Renault are worried. Very worried.
The team has released a statement containing an elaborate justification of its actions after one of its engineers was found to be in possession of confidential information belonging to another team.
The lengths it has gone to include reporting the incident to McLaren, the team in question, as well as the sport’s governing body, the FIA.
It also states that independent experts from McLaren have been invited to examine its computers and car designs.
Every line of this statement reveals how Renault is desperate to avoid the fate its competitor faced back in September – a crippling financial hit that none but the top tier of teams would be able to swallow.
McLaren is first and foremost a racing team. Formula One is it’s raison d’etre, and its extremely successful partnership with manufacturer Mercedes Benz a mere offshoot of that. It is impossible to imagine the company surviving in any other business.
Renault, by contrast, is first and foremost a car manufacturer and the F1 team is a small part of its activities. The successes achieved by the team are no doubt viewed back in Paris and, indeed, funded as marketing material to keep the legions of Clios, Scenics and Meganes on Europe’s roads.
You might remember that, a year or two ago, it looked like the Renault management was beginning to lose enthusiasm for pouring money into Formula One.
Uncertainty about whether there would be a Renault team to drive for in the future was almost certainly a major motivating factor for Alonso signing for McLaren in the first place.
Why on earth else would he have walked away from a team with which he had won two back-to-back world championships?
It was also likely to have been a significant contributor to Mark Webber’s decision to go to Red Bull than to manager Flavio Briatore’s team – a move that Briatore has often since said he lobbied for.
Here at Brits on Pole we think it is inconceivable that the corporation that controls the purse strings would take a financial hit even a fifth the size of the one McLaren faced.
While that fine was clearly intended to be punitive, and is not necessarily likely to be repeated, the tone of the statement released by Renault F1 today suggests that they know exactly how high the stakes are.
Which brings us round to the title of this piece.
If Alonso wouldn’t stay with Renault in 2007, when the possibility of manufacturer backing being withdrawn was a distant threat never destined to materialise, can he possibly sign a contract now with something like this hanging over his head?
And it’s not like he’s got unlimited time to make his mind up. The WMC hearing’s currently a month away.
Maybe Red Bull really are about to score big-time…