David Tremayne: Harsh punishment the result of Mosley's war on McLaren
Friday 14 September 2007
So, did the punishment fit the crime? Following yesterday's decision by the World Motor Sport Council, McLaren were fined $100m (£49.2m) and have lost the 166 points they have scored in the World Championship, and will not be eligible to score any more regardless of what their drivers Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso achieve this season.
One of the least savoury aspects of this sorry saga has been the accusation that it has not just been a matter of pursuing justice, but part of the ongoing class war between team principal Ron Dennis and FIA president Max Mosley.
Mosley, the son of controversial politician Sir Oswald Mosley, was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. The family owned a significant part of Manchester but Sir Oswald's political persuasions militated against his son's own aspirations in that arena. Dennis came from humbler stock, working his way up from his role as mechanic to Jochen Rindt at Cooper and then Brabham to run his own racing teams. It took him four tries before he finally hit the jackpot with McLaren in 1980.
Naturally, Mosley and the FIA have vehemently denied this. But the fact remains that Dennis was told in Monza last weekend that if he were to retire from the sport, all the teams' problems would go away.
Then there is the fact that drivers Hamilton and Alonso keep their points, and thus remain in strong contention for the drivers' world championship as it goes into its final four races starting with the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend.
This of course is common sense as far as the interest of the world is concerned. It would indeed be suicidal for the WMSC to have penalised them out of the competition, but there is a clear paradox here. The fact remains that if the cars benefited from Ferrari technology, then so did the men who drove them.
Whether any of this is fair depends upon your point of view. At a stroke, it hands the constructors' title to Ferrari. Throughout, the Italian team have been portrayed as the wronged party, having had their intellectual property allegedly stolen by their former head of performance development, Nigel Stepney, who had become disgruntled with an inferior position when he had aspirations of talking over the departed Ross Brawn's position as technical director of the team. Stepney is still the subject of a criminal investigation in Italy, but the recipient of the data – all 780 pages of it – was McLaren chief designer, Mike Coughlan. He has stated in a legal affidavit that he received the information from Stepney.
That much we knew. That, and the fact that Stepney and Coughlan had aspirations to present themselves as technical director and chief designer to Honda (and Toyota), together with other disaffected Ferrari personnel. What was not known until yesterday was whether Coughlan subsequently used any of the Ferrari information to develop the McLaren MP4-22. The WMSC held that he had.
Stripping McLaren of all of their world championship points is excessively harsh, given that the period in which their car may or may not have benefited from the Ferrari information effectively ran from March to August. And given that teams habitually copy one another. It is common for all of them to employ photographers to take images of rivals' cars on the starting grid. It is thus very difficult to determine whether developments have arisen because of industrial espionage or due to such "diligence".
Oh, and that $100m fine? It is unprecedented and Draconian, and clearly designed to grab world headlines. Perhaps it was just the late hour at which the official statement was written, perhaps it was genuine obfuscation, but the net effect is that the day after the decision, all the world will remember is a massive fine, whether or not that is what McLaren will ever actually pay.
Ferrari have won this round and are very happy about it, but elsewhere in the paddock there is little respect for a team that literally seems happy to win at any cost.
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