Formula 1 Insight

Thoughts on Stepneygate
I am not going to go over the details of the strange events of what is now being called Stepneygate; Autosport magazine has an excellent article summarising the events and there is no point in retelling the story. A few thoughts do spring to mind, however.

Ferrari and McLaren

When Ferrari first presented their case to the Italian prosecutor, we were told that the problem was not about a specific offence but rather concerned with Stepney's behavior. If we are to put credence in what is now being hinted at, there is a link between the allegations and McLaren's chief designer, Mike Coughlan, and it has been confirmed that incriminating material was found in both Stepney's residence in Italy and Coughlan's in Britain.

Our thoughts turn immediately to industrial espionage, the supply of important Ferrari documents to a competitor. But how does that fit with Ferrari's original statement that no particular incident is being specified? The action of delivering confidential documents to a McLaren employee is very definitely a specific case and not just a matter of behavior. Either Ferrari were being less than open and honest in their initial statements or more than they suspected has been revealed in the course of investigation.

Of course, we would like to know the nature of the evidence apparently uncovered in the search of the two houses but it is unlikely that this will be revealed for a long time to come. It is easy to assume that we are talking confidential and sensitive documents or plans but that need not be so. Anything found in Coughlan's home with a Ferrari heading would be regarded by the police as suspicious - their job would not have been to assess the value of any such documents but merely to find anything that might be evidence. And they could not be expected to know that Coughlan had worked for Ferrari in the past and would therefore be quite likely to have old Ferrari documents in his possession.

So much hinges upon the nature of the evidence found and we would be jumping the gun to assume that, because Mclaren have reacted so quickly and firmly in suspending Coughlan from his position, that they are in agreement with the allegations having seen the evidence. They are merely doing the correct thing in calling a halt to matters until the facts are known.

Then there is the matter of Stepney being in Asia when all this blew up. Ferrari are saying that he appears to have departed suddenly and without reason, whereas Stepney maintains that he is on leave and that his flight was booked through normal Ferrari channels. That should be a pretty easy thing to prove one way or the other and there seems little point in either party lying, since the facts will be revealed very quickly. And a lie in this case must inevitably cast doubt upon other statements made by that party.

The possibility of sabotage to the Ferrari cars before the Monaco GP looks highly unlikely to me and I expect that it will fade into the background as events proceed. The mysterious white powder would have been identified by now were there any truth in the story.

So we are left with a very odd sequence of events indeed. What little motivation there might be for Stepney to act as alleged seems insufficient and yet it would be unwise for Ferrari to embark upon such a serious course without strong evidence. I wonder if the truth will ever be known, especially in view of the fact that the Italian legal system can take years to reach a conclusion on such cases.

In the meantime, the atmosphere in F1 is soured by suspicion and doubt, leaving us tempted to believe first one side, then the other. I guess our best reaction is to reserve judgement and hope that the remaining races of this season are not affected by the matter.


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