McLaren spy verdict: Why the FIA were right

McLaren’s escape from yesterday’s World Motor Sports Council hearing without a punishment has been met with criticism. Jean Todt called the verdict “incomprehensible and grave” and threatened an appeal.

Renault team boss Flavio Briatore admitted he didn’t understand the decision: “If someone had some advantage from the possession of the material, it would have been fair for him to pay the consequences.”

But I can’t see how the FIA could reasonably have reached any other decision at this point in time.

Of course, I’m British and McLaren are a British team. But believe me when I say that has nothing to do with why I agree with the FIA’s decision.

The FIA has declared its desire to interview Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan – the two individuals who were apparently caught red-handed – with a view to banning them from working in motor sport.

Ferrari claimed that the verdict creates a damaging precedent. They’re wrong. Imagine if McLaren had been docked points, even banned from the championship, simply because Coughlan was found to have Ferrari documents in his possession, without having used them.

We would then have a scenario where any disgruntled employee could hold their team to ransom by claiming they possessed similar confidential documents about another team.

In all legal systems, there has to be a dividing line between the companies’ responsibility and the individual’s. If the FIA are happy that everyone else in McLaren bar Coughlan behaved correctly, then Coughlan should be the man in trouble and not the team.

I have two other points to make.

First, I’m not convinced that Coughlan necessarily intended to use the Ferrari dossier to improve the McLaren car. That’s why he and Stepney turned up at Honda for an interview.

Second, McLaren are not in the clear – not by a long shot. Yesterday’s verdict stated:

If it is found in the future that the Ferrari information has been used to the detriment of the championship, we reserve the right to invite Vodafone McLaren Mercedes back in front of the WMSC where it will face the possibility of exclusion from not only the 2007 championship but also the 2008 championship.

The message to Ferrari is they can win the championship on the track, or if they find some compelling evidence, they could still win it in the courtroom.

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