Friday, September 14, 2007

Guess it was a lot more than a doorstop....

"Ferrari is satisfied that the truth has now emerged."

The September 13 2007 decision by the FIA, after Ferrari took their suspicions of "spying" by Vodofone McLaren-Mercedes to the World Motor Sport Council, has vindicated them and stunned McLaren and the racing world. McLaren had already been found guilty of violating Article 151c of the International Sporting Code on July 26 2007 but they had not been sanctioned at that time. The decision had cautioned that if new information was found that showed a more widespread violation, the council could move to hand down a heavy penalty. The penalty of the loss of all constructor points and a $100 million fine though, is not as severe as it could have been or may be in the future.

While many reports lead people to believe that the sanctions placed on McLaren are huge, when the evidence and actions of team and it's members are seen, I believe that they have escaped the maximum penalty they deserve. The case began when Ferrari confirmed on June 22, that they were taking their head of performance development, Nigel Stepney, to court in Italy. They stated that it was based on his behaviour and not based on any one event, though speculation was that it was related to a white power that had been found prior to the Monaco Grand Prix.

By July 3, Ferrari stated that Stepney had been dismissed from his role with the Scuderia. That same day, McLaren announced that it had suspended a senior employee (Mike Coughlan) for receiving a package of technical information from a Ferrari employee at the end of April. That package it was found, was a 789 -page technical dossier on Ferrari cars that Ferrari had been tipped off to being in the possession of Coughlan, after his wife took it to a local photocopy shop.

On July 26, the WMSC released their findings and in it they stated: they were satisfied that Vodefone McLaren-Mercedes had in it's possession of confidential Ferrari information and therefore, were in violation of Article 151c but imposed no penalty because of insuffient evidence it had been used. They also stated that if it had been found in the future, they reserved the right to to have the team face exclusion from not only the 2007 season but 2008 as well.

McLaren, not surprizingly, stated that they found the judgement to be fair and balenced while Ferrari found it incomprehensible that they had been found in violation but received no penalty. By September 5 though, the FIA announced that new evidence had emerged and the "spy case" was again renewed.

McLaren had claimed earlier that Coughlan had a relatively limited managerial role with the team, that the material he was in possession of was not circulated throughout the team, they had neither used, nor benefited from that information. They described Coughlan as a "rogue employee" and they should not be held accountable.

It was the information that came forth after the July 26 ruling that shows that not only had McLaren been in possession of confidential material, they had in fact, continued to use and benefit from it and their contact with Stepney and they had bald-faced lied to the WMSC about those facts earlier.

All three drivers for McLaren were asked for information related to the allegations and they were offered immunity for such disclosures. Hamilton responded that he had no information, while de la Rosa and Alonso stated that they did have information. They both offered up for evidence, e mails that proved that they had received confidential information via Coughlan, that both drivers knew this information was confidential Ferrari information and that they were receiving it from Coughlan via Stepney.

The emails expose that this is not just a case of 789 pages of dossier used for a doorstop within Coughlan's home but that it was an ongoing flow of confidential information that numerous people within McLaren knew they shouldn't be getting or using.

In one exchange of e mails, dated in March are as such: de la Rosa wrote to Coughlan,

"Hi Mike, do you know the Red Car's weight distribution? It would be important for us to know so that we can try it in the simulator. Thanks in advance, Pedro. p s I will be in the simulator tomorrow."

de la Rosa confirmed that Coughlan replied with the precise details as to the weight distribution and de la Rosa passed them along to Alonso. When Alonso questioned the accuracy of them, de la Rosa replied,

"All the information is very reliable. It comes from Nigel Stepney, their former head mechanic - I don't know what post he holds now. He is the same person that told us in Australia that Kimi was stopping in lap 18. He's friendly with Mike Coughlan, our Chief Designer, and he told him that."

McLaren's Chief Engineer, Mr Lowe, testified that decisions related to simulator testing would involve a number of engineering and other staff, as well as those running the tests and it is unlikely that the decision as to what was run in the simulator would rest solely on the driver. Other e mails contain information about the precise aero balence at 250kph of Ferrari's flexible rear wing, a description of the braking system they use and the type of gas that they use to inflate their tires and reduce the internal temperature and blistering.

What is shown clearly by the numerous e mails is that, not only would the information be used by the drivers alone, it is clear that there was no reluctance or hesitation to use the information they received. McLaren had stated before the July 26 decision that Coughlan was "rogue employee" and the only thing he was in possession of was the dossier. The phone records that were presented seem to dispute that as well.

The Italian Police in it's reports "Allegato 18, 9 and 10," found that there were at least a total of 288 SMS messages and 35 telephone calls between Stepney and Coughlan between March 11 and July 3. They also found that the numbers of contacts increased when private tests were being run in Malaysia and before several of the races.

In light of the overwhelming evidence that was discovered after their original ruling, the WMSC has handed Vodefone McLaren- Mercedes something less than the fullest penalty they could have received. They found that while the actions may have originated with a single rogue employee: Coughlan had more information than originally stated and had been receiving it in a systematic manner over a period of months, that information was given to team members and included highly sensitive technical information as well as secret information of Ferrari racing strategy, de la Rosa had requested and received information he knew was illigitimate and shared that information with Alonso and there was clear evidence that the information was to be used by a number of McLaren employees, in their own testing.

After finding that, the WMSC imposed the penalty of allowing the team to continue racing and their drivers to keep their individual points but the team loses all constructor points in 2007. They were fined $100 million and their preparation of the 2008 car will be analyzed before a decision is made for their participation in the 2008 race season is made.

In contrast, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined the NFL maximum on Thursday September 13, of $500,000 and the team ordered to pay $250,000 for videotaping an opponent's offensive and defensive signals. They also will lose next year's first round draft choice if they reach the playoffs or their second and third round choices if they don't. Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that the episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules.

Vodefone McLaren - Mercedes didn't receive the maximum penalty for their offense while the Patriots and Belichick in particular, did. McLaren did more than tape signals, they had the opposing team's playbook and a significant member of the opposing staff feeding them confidential information for several months. What they received for a penalty I feel, isn't harsh enough after this new information surfaced and Hamilton had better be certain his hands clean or he may have to watch his stellar rookie season go up in smoke.

For the complete World Motor Sport Council decision, go here, here and here.

Of note: ty to F1-Live for the photo of Ferrari, Monza tests 8/07

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