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Renault accused of spying

You couldn’t make it up, but someone has.
A couple of months after docking McLaren all their constructors points for stealing Ferrari’s designs the FIA are ready to draw more blood. Renault have now been hauled before the World Motorsport Council to explain how and why they had possession of McLaren’s technical drawings. The charges against Renault appear suspiciously similar to those levelled against McLaren. If true, the Enstone-based outfit will likely suffer a similar punishment. The hearing will take place on December 6th.

This development has significant ramifications for both Renault and the wider sport.

  • McLaren will be grateful for the company in the slammer — the spotlight will be off them for a while
  • The fact that an accusing finger has been pointed at another team raises questions as to how endemic spying is in the world of F1. Teams have always played close attention to the latest designs employed by rivals, even recruiting squadrons of operatives to take a good, close up look at other cars on the grid
  • Renault’s 2008 car will likely be even more compromised than McLaren’s as development is almost complete — next year could be a disaster for Flav and his team if his car is riddled with McLaren bits and pieces
  • Given that McLaren had access to top secret Ferrari info is it possible that Renault stole this too? Perhaps the FIA should cast an eye over the F28 for a likeness to the F2008
  • There is a sharp irony that McLaren stole stuff from Ferrari only to have their own work nicked by the French!

Spying seems to follow Fernando Alonso around like a bad smell: first McLaren and now Renault. If Alonso were about to put pen to paper with Renault expect him to wait until this latest spy saga has been cleared up. It is unlikely that the Spaniard will want to race for another team accused of thieving state secrets.

It is hard to predict how all this will shake out. The smart money says that Renault will be punished along the lines that McLaren were. The FIA, though, has a bigger question to answer. How can F1 be adequately policed to regain the trust of the fans and sponsors? Or is the sport destined be a corrupt spectacle evermore?

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November 8, 2007 at 2:51 pm Leave a comment

2007 Review: McLaren

Welcome to the annual look back at the season gone. The intention is to look at each team in descending order of constructor points. However, that would be that we don’t look at McLaren until the end so for one season only we’ll rank the teams in order of combined drivers points, which conveniently allows us to look at our Woking chums first.

Arguably the best team; arguably the worst team. McLaren fans can take little solace in their team’s performance this year despite imploding at every turn as both drivers exceeded the 100 point mark.

F1-Pitlane takes a look at the car, the organisation and the drivers.

The car

The car was the best on the grid despite Ferrari marching off with both the constructor’s and driver’s championships. After an inauspicious 2007 campaign and the departure of uber-designed Adrian Newey, McLaren were thought to be in rebuilding mode and weren’t expected to make much of an impact. Despite Raikonnen waltzing to victory in Australia it was clear that the MP4-22 was a very competitive car. Subsequent races in Malaysia and Bahrain confirmed that view as the silver cars were quickest.

Mercedes produced a bullet proofed engine that was quick, had good drive out of corners and, more importantly, refused to blow. The engine was so good at dispersing heat that the McLarens were able to sit idly at the end of the pitlane for five or six minutes to gain the lap advantage in quali three.

The aero package was strong, giving the MP4-22 good straight line speed and the car was especially well suited to tight corners as evidenced by victories at Monte Carlo, Monza, Montreal and Fuji. McLaren was also innovative being first to adopt the bridge nose, an advance copied by others as the season progressed.

One consequence of the the MP4-22’s cornering ability was greater wear on the tyres, particularly at the hands of Lewis Hamilton who had tyre trouble at both Turkey and China. Saying that, one reason why McLaren did so well this year because it was able to adapt to the vagaries of the Bridgestone rubber more quickly than other Michelin teams.

In a word the car was faultless.

The organisation

The fact that both McLaren drivers failed to win the championship by a solitary point paints a story of organisational failure in itself. The amazing thing is that the spat between Alonso and Hamilton played second fiddle in the tale of organisational woes at McLaren in 2007.

The bigger issue was the Stepneygate saga, which saw the team booted out of the constructor’s championship and landed with an unprecedented ¬£50m fine, the biggest in the history of the sport. What emerged over the course of the season was that McLaren had lost its family feel and was becoming a faceless racing organisation where execs, and Ron Dennis in particular, were woefully detached from the nuts and bolts of the business.

The drivers

At the start of the season no-one realised just how combustible the combination of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton would be — it is appropriate that this is written on Guy Fawkes night.

The key moment was the Hungaroring debacle with both drivers equally culpable for the resulting mess. The story is old news but Lewis pipped Fernando to the front of the pitlane to be first out in quali 3, the Spaniard retaliated by holding up Lewis to prevent him from completing his final lap and the rest is history.

Both drivers deserve admonishment and credit. Lewis clearly exceeded all expectations and was as fast, if not faster than Alonso for 2/3 of the season. It was only for a few races in the European part of the racing calendar when Alonso seemed to have the upper hand but Hamilton drove brilliantly in the last three races of the season to confirm himself the better driver.

However, when you consider the mental demons swirling round Alonso’s head it is a miracle that he came as close as he did to winning the championship. He is still a great driver and will no doubt win more titles in the future.

The outlook 

Despite the hefty fine expect the team to invest heavily in the MP4-23 to build on the considerable momentum built up this year. The car will be quick and McLaren will make a concious effort to let the drivers do the talking on the track rather than off it. Now that Fernando Alonso has been kicked out that will be significantly easier.

Don’t be surprised if they swoop to both championships next year. Revenge is sweet.

November 5, 2007 at 12:35 pm Leave a comment


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