Formula 1 Insight

The Return of the Espionage Scandal
The FIA's announcement that the scheduled Appeal Court hearing of the espionage case will be replaced by a reconconvened meeting of the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) is the big news this week on the political front. Naturally, this seems ominous and raises thoughts of draconian punishments for McLaren.


It is a complex issue, however, and Grand Prix dot com has an excellent article that considers some of the ramifications of the matter - well worth a read. The most interesting point made is this:

"We hear that the F1 teams have all received a fax in recent days from the FIA pointing out that it is their duty to report any information they may have with regard to information relating to the case, told to them by any of the drivers. This seems oddly specific and suggests that drivers are now involved in this affair."

If this is true, the tentacles of the sordid affair are creeping into unexpected areas and leave us wondering if the entire sport is rotten throughout.

There is a general perception that McLaren's muted response to the announcement indicates that the team are not expecting any good to come of the reconvened meeting, but Ferrari seem equally non-committal. That is not their style of late and I would have expected a more celebratory statement were they optimistic regarding this latest twist. Most likely is that both teams have been taken by surprise by the FIA's decision and know as little of its cause as we do.

I think it is not impossible that the new evidence may be unwelcome to both parties. As has been pointed out quite frequently, if McLaren are responsible for the actions of Mike Coughlan as an employee of theirs, Ferrari are equally to be held to account for Stepney's behavior, regardless of whether this was beneficial to his employers. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, after all.

There is also a possibility that the new evidence does not concern McLaren at all but is related rather to Ferrari's insistence on the matter being taken further. The wild accusations stemming from Ferrari's anger at no penalty being applied before might well have strayed into exaggerating evidence to suit Ferrari. I am not saying that the company would manufacture evidence but some of the facts emerging seem a little surreal, to say the least. And no court likes to see itself as being manipulated for the purposes of a plaintiff.

There is also a faint chance that the FIA has found a way to rescind its earlier decision to allow an appeal. If the governing body, having had time to reflect, has realized just how damaging the matter could be to F1, they may have seen that no good would come of the airing of dirty linen to be expected in the Appeal Court hearing. And in that case, the best solution would be to return to the WMSC through some excuse or other, give a similarly low key verdict, and apply a sensible penalty to McLaren as a sop to Ferrari. That would enable the FIA to reverse quietly from the mess and leave it to the civil courts to decide - as it should have been in the first place.

I know how unlikely this is. It would involve the FIA admitting to itself that it had made a mistake - and that is not something that happens every day. But I am eternally optimistic that good sense will prevail in the end. I see no point whatsoever in allowing the actions of a couple of foolish and selfish people to be compounded into a fuss that endangers the image and reputation of the sport. The fact is that McLaren did not build a replica of the Ferrari F2007; if they did use the documents at all, they would have been useful only in peripheral and minor ways - hardly worth destroying the sport for.

It is not the WMSC's job to rule on the matter of industrial espionage anyway; that is for the civil courts to decide. Their brief is to assess whether McLaren have done anything to bring F1 into disrepute. Let them decide upon that and deliver their verdict and sentence, but let them also see the thing in perspective; if a fine was good enough for the Turkish GP organizers last year, I see no reason for anything more being applied to McLaren.


One question never seems to have been answered, which might actually have more to it than it appears....

If both teams agree that their respective employees acted as rogue elements, why is that Nigel Stepney has been fired, while Mike Coughlan still remains a suspended Mclaren employee?

Date Added: 07/09/2007

I have seen suggestions as to why that might be so, Uppili, but they're all guesses. The plain fact is that, like so many other things in the case, we just don't know. Maybe someone should ask Ron Dennis.
Date Added: 07/09/2007

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