Renault Facing Up To $100m Fine
Saturday 10th November 2007
Having been forced into the barriers at an Indycar race, Al Unser Junior famously said of Nigel Mansell - "What goes around, comes around." Meaning that sooner or later he was going to pay Nigel back.
The same can now be said of Flavio Briatore and his Renault team. At the time of the Stepneygate revelations this summer Flavio said some very angry things directed at McLaren and Mike Coughlan's acquisition of Ferrari data.
Explaining why he should be present at the first World Motor Sport council hearing, very prophetically he said: "This story involves everybody sooner or later and I want to know exactly what is going on because it is part of our job."
After the first hearing in Paris when the FIA's World Motor Sport Council found McLaren guilty of unauthorised possession of Ferrari documents, but failed to punish them because there was insufficient evidence that it had been used - i.e. they could find no Ferrari technology adapted to the McLaren car, Briatore was livid.
However, the WMSC refused to punish the Woking team, claiming there was iinsufficient evidence to suggest they had made use of the information.
"I'm not a judge," he told Autosport when asked what McLaren's punishment should be. But, he added: "Just read the regulations: for intellectual property theft the punishment is exclusion."
Oh, what a difference four floppy disks make.
Though in the second hearing McLaren were fined $100m the FIA still couldn't point to one particular use of Ferrari technology that had been copied. Max Mosley went on to say that this wasn't the point - the point was that Ferrari's rivals had had a good look at their car and this would give them an unfair advantage.
Fast forward to the Renaultgate saga and it turns out that Renault had technical data on the 2006 and the 2007 McLaren, as well as information on fuel tanks, suspension systems and drawings of the car. All supplied on four floppy disks courtesy of a former McLaren engineer.
Further to that it has been revealed that 15 Renault engineers have signed witness statements and admitted to looking at the McLaren data/drawings. So it seems that the McLaren intellectual property (IP) was at least as widely distributed in the Renault team as the Ferrari IP was in the McLaren team, and probably more.
What all this means is that the Renault team will have to perform one of the greatest feats of escapology if they're not to suffer a similar $100m fine. Given that Flavio Briatore is co-owner of QPR football club with Bernie Ecclestone, the FIA will have to be extra careful in how they handle the matter.
Even though the parent company are making profits under Carlos Ghosn, the F1 team are in less of a position to pay it than McLaren-Mercedes team. However Max Mosley's dogged pursuit of the truth for "sporting fairness" purposes has meant that the tariff for such a crime is $100m. And you can't tailor a fine against the ability to pay.
This means that should one of the lesser teams, such as Spyker, Super Aguri, or Toro Rosso be caught with someone else's data, they'll go out of business.
What's more, the fact that Renault had McLaren IP at the end of the 2006 season means that Fernando Alonso's second World Championship finale may have been aided by McLaren technology.
Thanks largely to Alonso's outburst at the Hungarian GP, and his subsequent failure to attend the FIA hearing in Paris, McLaren got hit with an obscene fine.
McLaren decided enough was enough and that if they had to go on trial for industrial espionage, then the people who did it to them should face the music too.
It would be ironic that as a result of Fernando's intervention that the team he wanted to move to should be crippled financially as a consequence, and that his own 2006 World Champion's credentials should be put under scrutiny.
Editorial - Planet-F1 News - from planet-f1.com