Formula 1 Insight

The WMSC and Opinion
When Ron Dennis first entered F1 as a result of buying the struggling McLaren team, I knew nothing about him. The immediate change he made to the team, taking them with unbelievable speed to the front of the grid, I tended to put down to the influence of his designer, John Barnard, and the Porsche/TAG engine. After the disappearance of both, the continued excellence of the McLaren team should have told me that the real genius of its success was Ron but I was too busy supporting other teams to notice. Mr Dennis went uninspected by me.

Ron Dennis
Ron Dennis

What I did notice, however, was the machine-like efficiency of the team under his direction. Even when unable to get competitive engines, the McLaren cars remained a factor that other teams could not ignore. Some of this was due to Ron's unfailing eye for the best drivers but much was also thanks to the excellence of other members of the team.

And then this pathetic "spy story" erupted from Maranello. Suddenly it became important to know this man Ron Dennis, to attempt to see who was lying and who was truthful. I have watched carefully and done my homework and emerged convinced of the man's honesty and integrity. Some dislike him for his manner and convoluted speech patterns; to me, that speaks of someone who is trying to make sure that there are no misunderstandings - I have been known to twist myself in similar knots in the cause of clear communication.

The WMSC verdict and penalty has done nothing more than convince me that Ron is not the one in the wrong here and neither is his company. Even though it is irrelevant to the judgement whether McLaren gained advantage from Ferrari information or not since the charge was one of bringing the sport into disrepute, I do not believe that McLaren used any part of the information held by Mike Coughlan. If Ron says it was not so, then it was not so.

The real issue is whether any amount of "bringing the sport into disrepute" deserves the penalty handed out. No, I haven't seen the full verdict of the "court" yet but I can judge for myself how damaging any actions of McLaren's have been to the sport. And the answer is that, at this stage, McLaren are clearly not guilty as charged. If damage has been done, it has been entirely the fault of the FIA and its court, the WMSC.

What the WMSC has done is confuse the charge with suspicions. It is their opinion that McLaren have done harm to the image of the sport and they are entitled to have their view on that. But they have sentenced as though McLaren had been found guilty of another charge entirely - that of using illicitly-obtained information from another team to gain advantage in the races. That has not been proved and was not on the charge sheet anyway.

I do not care what was in the much-hyped emails between Alonso and de la Rosa; that was not public knowledge before the FIA demanded them and so cannot be evidence that McLaren have brought the sport into disrepute. All of this so-called evidence is fodder for the civil and criminal cases that have yet to begin; it relates to the matter of whether McLaren is guilty of industrial espionage or not and has nothing to do with any charges of bringing the sport into disrepute. If the emails are damaging in that way, the FIA is the guilty party since they were the ones who brought them to our notice.

It should be remembered that we are not dealing with a court of law here. The WMSC is a committee set up by the FIA to rule on matters of dispute within the sport. Problems are bound to arise when it is the FIA that brings a complaint to the committee since the members of the WMSC are appointed by the FIA. It is as though the plaintiff were allowed to select the judge and jury in a legal trial. We should not be surprised, therefore, that no ruling of the WMSC has ever gone against the decisions of the FIA.

It is also no wonder that the committee should have allowed themselves to become confused over what they were being called to rule upon and the selection of a suitable penalty for their verdict. The pressures upon them have been immense and the production of evidence irrelevant to the case so persuasive that they have ventured far beyond their remit and behaved in a reprehensible manner as a result.

If the charge is that McLaren brought F1 into disrepute, then the plaintiff must prove firstly that the sport has indeed been brought into disrepute and then that McLaren was responsible for this happening. That has not been addressed at all. If the committee are saying that McLaren are guilty of industrial espionage which had the effect of lowering the image of F1, then they should wait for the verdicts of properly constituted courts who will decide whether McLaren are indeed guilty of the charge. It is not the committee's job to decide that for itself.

Part of the problem is that the rule is so vague that deciding whether disrepute has happened or not is a matter of opinion. It is almost impossible to prove and equally difficult to defend against. In my own case, the whole affair has raised my assessment of Ron Dennis and his company tenfold whilst reinforcing my dislike of the way Ferrari and the FIA go about things. I suspect that the same is true for many who have watched as events unfolded.

It is a matter of opinion. And no-one's opinion is worth the draconian penalty handed out by the committee yesterday, even had the disrepute charge been proved. If we are shocked, we should be.


Number 38
The BEST response yet, I knew it would be worth the wait.
DLR testing Ferrari weight settings in the McLaren simulator, etc, there's no doubt McLaren used Ferrari data, but as you point out THAT did not bring "disrepute" to the sport, exposing the incident to the public did. The WMSC and FIA are too self-important to see themselves in the mirror.
On a lighter note: P2 times are posted; Toyota 5th & 6th
Hey! Did they benefit from Ferrari data also?
Date Added: 14/09/2007

Hah, don't raise that one, Number 38! The apparent collusion between Ferrari and Bridgestone has long been rumored and is now apparently confirmed by the much-hyped emails of the McLaren case. Not that the FIA will give a hoot, of course.
Date Added: 14/09/2007

Dan M
I politely disagree with your opinion of this. It was not the Fia that brought the sport into disrepute but the media.

What McLaren did was wrong, and in my opinion Ron Dennis lied through his teeth. What has happened has hurt the aura of the constructors championship and will likely hurt the creditability of the 07 Drivers Championship.We never will know how much the MP-44 benefited from the leaked information. From a car to be completely unreliable to a car that is competing for wins.

The FACT is that everyone involved is responsible for this mess. From the two "sabutors" : ) to the teams employing them. In fact I would say that the Fia did there best to come up with a reasonable solution to deter future issues while still allowing the season to be somewhat saved.

What bothers me is that the drivers were allowed immunity even though they seem to be the only ones with solid evidence against them. Not because they were truthful but because its the sports only lifeline.

I have loads of respect for Ron Dennis, anyone in his position would have done the same. That doesn't make it right unfortunately.
Date Added: 14/09/2007

Dan M
Theres a race this weekend?!?! Who Knew!
Date Added: 14/09/2007

I kept checking your blog yesterday Clive, because it was your response I was looking forward to the most. I'm not disappointed.

It must be especially difficult for those folks such as yourself who are incredibly passionate about F1 to watch this unfold. As more of an F1 "outsider" I can simply be shocked at the amount of the fine. The penalty certainly doesn't fit the crime, and for the FIA to throw around figures like that will only bring the sport into even more disrepute.

I imagine that a decent percentage of F1 fans live on a tight budget. It stands to reason given the size of the audience. When you struggle to pay your bills on a monthly basis, seeing this amount of money thrown around must surely leave a bad taste in your mouth the next time you turn on your battered old TV to watch a Grand Prix.
Date Added: 14/09/2007

You're right in that the media have blown this out of proportion, Dan, and that may well have added to the pressures on the WMSC to be seen to be doing something. But should the FIA allow itself to be influenced by such things? If they had to act, I wish it had been done with less outrage, fewer leaks, and more discretion.

As to Ron Dennis, I have said what I think of him and you have your assessment of him too. I knew as I wrote that you and others would disagree with what I was saying, yet I had confidence that you would not be offended by a mere difference in our viewpoints; and I have not been disappointed. I'm damn proud of my commenters and I don't care who knows it!

Our remaining task is to try to forget this business over the weekend and enjoy a good race on the greatest circuit of them all. I shall try hard to do so anyway. :)
Date Added: 14/09/2007

I felt guilty at having to leave Insight unattended yesterday, Neil, but there was just too much going on to find the time to think, let alone write anything reasoned about the matter (and I could not have written about anything else, could I?). My apologies and desertion to the excuse of "better late than never"!

Your reminder that the sport exists through the support of millions who have difficulty in paying the monthly bills is appropriate in view of the immense amounts of money being thrown around in F1. Perhaps there is a case for the sport to clean up its act, not so much environmentally, but in its financial profligacy. Yet I suppose that we should be grateful that the races are still shown on free TV rather than pay-per-view. On such scraps we underdogs live. ;)
Date Added: 14/09/2007


Well written. How do you maintain your enthusiasm for the sport? I cannot, and with this daft "ruling", combined with unreasonable punishment and frankly boring racing (despite this being, apparently, the closest championship race in years) why do we continue to watch F1?

Not that anyone else should care, but this comes from a long-term fan of F1 racing. I was passionate enough to start my own F1 blog and we often traded comments and opinion last season and early this one. I simply don't feel it's worth my effort to write about it any more. There will be many more like me I think and this will only harm the sport, far more than the alleged spying.

A final hint for your readers: although this has been far from a classic season, check out MotoGP for some close racing throughout the field and remind yourself what overtaking looks like.

I'll keep reading your blog Clive, hoping it will spark my enthusiasm back up soon.

Date Added: 15/09/2007

I often ask myself that question, Rob - why am I still watching F1? And, to be honest, I don't really know the answer. There have been things going on this season that have brought me very close to despairing that things will ever get better and I feel quite strongly that the way the sport is governed needs a complete re-design if F1 is not to be destroyed.

In the end, I suppose I watch because of the races. They can be boring, predictable and processional but there is still something fascinating about immensely powerful and delicately balanced machines being driven at the edge by drivers who are almost superhuman in their skills. We have to be aware of all that goes on around the sport as well but, ultimately, what really matters is the human drama of competition between designers and drivers. And I would rather see a finely tuned McLaren in the hands of Hamilton, for instance, brushing the walls at Monaco, as the yachts rock placidly in the harbor, than be deprived of such sights forever. I guess I'm a sucker for excellence in endeavor, whether that be in the design field or driving - who wins matters, but it is not the be-all and end-all for me.

As for MotoGP, my son is an avid fan and keeps me updated on how things are going. I don't get much chance to watch the races but do so when I can. As my knowledge of who is who and which bike is what increases, I get closer to being a Moto-nut. ;)

The spark may be rekindled, Rob - F1 has a habit of never really losing its grip on the enthusiast. And I hope that I might be at least a part of the persuasion for you to return. Think of it this way: are you really going to let that idiot Max deprive you of the sport you once loved? Stuff the bastard - let's hang on in there until he's a distant and unpleasant memory.

Thank you for the compliment of still reading my waffling!
Date Added: 15/09/2007

Fantastic article - it's so obvious there is a serious amount of corruption going on in F1.

Why does Jackie Stewart say the WMSC are heavily Ferrari biased... do you have the details on that?

Hope the truth is revealed about the level of corruption in F1 soon, because it's totally distracting from the buzz of racing...
Date Added: 10/03/2008

It's a debatable point, Ravino, but one that has been around for decades. Usually, the charge is that the FIA's bias is proved by their consistently pro-Ferrari rulings in the past; but if a serious study is made of the decisions, there are many that went against Ferrari too. The FIA's cause is not helped by both Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone having admitted at times that they there is a deliberate bias towards Ferrari in the FIA - and this is added to the fact that the WMSC has delegates who either have or had Ferrari connections.

It's big business now, F1, and I suppose ineitable therefore that the temptations towards corruption increase for powerful officials. Just like the real world, I suppose...
Date Added: 10/03/2008

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