renault ? If fined massively will Renault be able to come up with funds needed to land Alonso ? The news that Alonso’s manager has been in talks with Red Bull surfaced exacly on the same day as the news about Renault’s spy case hearing… Not every driver and not every team wants to wait till December to find out about who and where will be racing in 2008…

On a side note, interesting information about the Ferrari flexi floors in Australia came out of FIA in their response to above mentioned Damon Hill’s claims and allegations:

“This device fully satisfied the tests which were in place up to and including the Australian Grand Prix. It was therefore completely legal at that event. On learning how the device functioned, the FIA concluded that although it complied with the letter of the rules, it was outside the spirit. Ferrari were therefore asked to modify it as were McLaren and Red Bull who were running similar devices.”

Wow, weren’t it McLaren that brought the issue to FIA’s attention ?

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