Formula One is bracing itself for further drama and acrimony as the Renault team face a World Motor Sport Council hearing in Monte Carlo today which will investigate allegations that they stole intellectual property from McLaren.
In September, McLaren were fined $100m (50m) and had all their points in the world championship for constructors annulled after the WMSC found that their disgraced technical director, Mike Coughlan, together with the drivers Fernando Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa, had, respectively, received and seen intellectual property belonging to Ferrari.
On the face of it, Renault are in even deeper trouble than McLaren. While it was not ever proved that anyone within the McLaren organisation saw the Ferrari data (Coughlan had it at home and showed it to De la Rosa, who told Alonso about it), McLaren's legal dossier will allege that 18 people within Renault admit having viewed the McLaren data on 11 separate Renault F1-owned computers. The source is believed to be three independent forensic computer reports provided by Kroll Ontrack.
McLaren will allege that in March 2006, shortly before the design engineer Phil Mackereth had left the company to join Renault, 33 files of McLaren's confidential technical information were copied on to 11 floppy disks and subsequently loaded on to Renault's computer system that September. These files are said to contain more than 780 individual drawings outlining the entire technical blueprint of the 2006 and 2007 McLaren cars.
McLaren also allege that seven very senior engineers (Tim Densham, Chief Designer; Martin Tolliday, Deputy Chief Designer; James Allison, Deputy Technical Director; Robin Tuluie, Head of Research and Development; Nicholas Chester, Head of Vehicle Performance; Peter Duffy, Head of Mechanical Design; Tony Osgood, Head of Transmission Design) saw the data.
Observers are keen to see how the FIA handles a very tricky situation, given that McLaren's draconian fine appears to have set the rate for such cases.
* McLaren denied yesterday that they were in talks with Fernando Alonso about the Spaniard's possible return to the team he left last month.