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"May you live in interesting times" so runs the ancient Chinese proverb - or curse - and F1 is certainly going through very interesting times with a $100,000,000 dollar fine handed out last Thursday to McLaren by the World Motor Sport Council.

But the evidence of the 16 page report issued the following day by the FIA and WSMC begs the further question, does the punishment fit the crime? In reading the official document it becomes apparent that we are seeing a heavily edited version of what took place at that meeting with many details perhaps censored out.

Certainly there have been a variety of statements subequently from Ron, Max, Bernie and Ferrari all of which seem at odds with each other in certain areas.

Ferrari's position is clearest, their terse statement implies that they won, McLaren lost. But where in all this murk is the truth?

A further statement is expected later this week from the FIA, but Ron is now saying that he is consulting with his board on the possibility of an appeal. "In the interests of Formula 1, our partners and our team, I am now considering how to achieve closure on this matter. Once I have formed my own opinion I will make a recommendation to my shareholders who will ultimately decide with me whether to appeal.”

Taking events in some sort of chronological order it seems most likely that there has been collusion and passing of highly secret Ferrari information between their former Chief Mechanic Nigel Stepney and suspended chief McLaren designer Mike Coughlan, a 780 page document is referred to and hundreds of ensuing texts and emails, the evidence is certainly sufficient for Ferrari to be taking court action against both individuals in Italy and the UK respectively, action which is continuing as I write this.

But, those matters are separate from the action taken by the FIA and WSMC against McLaren. Is there really sufficient evidence that McLaren corporately were aware of this information and used it to their advantage and that this act broke the Sporting Code.

On the basis of the 16 page edited transcript the answer has to be NO. There is simply not sufficient evidence within that document to sustain these charges in a court of law under normal legal process.

To quote from Ron Dennis' statement immediately post the hearing "Today's evidence given to the FIA by our drivers, engineers and staff clearly demonstrated that we did not use any leaked information to gain a competitive advantage. Much has been made in the press and at the hearing today of emails and text messages to and from our drivers. The World Motorsport Council received statements from Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Pedro de la Rosa stating categorically that no Ferrari information had been used by McLaren and that they had not passed any confidential data to the team. The entire engineering team in excess of 140 people provided statements to the FIA affirming that they had never received or used the Ferrari information."

"We have never denied that the information from Ferrari was in the personal possession of one of our employees at his home. The issue is: was this information used by McLaren? This is not the case and has not been proven today."

"We are also continually asked if McLaren didn't use the information, what was the reason for Stepney and Coughlan collecting all this data about Ferrari? We can only speculate as neither Coughlan nor Stepney gave evidence at today's hearing, but we do know that they were both seeking employment with other teams, as already confirmed by both Honda and Toyota."

So, it is clear from this statement, and the transcript, that there has been some pretty stupid bevaviour by two of the McLaren drivers. But why the upraised hands? All of the teams spy on each other constantly, they monitor each other's pit activity, take photos, glean whatever information they can. This sort of collecting of information has been going on since the World Championship began. Ironically, Alonso and de la Rosa have been caught out by their use of of modern technology, the Italian authorities who had monitored their calls and emails while amassing evidence for the Italian court case simply passed that info to the FIA.

And what of the fine, the largest ever handed out? 100,000,000 dollars. Bernie said in an interview on Saturday that McLaren got off lightly, until just a few moments before the end of the hearing it seems McLaren were to be banned from the 2007 and 2008 championships and both their drivers stripped of their points. Thank heaven some modicum of sense prevailed, both actions would have destroyed this year's championship and the next, lost the sport tens of millions of fans, many advertisers and much TV coverage.

Little understood also is that the removal of points is a double whammy, it has an effect in 2008 in that the precious and very valuable travel subsisidies are lost as McLaren would start 2008 with no points for the previous season, further they would receive no TV money from the pot agreed under the last revision of the Concorde Agreement. These two add a further "fine" of somewhere between $50-$100,000,000 in 2008.

Clearly the effect on the team has been disasterous, it is suggested that Alonso attempted to blackmail Ron with his knowledge of events when trying to secure clear number 1 status in the team during heated discussions at the Hungarian GP. Aware of the smoking gun nature of this foolhardy attempt to force him into a corner Ron apparently phoned Max Mosley of the FIA immediately and advised him that there was clearly more information circulating among the drivers than anyone at McLaren had been aware.

Subsequently, even this Ron to Max conversation has been disputed by both sides and "clarifications" came thick and fast this last weekend. Ron Dennis on Saturday “After a frank and open discussion with Max Mosley this afternoon, we reached full agreement on the relevant content and context of the discussions that took place on the Sunday of the Hungarian Grand Prix. Our subsequent recollections of these, which I repeated to the World Motor Sport Council on Thursday, will be contained in the transcript to be made available to the media next week. It has been a difficult period in the history of McLaren but we have tried hard to co-operate with the FIA which has been committed to a transparent and thorough process.”

This followed hot upon an unusually incautious TV interview Max gave to the world's media.

So, we await further developments this week with more documents expected to be released by the FIA, McLaren's board to consider an appeal, a probably irrevocable breakdown in the relationship between Ron and Fernando, the probable rapid exit of test driver Pedro de la Rosa who will have some difficulties job hunting. Alonso will probably be looking round right now for a new berth for 2008 but how much will his reputation have been tainted? His "value" probably now depends on him winning the title this year.

Personally, I have met a number of the major players and will base my judgements on the views I formed of them during those meetings. Alonso I am surprised by his dual naivete and arrogance. Ron, I have huge respect for and do not doubt his personal integrity for a moment. Bernie I have never met but he is a pragmatist and will always find a way to make the show go on, the ringmaster is an appropriate epithet. Both Jean Todt and Max Mosley are master politicians and the penalties meted out against McLaren are the result of much behind the scenes activity. Do I think the fines and other penalties fair and reasonable, NO.

I rest my case.

Graham Benge


Statement from Ron Dennis:
Paris, France, Thursday 13th September 2007

“The most important thing is that we will be going motor racing this weekend, the rest of the season and every season. This means that our drivers can continue to compete for the World Championship. However having been at the hearing today I do not accept that we deserved to be penalised in this way.”

“Today’s evidence given to the FIA by our drivers, engineers and staff clearly demonstrated that we did not use any leaked information to gain a competitive advantage.”

“Much has been made in the press and at the hearing today of emails and text messages to and from our drivers. The World Motorsport Council received statements from Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Pedro de la Rosa stating categorically that no Ferrari information had been used by McLaren and that they had not passed any confidential data to the team.”

“The entire engineering team in excess of 140 people provided statements to the FIA affirming that they had never received or used the Ferrari information.”

“We have never denied that the information from Ferrari was in the personal possession of one of our employees at his home. The issue is: was this information used by McLaren? This is not the case and has not been proven today.”

“We are also continually asked if McLaren didn’t use the information, what was the reason for Stepney and Coughlan collecting all this data about Ferrari? We can only speculate as neither Coughlan nor Stepney gave evidence at today’s hearing, but we do know that they were both seeking employment with other teams, as already confirmed by both Honda and Toyota.”

“There will be no issue for the 2008 season as we have not at any stage used any intellectual property of any other team.”

“We have got the best drivers and the best car and we intend to win the World Championship.”




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Ferrari is satisfied that the truth has now emerged

Maranello, 13th September 2007 - Ferrari acknowledges the decision of the FIA to sanction Vodafone McLaren Mercedes for its breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code.

In light of new evidence, facts and behaviour of an extremely serious nature and grossly prejudicial to the interest of the sport have been further demonstrated.

Ferrari is satisfied that the truth has now emerged.


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