LONDON (Reuters) - Former world champions Renault escaped punishment on Thursday despite being found guilty in the second major spying controversy to hit Formula One this year.
Representatives of the French team had been summoned to appear before the governing body in Monaco to answer charges of unauthorised possession of McLaren technical information between September 2006 and last October.
“They were found to be in breach of article 151c but there is no penalty,” a spokesman for the International Automobile Federation (FIA) said after a World Motor Sport Council hearing lasting several hours.
A detailed reasoning will be published on Friday, with a full transcript of the hearing to be released as soon as possible after that.
McLaren were fined $100 million (49.3 million pounds) and stripped of all their constructors’ points in September after facing similar charges over a raft of Ferrari data found at the home of their chief designer Mike Coughlan.
However they had also escaped punishment, despite a clear breach of the rules, at an earlier hearing in July before fresh proof emerged.
Thursday’s outcome could pave the way for a return to Renault of double world champion Fernando Alonso, who left McLaren last month after just one season with the team.
The Spaniard, who has been linked to a number of teams in the last month, was widely seen to be wary of committing to Renault while the threat of a sanction hung over them.
Renault acknowledged their breach of the rules and welcomed the decision.
“We are pleased that we can now focus fully on our preparations for the 2008 championship,” said team boss Flavio Briatore in a statement.
McLaren chief executive Martin Whitmarsh said his team were also satisfied.
”We made the case to the World Motor Sport Council that we thought it wasn’t appropriate to put the sort of penalty on any team that we suffered,“ he told the BBC. ”We made that very clear, we weren’t pushing for that.
“But we believe it to be a serious case.”
FIA president Max Mosley said the hearing had been “completely ordinary”, declared himself completely at ease with the verdict and likened it to that of the July 26 hearing involving McLaren and Ferrari: “It’s the same,” he said.
In that earlier case, the then-Formula One leaders were found guilty but escaped sanction after the FIA ruled that there was insufficient evidence that they had gained from the Ferrari information in their possession.
However the governing body warned McLaren that they could still face severe punishment if fresh proof emerged.
The case was subsequently re-opened when incriminating e-mails, some of them from Alonso, emerged to suggest that the Ferrari data had gone deeper into the team than was first believed.
McLaren will hear on Friday whether they face any further sanction for 2008, an outcome that could dent Briton Lewis Hamilton’s title chances, after FIA scrutiny of their new car for any sign of Ferrari data.
“There’s no hearing in regards to McLaren tomorrow, there is going to be a procedural discussion,” said Whitmarsh. “We are confident that our car has not been tainted from intellectual property from any other team.”
Editing by Alison Wildey