Melbourne, Friday: In the latest espionage scandal to hit F1, Renault have accused Ferrari of stealing from them in the build-up to this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.

Renault expected to be fighting for a top-three place in this year’s Constructors’ world championship, but instead disappointed in Bahrain two weeks ago, with Robert Kubica finishing just outside the points and Russian rookie Vitaly Petrov retiring. Now the French manufacturer has accused departed driver Fernando Alonso of taking team property with him when he left for Maranello in the winter.

Thief? Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso

“We think the extent of the theft is about six-tenths of a second,” Renault team principal Eric Boullier said in Australia. “With the field so tight, any amount of lap time is going to be beneficial to us, so we’re working hard with the FIA to try and get our property back.”

It is not clear whether the rules governing intellectual property in Formula One cover lap time as well as concrete things like technical drawings; however Boullier insists that such a question is moot: “It’s outside the spirit of the rules, and that’s what matters.”

“Rubbish,” retorted Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali. “There’s no such thing as ‘the spirit of the rules.’ Unless you’re talking about diffusers or rear wings or something, of course.”

Renault found itself on the receiving end of an espionage scandal in 2007, when McLaren accused them of possessing several floppy disks’ worth of technical information from the Woking team. This went unpunished, despite McLaren having previously been fined $100m and excluded from the constructors’ championship for having an on-demand flow of stolen Ferrari intellectual property courtesy of a mole within the team, which was obviously exactly the same offence.