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Ferrari say accused engineer not joining them

LONDON (Reuters) - A Mercedes engineer who has been accused by the Formula One world champions of data theft will not be joining Ferrari and never had a contract with them, the Italian team said on Wednesday.

“There were talks but nothing led to a formal contract. He’s not even going to join us in the foreseeable future,” a spokesman said.

“It’s not true that he was on the verge of joining us. What he did concerns only him and the company he was working for,” he added. “We are not involved in this.”

Mercedes, the dominant team in Formula One for the past two seasons, confirmed on Tuesday that they were taking action against a senior engineer who had taken confidential technical information from them.

Court documents indicated Benjamin Hoyle was intending to join Ferrari.

“A legal action is underway involving Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP) Limited and an employee who is due to leave the company at the end of the year,” a Mercedes team spokesman had said.

“The company has taken the appropriate legal steps to protect its intellectual property.”

HPP design, build and supply the team’s power units.

Ferrari are Mercedes’s closest rivals after making big improvements to their power unit and performance following a dismal 2014 season in which they failed to win a race.

Key figures in Formula One teams who have had access to sensitive information are usually put on lengthy ‘gardening leave’ when they hand in their notice to ensure they are far removed from any current data.

Teams have always kept a close eye on rivals in the highly secretive sport, with mechanics often shielding sensitive aerodynamic parts from photographers, and regularly try to poach star employees.

Formula One was rocked by a major spying controversy in 2007 when a 780-page dossier of Ferrari technical information was found in the possession of then-McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan.

Coughlan was sacked by McLaren while Ferrari dismissed Nigel Stepney, the engineer accused of passing the information to him.

McLaren were subsequently handed a record $100 million fine, although they ultimately paid less, with the loss of all their constructors’ points.

Editing by John O’Brien