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McLaren, Max Mosley, the Man from Ferrari – and Renault?

Yesterday I read right to the end the transcription of the Extraordinary Meeting of the World Motor Sport Council (html) (pdf) of the FIA held on September 13, 2007 which fined McLaren a record $100 million and took away all this year’s Formula One Constructors points from 2007’s top team. Much of it was boring lawyery stuff, but it was the flavour of how things went and the personalities that drove them that I found most interesting. The controversy surrounding Formula One right now is not likely to go away soon.

Proceedings began with John Mill, representing McLaren, raising a technicality related to the legality of the Italian evidence McLaren were being judged upon. Not a good start in a “sporting” body. It clearly annoyed Max Mosley from the off. From then on, Mr Mill’s whole approach seemed to rely on facts, which clearly didn’t win the day at this FIA meeting.

On the other hand, the Ferrari brief Nigel Tozzi (no, I won’t make any word plays on his surname, although there are a few throw away lines that come to mind!) concentrated far more on the personalities than the facts, leading witnesses and trying to put words in their mouths over and over again. Well, he was representing Ferrari, and they will be pleased with him.

There is much the meeting did not go into. The two main parties in the intrigue, Stepney and Coughlan, did not appear as witnesses; key player Alonso was not there either. What evidence there was was largely circumstantial, based on inference, or was pure speculation or assumption. And of course, unlike a Court of Law, the hearing was time limited. But who decided the date for the hearing should be right in the middle of a week that had a Grand Prix at each end of it, and not a week with only testing going on? Presumably someone who wished to disrupt McLaren’s preparations for the Belgian GP, whether they were found guilty or innocent? All Ferrari had to do was cast a few aspersions – McLaren had to mount a detailed defence and bring their Chief Engineer and other key staff to the meeting. But back to the meeting.

What is clear is that Max Mosley has an intense personal dislike of Ron Dennis; that Ferrari influence Formula One at a Very High Level; that McLaren know how to select engineers but probably not lawyers; that Ferrari are very “Italian” and will try to beat you off the track if they cannot do so on it; that temperamental Prima Donna Alonso is neither loyal nor trustworthy; that Renault (with an Italian boss of course) play the same games as everyone else in the pit lane; that drivers are not employees but suppliers of services; that disgruntled employees can be disloyal; and of course, that a dangerous precedent for the future has just been set.

As for facts, a Court of Law might have more closely followed the principle of Reasonable Doubt, but this was the FIA in Paris, not the Old Bailey in London. Barrister and failed Formula One owner Max Mosley is the boss, and Ferrari (in the person of Ferrari director and ex-Team Manager Mr Piccinini) sit at his right hand.

Sure, there was evidence that Nigel Stepney talked on the phone a lot with his friend Mike Coughlan, and that Mike Coughlan talked a lot with his friend Pedro de la Rosa, but there was and is no record of what was said or texted in telephone contacts between the two; they could have been talking about F1 groupies for all we know. It was clear, however, that both were disgruntled with their respective teams and wanted to move to Renault.

The only indisputable fact is that Technical Drawing specialist Mike Coughlan held a 780 page dossier of Ferrari technical details at home, and received some emails from Nigel Stepney that sounded like a tutorial in aspects of engineering. There is no evidence that McLaren actually received any of the info Coughlan obtained. In fact, all of McLaren’s engineers signed a confirmation saying they had never seen it, and that their ideas were their own. McLaren even invited the FIA to come and inspect all of McLaren’s computer systems for traces of any Ferrari information, but the FIA declined.

I believe it is far more likely that Coughlan and Stepney intended to take the Ferrari dossier – and perhaps one from McLaren as well – with them to Renault who also want Alonso back and would clearly not mind learning some secrets from this season’s top two teams. If this was the case, of course Coughlan would keep it very secret from McLaren.

Unfortunately, nobody seems to have picked this up. Max Mosley seemed more intent on “getting” Ron Dennis for whatever past slight to his ego he holds Ron accountable for. Max clearly believed Ron was “lying” to him about the affair – this belief based on no more than speculation and assumption. It looks like Max let his personal feelings blind him to the wider picture.

Ferrari were more concerned with neutering their main rival, and even if they believed the dossier was really intended for Renault, by blaming McLaren for it simply because it was a McLaren employee who was caught with it at his home they could hit two birds with one stone. McLaren would take the blame and be punished this year, the dossier and the technicians responsible for its release could not take it with them to Renault for next year, and a World Champion driver who does not drive for Ferrari could be discredited. Very Macchiavellian. But effective.

Past events were clearly not relevant. Benetton’s cheating with a fuel rig some years ago when Schumacher drove for them was blamed on a rogue employee and the team got away with it scot free. The source of Ferrari’s previous intimate knowledge of the Berylium compound used to line the cylinders of a past McLaren-Mercedes engine has never been looked into; complaints of previous energy saving McLaren brake systems – that were both safer and and better for the environment, two laudable aims the FIA is always going on about – which were subsequently banned had to have originated with some sort of nefarious informing.

As for the illegal aerodynamic part used by Ferrari to help them win the Australian GP this year, Nigel Tozzi skillfully argued that although the part was later found to be illegal, at the time it was NOT illegal because it was passed using the then available test, even though when the test was altered to more closely reflect the principle rule it was set up to enforce it failed the legality test and was subsequently banned.

But the punishment is a dangerous precedent. $100 million would break most teams. What about all those teams who already use each other’s technology, or who will use it in the future, legally or not? What about the Honda A and B teams? The Red Bull/Torro Rosso technology shares? What about the illegal team orders that kept Schumacher champion all those years? What about teams using engineers who last year worked for a competitor? What about transfers of skills through simple staff changes? Concepts learned or directions followed in one team, when transferred to another when a new staff member arrives, must be part of the reason why staff are poached so often.

Ron Dennis came out of this very well in my eyes. Honest. Straightforward. But maybe a touch naive. His staff came out of this well too – top class intelligent engineers with oodles of integrity. Except one bad apple who didn’t fit in.

Ferrari comes out of this like any good Italian footballer – not averse to the odd well-hidden and cynical professional foul here or there, while diving in the penalty area whenever they get the chance and the referee’s attention. They walk away with the Championship, and due to the redistribution of Prize Money that would have gone to McLaren, with a slice of McLaren’s $100 million.

Max Mosley appears to have been too closely focussed on what Ferrari were saying, but with one of the Ferrari Directors always very close to his ear – and not withdrawn from the meeting at which confidential McLaren technical information was reported – how could he be else? You can imagine the whispering campaign that led up to this. He does seem to have been very quick to judge though.

So, is Formula One rotten to the core? Not while teams like McLaren remain. There is clearly some rot setting in though. As for the FIA – will it now be thought of as Ferrari International Automobiles?

Has Alonso enhanced his chances of employment? I wouldn’t think so. Any employer chasing him would have to be desperate now, knowing what they do about him. But perhaps Renault and Briatore are. We shall see. There will clearly be big changes next year. But you can be sure one of them won’t be more overtaking! After all, that isn’t safe, is it Mr Mosley?

Update – Interesting Links
Montoya says “Everyone in Formula 1 is doing it

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8 comments on “McLaren, Max Mosley, the Man from Ferrari – and Renault?

  1. I suggest you go back and re-read the transcripts. McLaren were caught red-handed with drivers exchanging emails based on what they knew to be Ferrari information. Anyone who reads the transcript cannot dispute the findings or the penalties unless they are incredibly biased.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Alan, you’re welcome to your opinion.

    The transcripts make clear the drivers are not employees, but contracted agents. McLaren does not have the same level of control over them as it would over an employee, and what an employee does at home an employer has even less control over. At least in European Law.

    The info the drivers were exchanging is the kind of information that most teams in the pits know about the other teams, but it doesn’t help them so much as you think due to having totally different concepts in their cars. Ferrari has a long wheelbase car, McLaren a shorter wheelbase car.

    McLaren were not caught red-handed, Mr Coughlan was. The FIA declined to investigate at McLaren and did not do so. They knew there was no proof there. They convicted on the basis of an assumption that if Coughlan had it at home, McLaren must have known about it at the factory. There is also the assumption that de la Rosa and Alonso told the team where they got the info from – they did not, but kept it to themselves.

    I think I need a higher burden of proof than you. I don’t believe that Ferrari have proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt – that McLaren were active and instigating partners in obtaining information from Ferrari.

    As for bias, are you saying there has been no pro-Ferrari bias in F1 for the last few years?

  3. […] that this weekend the Max Mosley FIA witch hunt against McLaren demanded that an FIA scrutineer should sit on the McLaren pit all weekend to “ensure fair […]

  4. read your article. What rubbish. You obviously are writing as a Mclaren fan. Pity you put so much bias on it. Who cares what happened in the past. Talk about 2007 and mclaren having the ferrari spec sheet with them.

    Ron dennis denies he know about it but why was the only one to complain about the special undertray of ferrari was Mclaren? So you saying Coughlan did it without anyone knowing? It HAD to come from the top brass in mclaren. That itself tells me Ron is nothing but a liar who goes around feeding lies and people like you believe into that when the facts are staring you in the face.

    Montoya, Coultard all have in some way implied working in the Mclaren team is not what it always seems. Alonso stood up to the bull and pity he has to pay a hefty price.

    You need another lie? Here,.. Ron keeps saying his team will give equal rights to its drivers. He tries to shift the scrutiny over to ferrari but Lewis mentions in his new book that the team gave orders to stay behind alonso and back off. Opps there goes your theory that Mclaren are so honest and lack good lawyers. Facts are facts. Don’t hide from it. And just so we all are clear, during the Senna Prost in mclaren, even the japanese engineers came out year after and said they liked senna and always tried to give him a car with more Bhp. Prost always argued that he was not given equal machines at the time but it was denied by the boss.

    Oh and by the way, ferrari did not use an illegal part in the first race. The rules were not clear on it and they worked around it to get an advantage. But since Mclaren complained (obviously they didn’t have it) FIA revisited the rule on it after the race, changed it to make the rule crystal clear what can and can’t be done. From that point in time, the part became illegal for ANYONE to use and Ferrari removed it. What you wrote to imply Ferrari gets away with illegal parts is plain and simply nonsense.

    If you really want to write about F1, stick to the facts even if its not want you want to hear or like. Thats called professional journalism.

  5. Thank you for your opinions eric. Formula One is a very technically demanding and challenging sport which can be confusing, as your post illustrates.

    With regard to Ferrari’s illegal floor, it was not the rule that was changed, but the way it was tested. When the tests were tightened, the Ferrari floor was found to be flexible and was therefore deemed illegal.

    In Formula 1 increasing the ride height of a car by just a single millimetre can reduce downforce by as much as 2%. With such small differences having such big effects it is vital that the tests are really accurate.

    You don’t measure the length of a Formula One car using a metre rule in which each centimetre marker is actually 11mm away from its predecessor. You don’t check a Formula One car weighs less than the maximum allowed by using scales that are only 90% accurate. And the test of rigidity should not allow flexible floors to pass. If a test doesn’t test what it is supposed to it should be changed until it does.

    In Melbourne, the same floor was used that failed in Spain. Since it was flexible in Spain, it was flexible in Melbourne. And flexible floors are illegal.

  6. oops… i just read your article, and now, with the decisions has taken following the renault-mclaren spy scandal, I absolutely agree that Mosley is the man from Ferrari and Renault (or maybe just the man opposite of McLaren).

    How could renault did not be punished just because of they didn’t applicate the data they got from mclaren (some, they thought the data was not gave any advantage to their car, and some other, cause they didn’t understand about the data), and of course, this decision taken after investigation through renault car

    While FIA didn’t want to inspect the McLaren’s 2007 car, that asked by McLaren itselfs, to prove that there’s no data of parts of Ferrari in McLaren’s 2007 car. And after McLaren’s 2008 car pass the inspection by FIA, McLaren still got the speed (which is imposibble to be still competitive if you develop an extremely different car from last year’s car).

  7. Thanks for your comments, nocamal, it does seem clear that McLaren are a “Persona non grata” in F1 when it comes to Mosley, doesn’t it? And you are right about the appearance of double standards.

    However, isn’t this par for the course when it comes to failed sportsmen who become Administrators of the sport in which they failed?

    It really does no favours to the the image of F1, something the FIA take drivers to task for at the drop of a hat.

  8. […] I did write something about Max Mosley and F1 here. It was just written a little while ago, but still seems to be quite […]

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