2007 Formula One Espionage Controversy - Details - FIA Investigation

FIA Investigation

On 4 July 2007, McLaren announced it had conducted an investigation and concluded that "no Ferrari intellectual property has been passed to any other members of the team or incorporated into cars." The team also invited the FIA to inspect its cars to confirm these facts; "In order to address some of the speculation McLaren has invited the FIA to conduct a full review of its cars to satisfy itself that the team has not benefited from any intellectual property of another competitor." Since the revelation of Coughlan's involvement in the affair, McLaren provided a full set of drawings and development documents to the FIA, detailing all updates made to the team's chassis since the incident occurred at the end of April.

On 12 July 2007, the FIA announced that it had summoned McLaren to an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council to answer charges that they had breached Article 151C of the International Sporting Code. At the hearing on 26 July 2007, FIA found that Vodafone McLaren Mercedes was in possession of confidential Ferrari information and is therefore in breach of the Code, but with no evidence that they had used the information no punishment was levied. However, the FIA reserved the right to reconvene on the matter if any such evidence subsequently came to light.

Ferrari labelled the decision "incomprehensible"; Autosport judged the team to be "furious". McLaren said " unanimous decision has been taken by the FIA which in McLaren's opinion is very balanced and fair." The matter was referred to the FIA International Court of Appeal, with the hearing scheduled for September 13, 2007.

On 1 August 2007, Ron Dennis, in an open letter to the president of the Italian motorsport authority Luigi Macaluso, accused Ferrari of giving a false and dishonest version of events and further that the car used to win the 2007 Australian Grand Prix was illegal. McLaren learned of the "illegal" floor device from Nigel Stepney, with the team describing this contact as whistle-blowing. However the team insists that following this incident, Jonathan Neale instructed Coughlan to cease contact with Stepney. McLaren accuse Ferrari of trying to blur this "whistle-blowing" of which McLaren was aware, with Coughlan's possession of the 780 page Ferrari dossier which it insists it was not aware.

The 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix was a controversial weekend for McLaren; Alonso held Hamilton up in the pit lane during qualifying, denying Hamilton a chance to record a final lap time. TV pictures showed Ron Dennis angrily throwing his headphones down as Alonso pulled out of the pits, and after the session was over he was then shown having a serious conversation with Alonso's trainer. On the morning of the race (August 5), Alonso met Ron Dennis in his motorhome and allegedly threatened to send his email exchanges with McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa and Coughlan to the FIA. According to Max Mosley, Ron Dennis informed him of the conversation and told Mosley that the threat was an empty one, "There’s no information, there’s nothing to come out; I can assure you that if there was something, Max, I would have told you.” Mosley subsequently retracted the implication that Dennis had lied.

On 5 September 2007, the FIA announced that it had received new evidence regarding the case, and would re-open the investigation on September 13. This replaced the planned appeal hearing. It later transpired that the new evidence was the driver's emails that were sent to Bernie Ecclestone, F1's commercial rights holder who then informed the FIA. The FIA requested the three McLaren drivers (Alonso, Hamilton and de la Rosa) to provide relevant evidence and help FIA in further investigation. In return FIA offered assurance that any information made available would not result in any proceeding against the driver personally under the International Sporting Code or the Formula One Regulations. However, the drivers were notified that if it later came to light that they had withheld any potentially relevant information, serious consequences could follow.

On 11 September, McLaren approached the FIA with questions about the Renault F1 team, and possibly other, unknown teams as well. It is unknown if this relates directly to the espionage scandal, but a key McLaren argument is that if they are guilty, other teams are as well.

On 13 September, the FIA hearing imposed a penalty for illicitly collecting and holding information from Ferrari to confer a dishonest and fraudulent sporting advantage upon McLaren. The penalty consisted of exclusion from and withdrawal of all points awarded to McLaren in all rounds of the 2007 Constructors' Championship, a record fine of $100 million (less the TV and travel income lost as a result of the points deduction), and the obligation for the team to submit its 2008 chassis for scrutiny. However, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton's points were not affected, and the two were free to contest the Drivers' Championship, because McLaren's drivers were offered immunity in exchange for cooperation. The team was not banned and all drivers points earned only counted towards the driver's championship points. Whenever a McLaren driver won any of the remaining races, (the only example being Hamilton at the Japanese Grand Prix), no McLaren representative was allowed onto the podium.

On 14 September, Ron Dennis announced that he was the one who alerted the FIA that further evidence existed.

On 15 September, Max Mosley contested Ron Dennis' claim that he alerted the FIA to the existence of further evidence, claiming that Dennis actually alerted him that Alonso had decided to send the emails in himself, and that Mosley had been erroneously assured by Dennis that the emails contained nothing incriminating.

On 6 December, Renault were found guilty of breaching article 151(c) of the International Sporting Code by another FIA WMSC hearing, but escaped penalty.

On 13 December, McLaren issued a press release detailing a letter sent by Martin Whitmarsh, COO of the team, to the FIA. In the letter, Whitmarsh stated that the team accepted that "a number of McLaren employees" had access to Ferrari technical information, and apologised that it took the intervention of the FIA for this to come to light. The team also offered to "enter into discussion... as to a moratorium of an appropriate length in respect of the use" of the systems. On the same day, the FIA issued a press release stating that the FIA president would ask the members of the World Council "for their consent to cancel the hearing scheduled for 14 February 2008 and, in the interests of the sport, to consider this matter closed."

On 23 February 2009, legal proceedings against McLaren employees in Italy were dropped. In return, Mike Coughlan had to pay €180,000 while Paddy Lowe, Johnathan Neale and Rob Taylor had to pay €150,000.

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