McLaren hits back at FerrariThursday, 02, August, 2007, 00:59
McLaren has accused Ferrari of spreading false and misleading information about its role in the spy saga so as to tarnish its reputation and destabilise its world championship challenge.
In addition, the British team has responded to its Italian rival’s allegations that it has cheated by claiming that Ferrari won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix with an illegal car.
Stung by recent statements from Ferrari and the Italian motorsport federation, and dismayed by the FIA’s decision to refer the espionage case to its Court of Appeal, McLaren published a detailed monologue on Wednesday evening intended to “set the record straight”.
The letter, written by Ron Dennis and addressed to the president of the Italian motorsport authority Luigi Macaluso, presents McLaren’s version of events in public for the first time.
Dennis reveals that his team was made aware of technical irregularities with Ferrari’s cars in March after Ferrari’s high-ranking employee Nigel Stepney tipped off McLaren’s chief designer Mike Coughlan.
But he insists that this disclosure constituted “whistle-blowing” and was in no way connected to the 780-page dossier containing secret Ferrari information later found at Coughlan’s house – of which McLaren says it had no knowledge until July 3.
The information Stepney furnished in March concerned two contentious aspects of the Ferrari F2007: its rear wing separator and a floor attachment mechanism.
As a result McLaren requested a clarification of the rules from the FIA, which subsequently introduced more stringent bodywork regulations that forced Ferrari to redesign its floor.
“As far as we are aware, Ferrari ran their cars with this illegal device at the Australian Grand Prix, which they won,” Dennis writes.
“Ferrari only withdrew the floor device after it was confirmed to be illegal by the FIA.
“Were it not for Mr Stepney drawing this illegal device to the attention of McLaren, and McLaren drawing it to the attention of the FIA, there is every reason to suppose that Ferrari would have continued to race with an illegal car.”
Despite defending Stepney’s “whistle-blowing”, Dennis says McLaren was concerned that he might be harbouring a grudge against Ferrari and therefore instructed Coughlan to avoid further contact with him.
Coughlan was given the go-ahead to meet Stepney on April 28 – outside of working hours – after he convinced his superiors that it was the only way to stop Stepney from continuing to air his grievances about Ferrari.
Dennis says McLaren believed that this meeting had settled the matter and knew of no more conversations between the two men until July 3.
He categorically refutes the allegation that any other McLaren employees knew that Coughlan had been given confidential Ferrari data by Stepney, and insists Coughlan kept this material at his house for ulterior motives.
“I emphasise that these documents were found at Mr Coughlan’s home,” Dennis writes.
“No Ferrari documents were found at McLaren’s offices.
“Since Ferrari discovered that Mr Coughlan had the Ferrari documents at his home, it has gone to extraordinary lengths to try to maximise the damage to McLaren, no doubt hoping to gain some advantage for the world championship.
“In particular, Ferrari has alleged, without any justification, that other McLaren staff were aware of what Mr Coughlan had done and that McLaren made some use of the documents.
“Ferrari has no evidence whatsoever for these offensive and false allegations and presented no such evidence to the World Motor Sport Council.
“The Council quite correctly rejected these allegations.”
Dennis accuses Ferrari of deliberately blurring the distinction between the earlier “whistle-blowing” incident and Stepney and Coughlan’s subsequent collusion.
“These [latter] events are quite separate from Mr Stepney’s whistle-blowing in March 2007, because during this period Mr Coughlan was acting secretly, in breach of his contract with McLaren, and for his own private purposes, quite conceivably as part of a scheme to leave McLaren and join another team together with Mr Stepney,” Dennis writes.
“As regards Ferrari’s allegation that other McLaren staff were aware of what Mr Coughlan had done, in its statements to the press, Ferrari has tried to confuse the March 2007 whistle-blowing by Mr Stepney (which McLaren did know about) with the events on and following 28 April 2007 (which Mr Coughlan kept completely secret).
“Let me make it clear: McLaren did know about the whistle-blowing matters in March 2007 – indeed it reported these matters to the FIA.
“However that has nothing to do with what Mr Coughlan did on and after 28 April 2007.
“McLaren management and staff had no knowledge whatsoever about that.”
Dennis admits that two McLaren staff, including managing director Jonathan Neale, were shown single pieces of paper which Coughlan claims were taken from the Ferrari dossier – but denies that they either used them or had any idea of their provenance.
“In short these instances did not alert Mr Taylor or Mr Neale that Mr Coughlan had taken possession of the Ferrari documents,” Dennis writes.
“Neither they nor any other member of McLaren staff had any idea what Mr Coughlan had done.”
Dennis is adamant that McLaren was not only unaware of Coughlan’s collusion with Stepney, but did not benefit inadvertently from the information he had gleaned.
“Mr Coughlan himself is categoric that he made no use of the Ferrari documents in the McLaren car,” Dennis writes.
“Mr Coughlan’s job related to the management of drawing production by the design staff and their sign off prior to issue to our production facilities.
“He did not have responsibility for the performance enhancement of the car.”
Dennis says McLaren conducted “a very thorough physical and electronic search” which established that “none of the Ferrari documents were at McLaren as opposed to at Mr Coughlan’s home, and that there is no possibility that any of the information in those documents could have been used on any development on the McLaren car.
“At the hearing, McLaren demonstrated clearly to the satisfaction of the World Motor Sport Council that no use whatsoever has been made of any of the contents of the Ferrari documents in the McLaren car.
“Accordingly, Ferrari’s continued allegations in the press that McLaren has made use of the Ferrari Documents are entirely false.”
Finally, Dennis disputes Ferrari’s claim that it was not given a proper opportunity to put its case, pointing to a memorandum circulated to the WMSC (and leaked to the Italian press) and several interventions during the hearing itself.
“Ferrari fully participated in the hearing before the Council,” Dennis contends.
“I therefore simply do not understand what basis there is for Ferrari’s claim that it was denied an opportunity to put its case.
“It put its case both in writing and orally.”
In his closing remarks Dennis accuses Ferrari of dragging the sport through the mud through “grossly misleading statements” about McLaren’s actions.
“The reason McLaren was not penalised is that the World Motor Sport Council rightly concluded that it should not be blamed for Mr Coughlan’s actions,” he writes.
“It based its decision on solid facts and not false innuendo.
“McLaren’s reputation has been unfairly sullied by incorrect press reports from Italy and grossly misleading statements from Ferrari.
“This is a fantastic world championship and it would be a tragedy if one of the best world championships in years was derailed by the acts of one Ferrari and one McLaren employee acting for their own purposes wholly unconnected with Ferrari or McLaren.
“We believe that the Ferrari press releases, the leaks to the Italian press and recent events have been damaging to Formula 1 as well as McLaren.
“The world championship should be contested on the track not in courts or in the press.
“We will naturally present our case before the FIA Court of Appeal as we strongly believe McLaren has done nothing wrong.
“It is our belief that justice will prevail and that McLaren will not be penalised.”