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."

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