Furious Dennis accuses Ferrari of cheating

Ron Dennis 2007McLaren boss Ron Dennis has hit back at Ferrari in the escalating row over spying in Formula 1.

In a letter to Luigi Macaluso, who successfully petitioned the FIA for an appeal against McLaren’s exoneration last week, Dennis accused Ferrari of:

  • Winning the Australian Grand Prix with an illegal car
  • Leaking portions of their memorandum on the spy case to the Italian press
  • Untruthfully claiming that they were not allowed to cross-question McLaren during the FIA hearing last week

He also wrote a lengthy defence of McLaren’s conduct – here’s a breakdown of everything he had to say about McLaren’s defence and Ferrari’s conduct:

On McLaren’s protest against Ferrari’s flexi-floor

Ferrari only withdrew the floor device after it was confirmed to be illegal by the FIA. Were it not for Mr Stepney drawing this illegal device to the attention of McLaren, and McLaren drawing it to the attention of the FIA, there is every reason to suppose that Ferrari would have continued to race with an illegal car.

Dennis claimed that Nigel Stepney first contacted Mike Coughlan to alert him to the design of Ferrari’s floor at the Australian Grand Prix. Ferrari won the race using the ‘flexi-floor’, but after McLaren protested to the FIA the rules governing the floor were changed and Ferrari, and other teams, had to change their design.

McLaren defended Stepney, saying he acted “in the interests of the sport” by alerting them to the matter so that they could alert the FIA.

The claim that Ferrari cheated and got away with it is incendiary.

On Stepney and Coughlan’s relationship

McLaren [took] steps immediately after learning of the contact between Mr Stepney and Mr Coughlan in March 2007 to ensure that Mr Stepney and Mr Coughlan ceased having any contact.

[...]

In early April 2007, Mr Coughlan told Mr Neale [his superior] that despite his best efforts to cut off contact, Mr Stepney continued to contact him to express grievances about his lot with Ferrari. Mr Neale arranged for the installation of a “firewall” on McLaren’s computer system to stop emails from Mr Stepney.

In addition to this Mr Coughlan said to Mr Neale that the only way he thought that this would stop is if Mr Coughlan spoke to Mr Stepney face to face and told him to stop trying to contact him. Mr Neale agreed that he could do this outside working hours.

[...]

When Mr Coughlan returned to work, he told Mr Neale that his meeting with Mr Stepney had achieved its objective and he believed that Mr Stepney would not contact him again.

These paragraphs are intriguing because FIA President Max Mosley recently questioned why McLaren behaved in this way, by sending Coughlan to Barcelona to meet Stepney “rather than simply phone him”. McLaren’s defence, one assumes, is that they did not appreciate that Stepney wished to furnish Coughlan with technical details of the Ferrari design.

On the Ferrari document and whether any other McLaren staff saw it

Mr Coughlan says that he made no use of the Documents at work and that no one else at McLaren knew that he had taken the Documents.

[...]

Mr Coughlan has stated that he showed single pages which he says were from the Ferrari Documents to two other McLaren staff: Mr Taylor (another McLaren engineer who had previously worked with Mr Coughlan when they were both at Ferrari) and Mr Neale.

The Council has fully investigated these instances, and concluded quite rightly that neither Mr Taylor nor Mr Neale were aware that the single pages they were shown were Ferrari confidential information, still less that they were part of a dossier of several hundred pages which Mr Coughlan had secretly received and kept at his house.

So far as Mr Taylor is concerned, Mr Coughlan briefly showed him a single diagram. Mr Taylor had no idea whether this was an old or new diagram and had no idea it came from Mr Stepney. He was not given a copy and made no use of the diagram. He paid no attention to the incident.

As for Mr Neale, he had an informal meeting at a restaurant on 25 May 2007 to discuss a request Mr Coughlan had made for an early release from his contract of employment with McLaren.

Towards the end of this Mr Coughlan began to show Mr Neale two images, but Mr Neale stated that he was not interested in seeing them. Mr Neale has stated that these images did not appear to have any connection with Ferrari or any other team. When asked at the hearing about this, Mr Neale said that although this was only speculation on his part, he thought that Mr Coughlan was about to refer to the images to seek resources from him for digital mock up equipment.

It is critical to McLaren’s defence that Taylor and Neale’s claim, that they did not know they were looking at portions of a Ferrari document, holds water.

On Ferrari’s claim that McLaren staff had seen the Ferrari document

Ferrari has tried to confuse the March 2007 whistle-blowing by Mr Stepney (which McLaren did know about) with the events on and following 28 April 2007 (which Mr Coughlan kept completely secret).

Let me make it clear: McLaren did know about the whistle blowing matters in March 2007 – indeed it reported these matters to the FIA. However that has nothing to do with what Mr Coughlan did on and after 28 April 2007. McLaren management and staff had no knowledge whatsoever about that.

On whether any of Ferrari’s intellectual property was used on the McLaren

Mr Coughlan himself is categoric that he made no use of the Ferrari documents in the McLaren car. Mr Coughlan… did not have responsibility for the performance enhancement of the car.

This function lies with the Chief Engineers and R&D Team who report to the Engineering Director, Patrick Lowe, who provided detailed evidence to the World Motor Sport Council. An important part of Mr Coughlan’s job was, however, monitoring the testing and reliability of the car throughout the year.

McLaren conducted a very thorough physical and electronic search (conducted by Kroll) and a thorough engineering study conducted by Patrick Lowe to see if any of the Ferrari Documents were or are at McLaren or if any use of such documents has actually been made in relation to the McLaren car.

This investigation has confirmed that none of the Ferrari Documents were at McLaren as opposed to at Mr Coughlan’s home and that there is no possibility that any of the information in those Documents could have been used on any development on the McLaren car.

This is another vital part of their case. Following the World Motor Sports Council’s decision the council said that: “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.”

In other words, were it proved that Ferrari technology had been used on the McLaren, they would be looking at probably the greatest punishment ever handed out to an F1 team.

On whether Ferrari were represented at the WMSC hearing

[Mr Macaluso's] letter also suggests that the outcome might have been different if the Council had given Ferrari further opportunities to be heard beyond those offered. I again ask you to look at the real facts, which are that Ferrari fully participated in the hearing before the Council.

[...]

Ferrari, who were represented by lawyers, were given several opportunities by the FIA President to ask questions and make submissions throughout the hearing. Mr Todt also gave evidence.

It was clear that the FIA President afforded Ferrari every opportunity to be heard in order to ensure that all relevant matters were heard by the WMSC. Indeed, at the very end of the proceeding, Ferrari intervened with a request to make further closing comments. Ferrari’s request was permitted and their lawyer proceeded to make further detailed closing comments at some length.

I am not entirely clear on this matter – some sources have said that Ferrari were not represented at the hearing, others have said they were. Perhaps the former are just taking Ferrari’s claims at face value?

On Ferrari leaks to the press

Ferrari submitted a lengthy, albeit grossly misleading, memorandum dated 16th July 2007 along with supporting documents which together totalled 118 pages.

Ferrari did not send McLaren the memorandum. The memorandum was circulated to the Council on the 20 July. McLaren did not see it until two days before the hearing and it was only then that we were able to correct its grossly inaccurate contents.

In the meantime, the misleading Ferrari memorandum or sections of it appear to have been leaked to the Italian press as much of the Italian press reports echo elements of that memorandum.

[...]

We believe that the Ferrari press releases, the leaks to the Italian press and recent events have been damaging to Formula 1 as well as McLaren. The World Championship should be contested on the track not in Courts or in the press.

The final remark may well be an attempt, in light of Todt’s attack on the FIA following the verdict, to put pressure on the governing body to take action against Ferrari.

But it’s hard to imagine the FIA not only siding with McLaren completely, but also punishing its number one rival for, as Dennis appears to believe, strategically leaking certain information to paint McLaren in a worse light.

We wait with bated breath for the announcement of the appeal hearing and its verdict. Perhaps wisely, the FIA have not invited either Ron Dennis or Jean Todt to the team principal’s press conference at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Friday.

The full transcript is available Autosport (external).

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16 comments on Furious Dennis accuses Ferrari of cheating

  1. AJ14Foyt said on 3rd August 2007, 0:56

    Journeyer –

    The fact Coughlan had the data, is McLaren’s chief designer, used the data to “clarify” the moving floor issue, actually flew to meet Stepney under Ron’s direction, all seems to be rather indicative that McLaren knew it committed a crime. Thats why they stayed silent. I think Ferrari proved all it had to – it need not go further. To claim that Coughlan as an person separate from McLaren and then have a private investigator claim that the firewall worked is superfluous and frankly just Ron talk.

    I think McLaren is in serious trouble.

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