McLaren apologises over Ferrari spy scandal

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Interlagos, 2007, 8 | DaimlerMcLaren has taken the surprising step of issuing an apology over the spy scandal for which it was thrown out of the 2007 constructors’ championship.

In a statement on its website the team said:

It has become clear that Ferrari information was more widely disseminated within McLaren than was previously communicated. McLaren greatly regrets that its own investigations did not identify this material and has written to the World Motor Sport Council to apologise for this.

McLaren has also published a letter to the FIA in which it offered to limit development on three areas of its car in order to ensure that no Ferrari intellectual property appears on its 2008 car.

This comes after the FIA delayed the verdict on whether the team’s new car contained or had been influenced by Ferrari intellectual property (although McLaren sent the letter to the FIA eight days ago). The decision, originally due last week, is now expected in December. Does this new development suggest McLaren are genuinely concerned about further penalties?

McLaren’s apology

As a result of the investigations carried out by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile it has become clear that Ferrari information was more widely disseminated within McLaren than was previously communicated. McLaren greatly regrets that its own investigations did not identify this material and has written to the World Motor Sport Council to apologise for this.

McLaren has written a letter to the FIA which in the interests of transparency it is publishing with this press statement. That letter speaks for itself and the sentiments expressed in it are sincerely held by McLaren. McLaren has also written to the World Motor Sport Council to apologise that it has taken an FIA investigation to find this information and have expressed our deep regret that our understanding of the facts was improved as a result of the FIA inspection rather than our own investigations. McLaren has recognised that this entire situation could have been avoided if we had informed Ferrari and the FIA about Nigel Stepney’s first communication when it came to our attention. We are, of course, embarrassed by the successive disclosures and have apologised unreservedly to the FIA World Motor Sport Council.

To avoid even the possibility of Ferrari information influencing our performance during 2008, McLaren has offered a set of detailed undertakings to the FIA which will impose a moratorium on development in relation to three separate systems. During the course of these incidents, McLaren has conducted a thorough review of its policies and procedures regarding the recruitment and management of staff. The proposals arising from this thorough review have been disclosed to the FIA and McLaren has agreed to demonstrate that all of these policies and procedures have been fully implemented.

McLaren wish to make a public apology to the FIA, Ferrari, the Formula 1 community and to Formula 1 fans throughout the world and offer their assurance that changes are now being made which will ensure that nothing comparable to what has taken place will ever happen again. McLaren have also agreed to pay the costs incurred by the FIA for their investigation.

McLaren now wishes to put these matters behind it and to move forward focusing on the 2008 season.

McLaren’s letter to the FIA

05 December 2007

Private & Confidential

Dear Mr Mosley and Members of the World Motor Sport Council,

We have very recently received a copy of the report by the FIA Technical Department, to the World Motor Sport Council pursuant to its 13th September 2007 decision. In the light of this report and its conclusions we felt that it was appropriate to write directly to you to express our sincere regret in regard to some of the matters that had been brought to light.

Whilst with great respect to the authors of the report, we do not agree with all of the conclusions that have been drawn following this most impressively thorough and daunting investigation into the engineering processes of McLaren Racing, we accept the central conclusion that some pieces of Ferrari information may have been disclosed via Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan, directly or indirectly to individuals within McLaren other than Pedro de la Rosa and Fernando Alonso.

It is a matter of deep regret for us that our understanding of the facts has improved as a result of the FIA inspection rather than our own prior investigations. We apologise unreservedly if our prior ignorance of some of these facts has misled the World Motor Sport Council and we can only assure you all that this was never our intention.

We must nonetheless accept that our own investigations into this matter were insufficient, although we would ask you to have regard to the fact that such investigations were conducted during a highly intense racing season and under significant time pressure. As a result, our investigations focused most strongly on satisfying ourselves that no Ferrari confidential information had been used directly or indirectly on the 2007 and 2008 cars.

The FIA investigation was extremely exhaustive, comprehensive and we trust that it is apparent, as is acknowledged in the report, that McLaren co-operated fully and speedily with all requests made by the investigating team. We also believe that the investigators found no evidence of concealment or data cleansing as they reviewed the comprehensive materials supplied.

To put this investigation into context, the investigating team interviewed 20 key engineers, accessed 22 personal computers belonging to key members of the organisation and retrieved by computer search 1.4 Terra Bytes of data stored on the central computer systems of McLaren Racing (this latter data is equivalent to approximately 75 million sheets of A4 typed information).

We would respectfully suggest, however, that despite our embarrassment that pieces of Ferrari information may have penetrated our organisation beyond our previous belief, the inspection has not reached any conclusion that McLaren used Ferrari confidential information on the 2007 or 2008 car (subject to issues as to the deployment of quickshift, fast fill, or CO2 as a tyre gas for 2008, in respect of which see below).

We do, however, accept that the inspection provides some support for the conclusion that is set out in paragraph 8.11 of the WMSC’s decision of 13 September 2007. In particular that “a number of McLaren employees… were in unauthorised possession of … Ferrari technical information” for which we have been most severely punished. However, it does not establish that the information in question was used on the 2007 or 2008 cars.

We understand that the World Motor Sport Council does not have time to receive a full hearing in regard to this matter during its meeting on 7th December. However, we are aware that the Council will make a procedural decision to determine how this matter is now addressed and taken forward.

In this regard, we can only seek to provide the Council with the briefest understanding of the impact of this matter upon our team and respectfully request that the Council appreciates these facts and determines a process which is proportionate to the seriousness of the case, taking into account the penalties that have already been inflicted upon the team.

We respectfully request that he members of the Council consider the significant disruption that has occurred within the team as a consequence of this matter. Whilst McLaren has a strong partnership with Mercedes-Benz, which supplies its engines, it is still an independent team which is responsible for the generation of the majority of its own budget for the design and development of the chassis and the subsequent operation of the cars.

Therefore, apart from the morale sapping consequence within the team, its ability to continue its task of generating investment has, as I am sure anyone can imagine, been made virtually impossible.

Consequent, the long term damage to the team’s previously outstanding record and commercial capability is significantly greater than that potentially envisaged by the fiscal penalty that was previous imposed upon the team.

We would respectfully ask that in the light of this and the fact that it is reasonable to assume now that all of the damaging facts have been presented, that it may be appropriate and also incidentally in the interests of Formula One generally, to bring an urgent conclusion to this affair.

Toward that end we would like to express our willingness, despite not agreeing with the findings, to enter into discussion with the FIA Technical Department as to a moratorium of an appropriate length in respect of the use of quickshift, fast fill and CO2 as a tyre gas.

We trust that the seriousness with which we regard this matter is apparent from this letter and that it gives you confidence that we will do everything in our power to avoid any repetition of these events. We have reflected on this matters carefully and critically and in particular on the comments made by the FIA President, Max Mosley, to the effect that had we contacted Jean Todt as soon as we were award of the “whistleblowing” information coming from Stepney these matters could all have been avoided.

Moving forward, we would like to reassure the Council that we have put in place procedures to prevent further recurrences of such conduct and would like to offer to the FIA if this of interest to open a dialogue whereby McLaren would make every effort to try and improve its relationship with the FIA.

We apologise wholeheartedly once more that it has taken the intervention of the FIA and a time consuming process to expose all of the facts emanating from this matter, but we hope that when the Council members have had time to consider the circumstances surrounding this case and the pressures that have been placed upon McLaren during our investigations, that our lapses in this respect are at least partially excusable.

We remain at your convenience if we can further assist your deliberations in respect of this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Whitmarsh
Chief Operating Officer, McLaren Group

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13 comments on McLaren apologises over Ferrari spy scandal

  1. Geez mate, i just posted a link to the news item on your other write up. I’ll be quicker next time :P

    Keep up the good work!

  2. I like the letter’s first line – Private & Confidential!

    This must be a pretty unprecedented thing for a team to do surely? Took me a bit by surprise that this happened to be honest.

    Think it’s quite a good move for McLaren in the grand scheme of things and shows the company in a good light for a change.

  3. Daniel PT said on 13th December 2007, 17:11

    It sounds to me that Mclaren was somewhat forced to do this apology. Perhaps they just changed strategy and began the ass kissing, just to see if they can reduce the reprecussions. Actually that mades Mad Max proud of himself and a somewhat “free pass” to do more of these scandals that torn apart F1. It’s sad to see a team bowing to FIA after 2 similar scandals that saw one team being punished and the other not. And it’s strange that the newspapers are still focused on the stepneygate that in the Mackerethgate…

  4. Captain Caveman said on 13th December 2007, 17:25

    Ditto about the Private & Confidential section… what an ironic piece.

    Anyway call me a sceptic but I have to question just how the FIA can come to the conclusion that the knowledge was more widespread than originally stated, without Maclaren knowing it was the case.

    My gut feel, albeit loosely founded is that the degree of penalty for Maclaren may well have been down to the fact that the FIA felt they were hiding something.

    In my eyes the additional evaluation of the new 08 car is now most definitely justified.

  5. I am looking forward to hearing from the “witch-hunters” now sticking up for Mosley and the FIA for having been accused incorrectly.

  6. All of McLaren’s responses to their problems were dictated by Ron and Martin. As such this apology and plea for closure should have been accompanied by their dual resignations, for the good of the team and the sport.

    I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in their lack of honesty and transparency. They have stonewalled to the bitter end and now offer an apology. Hypocrites!

  7. I just hope this brings an end to all of this.

    Lets get back to some racing!! :D

  8. powerline2007 said on 14th December 2007, 1:34

    Somehow I get the feeling that some kind of deal was made between Max & McLaren behind closed doors.

    This apology may actually help Max in his legal tangle with the Sunday Times to face off sharp questioning by the defense.

    McLaren has nothing to lose by issuing this apology. Its interesting to see Alonso’s name there too.

  9. Peter said on 14th December 2007, 7:33

    I can’t believe what I am reading from some people. Now suddenly it is, oh well, let’s forget about it. And that after all the accusations against the FIA since July? So it was right to accuse the FIA for wrong doing in the McLaren case for nearly half a year, and not even one day after McLaren admit the FIA were right and only their perseverance brought the truth to light, it is just “oh well, let’s go back to racing”?
    I applaud the FIA for the grand gesture and closing the official case. But I can see a need for many people who wrongly accused the FIA and defended McLaren to review their positions.
    I think there should be quite a few people with red faces.

  10. Here’s a reason why all the FIA bashers on behalf of Macca should go jump

    http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/64374

    Believe, but never blindly follow!

  11. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 14th December 2007, 8:56

    Sri, there’s already an article on that here: Mosley proposes halt to McLaren spy investigation

  12. Ah, my friend! You got me again, for being late!

  13. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 14th December 2007, 9:34

    No worries. This is making me a little concerned about how quickly the site is updating though. If anyone’s noticed a problem with it please drop me a line via the contact form.

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