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Renault's Formula 1 team has been dealt a hammer blow in the latest revelation in the sport's ongoing spy row, with leaked legal documents painting a bleak picture for the French squad ahead of its pivotal World Motor Sport Council hearing early next month - the outcome of which is likely to determine its future in the top flight.

Renault was first named as being implicated in the espionage saga a fortnight ago. It will consequently appear before the FIA in Monaco on 6 December to answer a charge of being in unauthorised possession of documents and confidential information belonging to McLaren. It is a similar offence to that of which McLaren was found guilty during the summer, when the Woking concern was proved to have illegally received 780 pages of secret Ferrari data - and for which the team received a $100 million fine, disqualification from the 2007 constructors' world championship and a high degree of scrutiny over its 2008 model.

According to British daily newspaper The Times, the latest assertions - allegedly leaked to PA Sport from McLaren's submission to the world council in a bid to ramp up the pressure on Renault - imply the Enstone-based outfit benefited significantly from the aforementioned data, which includes, the FIA has confirmed, the layout and critical dimensions of McLaren's F1 car, fuelling system, gear assembly, oil cooling system, hydraulic control system and a novel suspension component used by the 2006 and 2007 machines.

"It is clear that McLaren's confidential design information was knowingly, deliberately and widely disseminated and discussed within the Renault F1 design and engineering team," read a statement from McLaren's solicitors, Baker McKenzie, "thereby providing them with a clear benefit and unfair advantage."

What's more, Baker McKenzie have accused Renault of adopting a 'cavalier attitude' during the continuing investigation, and criticised a number of the R?gie's written replies as being 'incomplete', 'misleading' or 'incorrect'.

The legal dossier contains a collection of damning evidence, including 18 witness statements in which Renault F1 employees - some of them senior engineering chiefs and heads of department dubbed by McLaren the 'Renault Seven', and among them chief designer Tim Densham and the heads of research and development, mechanical design, transmission design and vehicle performance - admit to having viewed confidential technical information belonging to McLaren on eleven of Renault's computers.

It is also stated that in March, 2006, 33 files of confidential technical information belonging to McLaren - containing no fewer than 780 individual drawings outlining the complete technical blueprint of the 2006 and 2007 McLaren F1 cars - were copied onto eleven floppy disks, which were subsequently loaded on to Renault's F1 computer system the following September.

Renault has always insisted it has complied entirely with both the FIA and McLaren over the matter, and even went so far as to invite McLaren's independent experts to assess its computer systems and inspect the cars and design records, in an effort to prove there had been no influence on the design of Renault's F1 machines.

The team claims the matter first came to light when it was discovered that Phil Mackereth, an engineer who joined Renault from McLaren in September 2006, had taken with him information belonging to the latter contained on floppy disks. Following a formal internal investigation, Mackereth was suspended by Renault and the disks returned to McLaren.

Mackereth's argument that he had retained the information for 'sentimental reasons' was dismissed by McLaren's lawyers as 'absurd', and his statements branded 'inconsistent'.

Renault has also sought to downplay the significance of the drawings, claiming they covered only four 'basic systems', at least one of which was obsolete. Moreover, the team added none of the information concerned was transferred onto its cars, and that it was wiped from the team's computers as soon as it was uncovered.

Renault has refused to comment further until after the FIA hearing. Should it be found guilty, however, the punishment could mirror that of McLaren's, which would prove extremely costly to its 2008 chances and - some believe - may drive the team to withdraw from F1 altogether.



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