The questions that remain over the espionage scandal (1/2)

Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, Monza, 2007, 4 | Daimler ChryslerThe extraordinary news of yesterday’s decision and the shocking details published by the FIA today have shed new light on the complicated espionage scandal.

Although we now know far more than before, many questions remain – some of which we may not see an answer to for a long time, especially if McLaren declines its right to an appeal.

Here are some thoughts on the unexplained facts and possible consequences surrounding McLaren’s side of the story.

McLaren

What did Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh know?

In its defence at the July hearing, McLaren claimed that only Mike Coughlan held the Ferrari documents in his possession. But the evidence that came to light in the September hearing indicated that Pedro de la Rosa and Fernando Alonso also knew about it.

The FIA claimed that the drivers on their own would not have been responsible for deciding what was tested on the cars. As the drivers had discussed components and methods used by Ferrari that had been revealed by Stepney, other people must have known about these innovations.

How far up the chain of command did it go? We may never know.

For his part Dennis has suggested that he reported everything he knew to the FIA – including approaching them with fresh details on August 5th which may have been the content of the e-mails between Alonso, de la Rosa and Coughlan.

Was Lewis Hamilton involved?

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Monza, 2007 | Daimler ChryslerHamilton, like de la Rosa and Alonso, was invited to share any emails he might have had about the Ferrari documents, but supplied none.

That leaves us to presume that was because he knew nothing of what was going on. Unless one supposes that he relied upon Alonso and de la Rosa supplying their emails, and gambled on not sending any of his own to protect his reputation.

However none of the emails shared by the others involved Hamilton, which gives a very strong indication that he knew nothing about the Ferrari documents.

Was there any further use of Ferrari intellectual property?

At the second hearing it was revealed that Alonso and de la Rosa discussed Ferrari’s pit stop strategies, weight distribution, rear wing and brake configuration. But what discussions might have gone on that were not captured in emails?

The true extent of Mike Coughlan and Nigel Stepney’s communications also came to light. Rather than having a small number of communications with Stepney, as McLaren claimed in the July hearing, Coughlan and Stepney exchanged ‘phone calls, emails and text messages numbering several hundred between March and July.

Was there a greater exchange of information than has been proven thus far?

How much will McLaren pay – and will it hurt them?

The $100m fine looks like a headline-grabber, but it may also be inflated because McLaren will receive large sums from Formula One Management for their highly successful 2007 campaign to date.

One estimate puts their potential winnings for 2007 at $68.9m, leaving just over $31m to be paid. F1 Racing put its budget for 2006 at a little over $400m, up with Toyota and Ferrari as the sport’s biggest spenders.

How has this damaged McLaren?

Its major new sponsor for 2007, Santander, worth $18m per year, pledged its support for the team, albeit before the full details of the hearing emerged. It is not clear what Vodafone (who switched from Ferrari to McLaren this year) make of the scandal.

Apart from the possible commercial ramifications for the team, and the cost of the fine, it can only damage team morale. Particularly as the entire engineering staff were required to sign affidavits confirming they had not used Ferrari information, only to learn that two of the team’s drivers had done so.

The FIA’s demand that McLaren prove its 2008 car contains no Ferrari intellectual property, on pain of disqualification from next year’s championship, is a Sword of Damocles hanging over the team. It will surely impair preparation of the new car and possible even compromise the running of the 2007 machine.

Although many commentators will glibly say that no-one cares about the constructors’ championship, the one group of people that do care about it passionately is the team’s staff. Losing the opportunity to win it will hurt them tremendously.

Staff that feel McLaren’s reputation has been blackened may choose to leave the team.

It could even damage the 13-year relationship between McLaren and engine supplier Mercedes.

How has this damaged the reputations of the individuals involved?

It goes without saying that Mike Coughlan’s career is ruined.

Ron Dennis has always taken great pride in the integrity of his team. That reputation may have been destroyed by today’s revelations.

The 60 year-old had talked of quitting before he turned 65. But whether or not he was directly involved this incident will surely call his ability to manage the team into question.

The verdict singled out two further McLaren employees for criticism. The World Motor Sports Council rejected the defence of engineering director Paddy Lowe, who stated that he concluded the Ferrari dossier was of no interest to the team having looked at the index.

Jonathan Neale, McLaren | McLaren MediaIt also criticised managing director Jonathan Neale for failing to pursue the matter of Coughlan possessing the Ferrari document vigorously enough.

These are two major figures at McLaren and it remains to be seen whether their superiors at the very top of the team knew what was going on.

What will happen if McLaren appeal?

It’s often been said that appeals against WMSC verdicts very seldom result in an overturning of the original decision. More often than not, a more severe punishment is handed down.

There are three principal ways in which the FIA could worsen the verdict against McLaren – by disqualifying either or both of their drivers from the championship, by increasing the fine, or by extending McLaren’s constructors’ championship ban.

The FIA’s verdict outlined seven points on which McLaren’s case was defeated (see the full verdict, article 8.8). McLaren’s chances of overturning each of these points in the hope of reducing its punishment seem very slim. The team promised a decision today on whether it would appeal and at the time of writing (just gone 10pm British time) there is no word from them.

What will happen to the rumoured Prodrive deal?

David Richard’s new team Prodrive were tipped to be using McLaren chassis next year. It remains to be seen whether the FIA would consider this year’s McLaren chassis admissible to the 2008 championship following yesterday’s unprecedented decision.

Photos: Daimler Chrysler | Daimler Chrysler | McLaren media

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3 comments on The questions that remain over the espionage scandal (1/2)

  1. Great summary Keith, very nicely rounded up.

  2. AJ14Foyt said on 15th September 2007, 0:28

    Given the level of detail discussed in the emails, I find it hard to believe Lewis Hamilton was not aware. Perhaps he was wise enough not to respond (through emails or in writing), but I would bet he is awfully nervous about it.

    I continue to think Mclaren is extremely fortunate the penalties were not worse.

    I also think the only reason the drivers were not penalized was because they were given immunity. Thus, the honorable thing for Alonso and Hamilton to do given the facts is to excuse themselves from the 2007 World Championship.

    Their points are tainted.

    AJ

  3. Looking for work, anything to pay my bills, honest and hardworking, ok hardworking…references available from my last employer RD ,,,maybe not

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