F1 spy verdict: Things look black for McLaren

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarSaturday, September 15th, 2007

 
 

Now the Ferrari/McLaren spy row has become an exercise in believing six impossible things before breakfast.

On Thursday Ron Dennis held a press conference in which he stated categorically that he believed McLaren was not responsible for the cheating of which it stood accused, and that the team had never used information from Ferrari to gain a competitive advantage.

On Friday the FIA released some of the evidence which it said justified McLaren’s unprecedented punishment for spying on its major rivals.

And its evidence appeared damning – a series of emails between drivers Fernando Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa mentioning Mike Coughlan and discussing specifics of the Ferrari car including braking, weight distribution and the way its tyres were inflated.

Obviously both of these positions can’t be correct, so who should we believe?

Well, on the one hand there does appear to be some pretty damning evidence against McLaren. On the other hand, it is hard to know exactly how far through the organisation the knowledge had spread, and exactly how much use it was to a team with a car that employed entirely different systems to the Ferrari car.

It does seem that the FIA claims that McLaren may have based their 2008 car on Ferrari’s may be designed to prevent an appeal as much as to create a level playing field within the sport.

There’s a little clause within the decision that states a 2008 punishment may be forthcoming – unless McLaren accepts the fine, stops trying to argue and gets on with the remainder of the 2007 racing.

And it has been suggested that Ron Dennis may genuinely not have realised the extent to which Alonso, de la Rosa and their respective engineers were in dialogue with Mike Coughlan – and that the events of Thursday and Friday came as something of a surprise to him.

Which speaks volumes for his integrity, but which isn’t quite so good from the point of view of his grip on the team.

Over at the ITV website James Allen takes a fairly balanced and informed look at the situation – read his comments here.

As the Belgian Grand Prix approaches, public opinion does seem to have swung behind the McLaren team to a degree – a recent poll on ITV’s website had respondents split roughly 60-40 in McLaren’s favour.

One issue appears to be to what extent McLaren have done something out of the ordinary – or how much information like this is ebbing and flowing around the F1 paddock as a matter of routine.

Another is how Fernando Alonso can possibly continue to drive for the team after the way he’s reported to have behaved – not least by apparently storming into Ron Dennis’ office and threatening to reveal all to the FIA if he wasn’t given preferential treatment.

We now learn that this simply resulted in Dennis picking up the phone and doing it for him – only to have the Spaniard’s manager slink back a bit later to explain how Alonso didn’t really mean it.

Only by then it was a bit late.

Pedro de la Rosa appears equally compromised, if in a rather less high-profile fashion. Perhaps now he will have to forget about a racing seat at Prodrive – to the benefit of Alex Wurz, possibly.

At least Lewis Hamilton appears to have kept his hands clean, thanks to Alonso’s refusal to share data with his team-mate – he might be the only McLaren employee to come out of this mess with his reputation intact.

Rumours that his father, Anthony Hamilton, had been responsible for creating precisely the scene in Ron Dennis’ office now ascribed to Fernando Alonso, for precisely the same reasons, would now appear to have been discredited.

FIA president Max Mosley has been incredibly obnoxious, in our humble opinion, accusing McLaren of ‘polluting the sport’ and claiming the team has got off lightly.

And his recent statements are extremely interesting from the point of view of anyone who might think he has a personal axe to grind against Ron Dennis, rather than the interests of motor racing generally, at the front of his mind. Consider the following quotes (our italics):

“That hundred million dollars is less than the difference between his budget and that of Frank Williams or Renault and several other teams. So it’s a very minor punishment as such… All you’re doing is bringing his budget down to the level of some of the other top teams in the paddock.”

His message to the team was as follows: “They were extremely lucky that we didn’t quite simply say ‘You have polluted the championship in 2007, you’ve probably polluted it in 2008 because we’ve no way of knowing what information you’re using for what in your 2007/2008 cars, so you’d better stay out of the championship until 2009, if you’re still around, because that way we know it’s completely clear.'”

Clearly this has been an entirely fair and reasonable exercise in purging F1 of corruption. Of course it has.

On a lighter note, here at Brits on Pole we like one particular rumour that we’ve read about – that’s the one that claims Dennis, looking for a rather easier-to-manage rear gunner for Hamilton next year, is interested in signing Jenson Button.

Two British drivers at a British team. That’ll make our job nice and easy… :- ))

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