The Car Geek: Spy Scandal Pressure Escalates

The Car Geek

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Spy Scandal Pressure Escalates

I can smell politics everywhere I go. It isn’t just in the Congress or the White House. Say Formula One. Sigh. It’s written all over the sport.

Earlier, McLaren Mercedes went on the offensive against Renault. In a concerted attack, the Woking team sought to emphasize that the French team’s possession of its technical secrets is as bad or even worse than McLaren’s possession of Ferrari’s dossier.

A leaked briefing memo from McLaren dubbed “Renault-gate” affair seen by The Times claims that Renault had more than 780 individual drawings, allegedly stolen from McLaren, on their F1 computers that amounted to “the entire technical blueprint of the 2006 and 2007 McLaren F1 cars.”

The memo also names what it calls the “Renault seven”, a group of 7 senior figures in the Renault design and technical team who McLaren say discussed the McLaren technical information. Among them is the Renault chief designer, the head of research and development, the head of mechanical design, the head of transmission design and the head of vehicle performance, divulged Times Online.

According to some experts, the leak from McLaren is the team’s attempt to dismiss the stigma in F1 that the illegal transfer of technical information from the Woking team to Renault is of an altogether lesser order of importance than McLaren’s possession of Ferrari secrets.

McLaren’s transgressions resulted in them being meted a £50 million fine by the FIA. What’s more, the team sponsored by the manufacturer of Mercedes 380sl radiator was thrown out of this year’s constructors’ championship and their 2008 car was subjected to long-term scrutiny. Should the same penalties be applied to Renault, watchers in the industry believe that the team would quit Formula One.

The “Renault-gate” affair came to light in September when it emerged that Phil Mackereth, the former McLaren engineer who joined Renault in March 2006, had taken with him several old-style floppy disks containing McLaren technical drawings, the report continued.

McLaren said the 33 files, which offered a complete technical picture of McLaren’s cars in 2006 and 2007, were uploaded on to 11 Renault computers and were discussed by up to 18 Renault personnel.

In their submission to the FIA, McLaren’s solicitors, Baker & McKenzie, has this to say: “It is clear that McLaren’s confidential design information was knowingly, deliberately and widely disseminated and discussed within the Renault F1 design and engineering team, thereby providing them [Renault] with a clear benefit and unfair advantage.”

Max Mosley, the president of the FIA who has never seen McLaren boss Ron Dennis in person, may take a dim view of the team’s decision to leak information from their confidential submission to the WMSC. There are also other powerful F1 voices who do not buy McLaren’s version of this matter.