FIA's dangerous precedent haunts Renault

FIA's dangerous precedent haunts Renault
FIA's dangerous precedent haunts Renault,,2209013,00.html 

By Maurice Hamilton
Sunday November 11, 2007
The Observer

Considering the turmoil that has followed McLaren every step of the way 
during 2007, the team was an oasis of calm on Friday while other parts 
of Formula One seemed ready to implode as yet another spy scandal rocked 
the sport. The irony is that while McLaren were named as the aggrieved 
party after many key pieces of their engineering information were found 
to have been in Renault's possession, Lewis Hamilton's team carried a 
bemused air while going about preparations for the first winter test 
session in Spain and a court case concerning another F1 legal matter in 
Paris this week. Details of Renault's alleged transgression were made 
public by the FIA and perhaps the McLaren directors were musing over the 
size of the rod that the sport's governing body appeared to have made 
for its own back.

McLaren's reputation and bank balance remains numbed and depleted thanks 
to the beating delivered by the FIA when charging the British team with 
gaining a sporting advantage from information leaked by a disaffected 
Ferrari employee. The stripping of all championship points and 
imposition of a $100m fine set a hefty precedent that may prove 
difficult for the FIA to follow since, on paper, Renault's alleged crime 
appears just as serious.

The FIA statement claims that Renault had in their possession the layout 
and critical dimensions of the McLaren F1 car, together with details of 
much of its inner workings. Renault have explained that a former McLaren 
engineer, Phil Mackereth, brought the information on floppy disks when 
he switched teams in 2006.

A Renault statement said: '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. Mr Mackereth was immediately suspended from his position. 
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.'

That was almost a carbon copy of the statements emanating from McLaren 
earlier this year when discussing the receipt of information from 
Ferrari by their former chief designer. Unlike the Renault case, none of 
the Ferrari details got as far as McLaren's computers. If McLaren were 
punished so heavily on the suspicion that Ferrari information may have 
been used, then the penalty due to Renault should be similar.

Whatever the verdict, this case, along with the McLaren/Ferrari spy 
scandal, brings a new dimension to the age-old problem of employees 
moving from one team to another and taking valuable information with 
them. Formerly, those sensitive details may have been in the engineer's 
head but the substitution of computer disks or, in the case of Ferrari 
and McLaren, a 780-page document, has changed the complexion entirely.

Thursday's court case reverts to the more simple matter of two teams, 
Williams and BMW, having used fuel that was below the legal temperature 
during the final race of the season in Brazil. The cooler the fuel, the 
faster it flows into the car's tank and the more power it can produce. 
BMW and Williams, rather than looking for a performance benefit, 
probably made an error but, regardless of the excuse, McLaren are 
appealing a stewards' decision since McLaren's view is that the rules 
had been broken.

If McLaren are successful then the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place cars 
in Brazil will lose their championship points. In theory, Lewis Hamilton 
could move from seventh to fourth and win the championship. That is not 
the object of the exercise and neither Hamilton nor his team would want 
to win the title that way. This is an old-fashioned and straightforward 
question concerning the implementation of a clear-cut rule. That, at 
least, makes a change from some of the confusion concerning intellectual 
property rights, the inconsistency of occasional savage punishment and 
the knock-on effect of making F1 look disorganised and foolish.

Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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