Formula 1 Insight

McLaren Apologizes
Now that McLaren has sent its open letter of apology to the FIA and the inspection report has been published, no doubt I am expected to eat humble pie and take back all that I have said on the matter. Well, I admit to thinking that was necessary when I read the first reports but then I looked a bit closer.

The battle

Once again, the case is based on surmise rather than cold, hard facts. The inspectors consider it likely that some of the Ferrari information did penetrate McLaren and that there was an intention to use some of it but their strongest point is the use of the word "mole" by one of the McLaren engineers. The point remains that there might be influence on the design of the 2008 car - and we already know that is sufficient for the FIA to convict.

Understand what I'm saying here. If you were to ask my opinion on whether the information has influenced McLaren's work on its new car, I would answer yes, I think it has. What little evidence there is leads one to infer that one or two projects were started as a result of the engineers hearing about Ferrari systems. But this is inference and opinion only - there is still no absolute proof of anything.

You may say that McLaren's letter is all the proof we need but then you'd be ignoring the possibility that it is actually an attempt to salvage McLaren's entry to the 2008 season. They know that, having found a few apparent cases where information may have been used, the FIA is likely to proceed to ban them from the races next year - which would effectively kill the company's reason for being. If they can retain their entry by making a public apology, then that would be the painful but sensible way to go.

The fact that Max Mosley is calling for an end to the matter and a cancellation of the extra WMSC meeting in February lends strength to this view. Max has what he wanted all along: the example of McLaren to hold up before the other teams and the vindication of the FIA courts. McLaren will be handicapped by being unable to develop certain aspects of their car in 2008 and the anomaly of the Renault judgement will be forgotten in the drama of McLaren's apology and apparent guilt.

Whatever the reason for Max's wish to end the matter, he is absolutely right. The affair has been extremely damaging to F1 and needs to be put aside so that the sport can get back to its real business: racing. McLaren have paid many times over for whatever misdemeanors they are guilty of and have found a way to continue, even if it means being handicapped to some extent.

Before anyone asks, I still believe that Ron Dennis knew nothing of any Ferrari information being passed around amongst his engineers. His confidence before the report that the car would pass inspection tells me that. It could be said that it was his duty to know such things but that depends on how hard his staff worked to keep it from him. If they felt that the boss would not allow the information to be used, they may well have never mentioned it to him. So calls for his resignation are unjustified, I think, although he would do well to have a good look at his staff and consider whether he really wants people working for him when they are not letting him know important facts.

How much this will affect McLaren's competitiveness in the coming season remains to be seen but the likelihood is that the team will lose a little of their edge. That will not bother Heikki Kovalainen (who has now been confirmed as the second driver), since he experienced worse at Renault this year, but Lewis Hamilton might notice the difference.

So, in the spirit of "all's well that ends well", it could be that we will have quite a season on our hands, with McLaren losing a little performance, Ferrari doing the same through over-excitement, BMW and Renault gaining a few tenths of a second, and Red Bull hovering to profit from any slips by the big guys. Let's hope it happens - I am tired of McLaren/Ferrari shows.


Having perused my usual batch of F1 web-sites brought to my screen by Google Reader, I am really quite surprised by how many people are taken in and taking this at face-value. Over at Planet F1, where everyone is calling for Dennis to be hanged, it seems that everyone is drinking from the same Cool-Aid and no one seems to see this for what it is: pure politics. This was probably negotiated between Max and Ron in order for McLaren to continue racing. Max had the gun to Ron's head all along, and Ron had to do whatever it took to compete in 2008. Bloody hell, if every team had to justify every year that they didn't pinch someone else's ideas, there would be no raised noses, zero keels, chimneys, barge-boards, etc. I stand by my opinion that Mosely is a dictator and Dennis is merely playing the hand that the corrupt dealer dealt him.
Date Added: 14/12/2007

The clue is in the things that don't add up, Alex. Nothing has been what it appears to be in the whole "espionage" saga and so I don't see why we should suddenly become blind now. I hope that this really is the end of the matter but I don't think that things are quite as Max would have us believe. But he has all the cards and so Ron must be the loser for the moment.
Date Added: 14/12/2007

One question I'd like to pose, Clive. Don't you find it odd that the letter was signed off by Martin Whitmarsh and NOT Ron Dennis? Does this have any implications for the future of Ron (and McLaren as a whole)?
Date Added: 14/12/2007

It does seem a little odd, yes, Journeyer, but I'm not sure we should run too far with it. It has been Martin dropping the hints about a second driver in the last few days and it might mean as little as Ron being tired and letting him take the reins while he has a short break. If Ron were about to resign or anything like that, wouldn't he want to be at the helm to the last (mixed metaphors can be fun)?
Date Added: 15/12/2007

Steven Roy
I have come across a few comments on sites where people have gone for a knee jerk response and clearly have neither read nor understood everything that has gone before.

If you read the McLaren statement they admit to nothing. What else could they admit to as despite all the effort they put into it the FIA proved them guilty of next to nothing. Most of the FIA's statements are far from definite.

Considering that Max put out a press statement within a few hours of the McLaren statement it seems clear that the whole thing was choreographed.

As to Ron not signing. At the time I read that press realease I thought it odd. Given the choreographed nature of the press releases it is safe to assume that Mosley was committed to publishing his press release within a certain time period of the publication of the McLaren document. I assume he didn't specify who had to sign the McLaren release and as the only small act of defiance available Ron chose not to sign. Small victories. You can bet Max was mighty annoyed when he found out.

Ron is absolutely secure at McLaren. His position is in no danger.
Date Added: 15/12/2007

I agree that everything looks choreographed, Steven, as though agreement had been reached beforehand and they were all playing their parts. But I'm not so sure that Ron would jeopardize everything with such a minor act of defiance. I can imagine him saying to Martin after the matter had been sorted out, "Okay, Martin, you can handle that - I'm going fishing."
Date Added: 15/12/2007

Pink Peril
Who could blame Ron Dennis if he was offered this as an out? Afterall, we know that FIA-arri will stop at nothing to undermine him & the team. Although this would leave a sour taste in your mouth - you'd take this in lieu of further vilification and the hearing in February. Poor guy - I hope he has a nice holiday over christmas & is able to forget this sorry mess.

Just further proof that this was nothing but a witch hunt (not that we needed it).

As for Ferrari, I hope they enjoy their phyrric victory in this years constructor & drivers championship, and that no one chokes on their celebration champagne.
Date Added: 15/12/2007

We will never agree on the"what did Ron know" front but, really, since McLaren issued the "clarification" of previous statements made on their behalf etc, and the apology, it's no surprise some sort of conciliatory response was going to spew from the FIA. "Closure" was the cynical over-used term that sprang first to my mind...and surprisingly no one else has more imagination than me because it was one of the first lead in's I read later that day.

Basically, the FIA is cleaning the 2007 refuse and keeping their fingers crossed and kissing their elbows that 2008 doesn't grow a whole new crop of things that they feel a need to get involved in. And perhaps trying to extricate themselves from a situation they rushed into without much thought-the rumoured suit against The Times (one would assume this is now a moot issue).

No need to eat crow. The "clarification" statement didn't really impress me either way, because the finer points really didn't seem that consequential, 15 Renault employees had printed statements or access to data via computer, whatever. The "apology" is just one more brick in the road to 2008, a gesture to advance to a hopefully less controversial season and who can blame anyone there? Everone escapes with a reputation intact. Nothing is solved, however and maybe the FIA is discussing among themselves what the extent of their writ actually should be, my guess is not, and maybe they are just betting that not quite as much fecal matter hits the fans in 2008, more likely.

Whatever edge McL may have lost, and I doubt it is a great amount, will be regained long before they hit the Euro circuit. God help them if they have the overall design botched though. Everyone will be pointing fingers.

Date Added: 15/12/2007

Somehow this one slipped by me, Verasaki - sorry about the late response. Your assessment seems pretty astute to me and I have no doubt you are right in most of what you say. I do suspect that all of this will have had some effect on McLaren, however, and that they may not be as competitive next year. We shall see...
Date Added: 19/12/2007

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