No Renault fine, but McLaren still sweats

Renault was found guilty of possessing McLaren data but has avoided punishment, while McLaren’s trials continue

The Formula 1 spy scandal is set to rumble on after FIA president Max Mosley scheduled another World Motor Sport Council hearing concerning McLaren for February 14.

The news came the day after the WMSC found Renault guilty of possessing confidential McLaren information but chose not to apply any penalty, as there was no evidence that it had been used to improve the performance of the R27.

The February hearing is the direct result of an in-depth investigation by the FIA into the design of McLaren’s new MP4-23. A team spent several weeks at the Woking factory, and lawyers were even called in to question engineers.

Mosley has made it clear that the report which was compiled for him by the FIA technical department indicates that the team has questions to answer about the possible use of Ferrari intellectual property.

“We very much hoped that the investigation of McLaren would be an end of the matter,” said Mosley, “but as you will have gathered it isn’t, or wasn’t. We’ve received a report that makes it necessary to have another hearing.

“We wouldn’t have another hearing and go through all this again, and bring people from all over the world, unless there was good reason.

“I should tell you that the technical department was assisted by a very big firm of international lawyers plus a team of forensic computer experts from Deloitte.”

McLaren has received a copy of the report, whose appendices detail the FIA’s causes for concern. Mosley has indicated that the team still has the opportunity to address those areas and make relevant changes before February 14.

If, however, McLaren is found guilty of using Ferrari intellectual property, the consequences could be severe. Last September the WMSC chose to punish only the team and protect the battle for the drivers’ World Championship, but this time there would be no such separation, and thus any punishment would also apply to Lewis Hamilton and his team-mate.

“If there was any negative finding about 2008, and it’s a very big if, it would apply to everybody,” said Mosley. “It would only be based on an unfair advantage, and that applies to both [team and driver], which was my view in the last case. I was wrong, as it turned out, for the championship outcome.”

In contrast, the FIA has accepted that Renault did not use any of the information taken by engineer Phil Mackereth when he moved across from McLaren in September 2006. Two days before the Monaco WMSC hearing, Charlie Whiting visited Renault’s Enstone factory to study the design processes involved in the R27, and his report played a key part in the evidence that helped to exonerate the team.

The WMSC agreed that there “was insufficient evidence to establish that the information was used in such a way as to interfere with or to have an impact on the championship”.

In the light of McLaren’s $100 million fine the lack of a penalty generated considerable criticism, although in fact the outcome mirrored that of the original McLaren hearing in July, when there was found to be no evidence that Ferrari information had been used by the team.

In addition Mosley stressed that only four drawings were deemed to have been shown to his design colleagues by Mackereth, and that the amount of information involved was considerably less than the 780 pages obtained from former Ferrari employee Nigel Stepney by Mike Coughlan at McLaren. Renault’s willingness to co-operate with the investigation also helped.

As with the original McLaren verdict, the FIA left the door open for further punishment by stating: “It should be noted that in the event of new information coming to light which calls into question the WMSC’s conclusions in this decision, this matter may be re-opened by the FIA.”

• Nigel Roebuck on the case, p32