Analysis: spy saga intrigue deepens

When McLaren boss Ron Dennis fought back the tears at Silverstone last week to insist his team had done nothing wrong in Formula One's spy scandal, his emotions said more than any words about his lack of involvement and knowledge in chief designer Mike Coughlan's actions

Analysis: spy saga intrigue deepens

But few could have predicted the twists and turns that the story would take over the following seven days - as fresh revelations emerged before finally today McLaren were summoned by the FIA to answer charges on the matter.

Dennis' innocence appeared to point towards the matter being more a case of an employee acting in isolation, than a deliberate attempt to deceive.

That theory gained ground when it emerged that Coughlan and ex-Ferrari engineer Nigel Stepney had been involved in a job hunting interview at Honda - and it was suggested that the documents were more to do with future employment prospects than helping McLaren.

But within 48 hours of the Honda situation becoming public, Stepney denied passing on the 780-page technical document at the centre of the scandal to Coughlan.

In court this week, where Coughlan made his first public appearance since the controversy came to light, it was officially confirmed that the scandal blew up after a photocopying shop tipped off Ferrari that the McLaren employee's wife had tried to copy the confidential documents.

Furthermore, the case widened McLaren's involvement beyond just Coughlan when Ferrari said it was aware the team's managing director Jonathan Neale knew that his member of staff had the documents. However, Ferrari could not nail down when and how Neale had found out.

Then on Thursday morning the FIA announced that following its investigation into the matter it was summoning McLaren to an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council to answer charges of 'fraudulent conduct' on the matter.

That news in itself was big enough, but perhaps more significant was the fact that the FIA said they had reason to believe McLaren had 'unauthorised possession' of the Ferrari documents from March - rather than the April date that has been bandied about up until now.

In fact, McLaren's own press release when they initially announced that Coughlan was suspended said: "The team has learnt that this individual had personally received a package of technical information from a Ferrari employee at the end of April."

Coughlan has kept silent on the matter, although he has provided Ferrari with an affidavit explaining when and how he came to have their documents in his possession. So why the date change?

Ferrari are understood to have asked the court for permission to hand over that affidavit to the FIA as part of their investigation into the matter.

The contents of Coughlan's 'confession' are unknown, but perhaps in there it has become clear that Coughlan has had the documents even longer than was initially stated by McLaren.

And should it be proved that he had knowledge of the Ferrari F2007, including what the FIA has said is: "information that could be used to design, engineer, build, check, test, develop and/or run a 2007 Ferrari Formula One car', then that could have very important implications on the case.

It was at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in March that McLaren famously asked for a rule clarification about the moveable floor on the Ferrari - and in doing so forced a rule change from the FIA who subsequently toughened up its floor tests.

The moveable floor controversy was widely believed to have hindered Ferrari in their fight against McLaren.

The FIA will no doubt look carefully at the exact dates when Coughlan had the data, and whether any of his actions can be ruled to have influenced the team in that time frame.

Dennis said several times at Silverstone that he was convinced his team had done nothing wrong, and that time would prove they were completely innocent. He also said that his team had informed the FIA of car developments both after April 28 and the few months before then.

"Part of the information that we have made available to the FIA is all the details of all the developments in our cars in not only the period following the end of April but also the preceding months and all the drawings are available of those developments," he said.

"None of those drawings and developments have any trace of a competitor's intellectual property. Clearly if an individual has access to information that information is in that person. Then you have to determine for what purpose it is going to be used. I can tell you that the purpose for which it was not used was to have any influence on our Grand Prix cars. Our system is a matrix system which means that the technical work we do is not a pyramid structure with one individual at the top, it is a flat structure.

"The development of our cars are very much controlled, from an R&D point of view, by Paddy Lowe and each discipline is under the control of one individual. Therefore it is extremely easy to track back the influence of any one individual on the development of our racing cars. Everything has a name against it.

"Therefore, I can categorically state that there are no developments, whatsoever, that have occurred in the months preceding 28th April or the months following 28th April and we can categorically demonstrate that to anybody who needs to have that information and of course that is the FIA. So that is what I can comfortably say. This will not end in anything that causes McLaren embarrassment."

Should he be proved wrong and the FIA do find McLaren guilty - even because of the actions of a single member of staff - then it is hard to predict what punishment will be laid down.

The FIA International Sporting Code lists a scale of penalties for breach of the Article 151C that McLaren have been summoned to answer.

They go from a reprimand, fines and time penalties, to exclusion, suspension and disqualification.

And perhaps it is significant that the latter three most serious penalties can only be handed down only if the party in question has been: "summoned to give them the opportunity of presenting their defence."

Q & A with Kimi Raikkonen
Previous article

Q & A with Kimi Raikkonen

Next article

IMS confirms no US GP in 2008

IMS confirms no US GP in 2008
Load comments
How F1 teams and personnel react in pressurised situations Plus

How F1 teams and personnel react in pressurised situations

OPINION: The pressure is firmly on Red Bull and Mercedes as Formula 1 2021 embarks on its final double-header. How the respective teams deal with that will be a crucial factor in deciding the outcome of the drivers' and constructors' championships, as Autosport's technical consultant and ex-McLaren F1 engineer explains

Why Ferrari is sure its long-term Leclerc investment will be vindicated Plus

Why Ferrari is sure its long-term Leclerc investment will be vindicated

Humble yet blisteringly quick, Charles Leclerc is the driver Ferrari sees as its next
 world champion, and a rightful heir to the greats of Ferrari’s past – even though, by the team’s own admission, he’s not the finished article yet. Here's why it is confident that the 24-year-old can be the man to end a drought stretching back to 2008

Formula 1
Nov 30, 2021
The downside to F1's show and tell proposal Plus

The downside to F1's show and tell proposal

Technology lies at the heart of the F1 story and it fascinates fans, which is why the commercial rights holder plans to compel teams to show more of their ‘secrets’. STUART CODLING fears this will encourage techno-quackery…

Formula 1
Nov 29, 2021
How getting sacked gave Mercedes F1’s tech wizard lasting benefits Plus

How getting sacked gave Mercedes F1’s tech wizard lasting benefits

He’s had a hand in world championship-winning Formula 1 cars for Benetton, Renault and Mercedes, and was also a cog in the Schumacher-Ferrari axis. Having recently ‘moved upstairs’ as Mercedes chief technical officer, James Allison tells STUART CODLING about his career path and why being axed by Benetton was one of the best things that ever happened to him

Formula 1
Nov 28, 2021
The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback Plus

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback

It’s easy to look at
 Robert Kubica’s second Formula 1 career and feel a sense of sadness that he didn’t reach the heights for which he seemed destined. But as BEN ANDERSON discovered, performance and results are almost meaningless in this context – something more fundamental and incredible happened…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2021
The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren  Plus

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren 

From being lapped by his own team-mate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

Formula 1
Nov 26, 2021
The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Plus

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing windtunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that’s made Hamilton’s title charge tougher Plus

The invisible enemy that’s made Hamilton’s title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles at a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021