Spygate and racism: F1 back in the news (updated)

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Interlagos, 2007 | DaimlerEvery major British newspaper has at least one Formula 1 story in it today – and they aren’t good news for the sport.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis’s home has been raided as the spygate investigations intensify. Two days ago a report in Spanish newspaper Marca alleged Mercedes were on the verge of taking over McLaren and replacing Dennis. Yesterday Mercedes denied those reports in the German media. Is Dennis on his way out of the team?

Meanwhile some newspapers have published Fernando Alonso’s latest remarks on the Lewis Hamilton racism row. Why did most of them ignore what he had to say the first time round?

I’ll answer my last question first because it’s easier. The same British newspapers that howled with indignation when the racism story broke ignored Alonso’s first comments on the subject because they came out at the same time those newspapers were running headlines about football team Chelsea boss Avram Grant receiving anti-Semitic death threats.

The tabloids can’t push their ‘Spaniards are racists’ line when they are also reporting on damning proof of the racist element still present in some areas of British life.

The news of the latest developments in the spygate story suggests the new season may begin under the same cloud of controversy that hung over the sport for most of 2007. Police searched Dennis’s home but according to The Times:

Nobody took any paperwork from anybody?s home because they looked at it and said there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Nothing physical was taken.

Speculation about Dennis’s future at McLaren has been rife ever since his admission that he was unaware of how widely Ferrari information had been disseminated within his team.

But there will also be suspicion about the need for a search of Dennis’s house coinciding with the end of pre-season testing and the imminent start of the 2008 championship.

Many have called for Dennis’s resignation but I wonder what it would achieve? It wouldn’t make the spygate scandal go away because the police are interested in more than just the man at the top – they also searched the McLaren Technology Centre.

But do McLaren need a wholesale change of leadership to ensure there is no repetition of the lapses that allowed spygate to happen?

Update: 29/2/08 – McLaren has issued a criticism of the Italian police’s handling of the investigation and threatened to involve the British government in the matter. Read more here and here.

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24 comments on Spygate and racism: F1 back in the news (updated)

  1. Cooperman said on 28th February 2008, 10:16

    I’d be gutted if Dennis stepped down. He may come across to some as arrogant and difficult (although that’s not my opinion) but at the end of the day he’s one of the most successful team bosses in the sport.

    To this day I don’t think that Dennis realised how deep into McLaren the Ferrari information went and even using the argument that as the guy at the top, it’s his responsibility – there are plenty of (high profile) people at McLaren who were directly involved in the controversy who continue to work there.

    If Mercedes really are planning on ousting Dennis, they should realise on that it’s Dennis’ hard work who got them their image in F1 today.

  2. Steven Roy said on 28th February 2008, 10:28

    The fact that Ferrari are trying so hard to get rid of Ron tells you everything you need to know about him. I know he doesn’t come across well in the media but he took over McLaren and built it into the best team in the business. Only Schumacher’s subsequent move to Maranello and everything that followed that pushed McLaren down a level.

    When you look at the size of McLaren it is highly probable that there is a lot going on that no-one one the board knows about. If I worked for McLaren and had some Ferrari info I was planning on using the last person I would tell was Ron because you know what his reaction would be. Max has unfairly slaughtered Ron despite the fact that it was Ron who went to the FIA and gave them the evidence they couldn’t find. In any other court in the world that would be considered as a mitigating circumstance but in Max’s twisted private fiefdom you get hung for being honest.

    I hope Mercedes learn from Ford and realise that taking over a team that is doing well does not mean you will be able to run it. That assumes that Mercedes can take over McLaren which they can’t.

  3. Scott Joslin said on 28th February 2008, 11:06

    Some sites are claiming this morning that Ron has been “Fired” due to pressure from Mercedes. While I am hugely doubtful this is completely true, should it happen I doubt it will be as drastic change seeing as he owns a large slice of the company. This would end a completely awful year for RD

  4. I find this so depressing – less than a month from the new season and here we are, occupied with off-track events once more.

    The behaviour at Barcelona and Alonso’s subsequent remarks have given me the impression that there is a bit of a culture clash going on – the issue of racism being perceived very differently in the UK and in Spain.

    As for Dennis, I’ll be more convinced when I see it coming from more than one source (and a Spanish one at that). You get the feeling the spy scandal will still be rumbling along when we’re all old enough to say: “I remember that young Lewis Hamilton, nice lad, I wonder what happened to him?”

    I’m just about to reluctantly sit down and do the various stories for Brits on Pole because I feel we need to – but I’d so much rather be talking about Barcelona testing and whether Toyota have finally cracked it, or whether Vettel’s in any real danger of prising that Red Bull seat away from DC.

    Or anything else, really…

  5. Steven Roy said on 28th February 2008, 12:40

    Scott,

    Ron only owns 15% of McLaren but his buddy Mansour Ojjeh owns another 15%. 30% is owned by Mumtalakat(I have probably spelled that wrong) who are a Dubai company but as I understand that they allow Ron to vote for them and Mansour Ojjeh and Ron have a deal that they will always vote together. So although Ron only actually owns 15% of the shares he controls 60% of the votes. It is inconceivable that Ojjeh would vote against hims since Ron and him have been partners since Ron persuaded him to switch TAG from Williams to McLaren in 198(3?) and since Ojeh set up the Mumtalakat deal it is safe to say that those votes are locked down as well.

    Mercedes (Daimler-Benz I assume) owns the remaining 40% of the shares.

    I can see no way Ron can be fired.

  6. Scott Joslin said on 28th February 2008, 14:50

    Steven – I am only flagging what a spanish site was reporting. While Fired might appear to be an exaggeration, Mercedes who are primed to purchase Dennis and Ojeh’s stake in the company hold the big stick in this power struggle. It has been touted for a while that Ron’s day to day involvement was to be reduced and being fired seems like their crude way of putting it. I don’t doubt Ron and his connections but Mercedes clearly don’t see Ron as the future and are looking to put him upstairs out of sight allowing the racing team and engine manufacturer can move forward from last year debacle.

    I am not going to put my mortgage on this though. :)

  7. openwheel said on 28th February 2008, 15:04

    I can not think of a more suicidal decision for Mercedes to make with 13 days to go before the start of the season. This “news” came from a Spanish newspaper right. So let us consider the source. Also Steven Roy is correct about the ownership of the team so it may not be possible.

    We need to let this go bye. McLaren was fined 100 million dollars. What more does Max (via Marenello) want from Ron. This is now getting me angry. Lets “SHUT UP AND RACE”!!

  8. I second that.

  9. frecon said on 28th February 2008, 16:30

    In MARCA was said that Mercedes are angry because of their image damage last season. And is said that Ron will resign and Mercedes will accept it, in some kind of honourable sacking.

    About the racism. A Spanish fan has wrote this comment in a newspaper

    http://www.lavanguardia.es/lv24h2007/20080227/53440442411.html

    She complains because Circuit staff removed yesterday all banners from the stands, including flags with supporting messages to Alonso, and even the ‘official’ banners which are sold in the circuit store.

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th February 2008, 16:52

    I’d heard people were having banners checked on the way into the circuit, so why the circuit staff would want to remove ones which presumably had already been looked at is unclear.

  11. This does sound like an over-reaction to the problem; although it is possible for a banner to be modified after it has entered the circuit into something unacceptable, you’d think the authorities would check the banners before asking for them to be removed. I know the spokesperson of the circuit told Autosport (28 February 2008) that they were instituting several security measures normally only used at Grand Prix weekends, but I’m pretty sure they allowed banners in Grands Prix of previous years…

  12. Keith,

    I thing that Mark is reading, day by day, your stuffs…

  13. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th February 2008, 20:02

    Cool. But who’s Mark?

  14. I have to agree with several of the contributors – rumors in a spanish paper that big ron has to fall on his sword are more than likely what is called disinformation – start a rumor and see if it takes off – if ron was too go he would I am sure get all the press people together and tell them – he has never hidden from contreversy – and if it was for the benefit of mclaren? – it more than likely would have happened after they were fined – at the start of a season – forget spygate there have always been rumors about who would go midway through a season the rumors of who is moving to whatever,etc,etc.
    Roll on the start of the season and lets get those wheels spinning!!! – not b/ rumors

  15. What I meant to say- While I am new to the ranks of the F1 faithful, it appears Ron Dennis is one of the classiest and most-respected men in the business, and any attempts to get rid of him would be a very negative move for whomever that may be. Understandibly he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and perhaps it would not be bad for the team to work out a sucession strategy for when he dose retire, but kicking him to the curb would be a big mistake in my book.

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