(adds Renault reaction, background)
By Alan Baldwin
LONDON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Formula One was rocked by a fresh spying controversy on Thursday when former champions Renault were charged with unauthorised possession of confidential McLaren information.
The International Automobile Federation (FIA) said in a statement that representatives of the French team had been summoned to a hearing of the World Motor Sport Council, Formula One’s top body, in Monaco on Dec. 6.
The charges spanned a period from September 2006 to October 2007 — the final four races of last year when Renault won the drivers’ and constructors’ titles as well as this year’s entire championship.
The FIA said in a statement that the information allegedly included the layout and critical dimensions of the McLaren car as well as details of the fuelling system, gear assembly, oil cooling system and hydraulic control system.
It also mentioned a “novel suspension component used by the 2006 and 2007 McLaren F1 cars”.
The announcement threatened to heap more negative publicity on a sport still feeling the effects of a major spying controversy involving Ferrari and McLaren that overshadowed much of the year.
McLaren were stripped of all their constructors’ points and fined $100 million, minus prize money for the season that would have accrued, after being found to have a dossier of Ferrari technical information in their possession.
The charge faced by Renault, who were constructors’ champions last year and in 2005 but failed to win a race this season, concerned the same article 151c of the international sporting code.
Renault said they had nothing to hide.
“Ever since this matter was brought to our attention, we have acted with complete transparency towards McLaren and the FIA, and we will continue to do so,” the team said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from McLaren.
Allegations about McLaren information falling into Renault’s hands emerged shortly before a September hearing in Paris to consider new evidence in the Ferrari spy saga.
FIA president Max Mosley told reporters at the Belgian Grand Prix that same month that the governing body was waiting for a formal complaint from McLaren.
“We have had a dossier from Renault which doesn’t look particularly damning, but then again you wouldn’t expect it to,” he said at the time.
“We are waiting to see what comes from McLaren.
“It’s allegedly an employee who took some floppy discs with him, but we must wait and see what comes out,” added Mosley, who said McLaren had sent experts into Renault to look at their computer system with the French team’s agreement.
Another source told Reuters that McLaren had been tipped off by another employee leaving the French team for the Mercedes-powered outfit.
However, Renault team boss Flavio Briatore was adamant in Spa that the case could not be compared to the McLaren one: “If somebody tells me it’s the same, I sue,” he had told a news conference.
The summons comes at a particularly sensitive time for Renault, who are hoping to convince their former double world champion Fernando Alonso to return to them for next season after he split with McLaren last week.
Alonso was a key figure in the McLaren spying controversy, providing incriminating e-mails to the governing body that allowed them to reopen the investigation after initially clearing the team. (Editing by Ken Ferris)