Coughlan – Stepney update
Those following the drama of the purloined Ferrari documents will recall that a British court proceeding brought by Ferrari against Mike Coughlan and his wife, Trudy, ended rather abruptly with a deal being struck between Coughlan, his wife, and Ferrari. Under the agreement, Coughlan, chief engineer for McLaren, and his wife would provide a detailed affidavit to Ferrari explaining precisely how the Coughlans came into possession of 780 pages of secret Ferrari technical data and drawings. In return, Ferrari agreed it would not provide that affidavit to prosecuting authorities in Italy.
Though most of the details remain unclear, some of the information set out in the Coughlan affidavits is leaking out. What’s coming out doesn’t entirely support the claims of innocence repeatedly issued by McLaren, but doesn’t entirely contradict those claims either.
According to a report by Martin Brundle in the TimesOnLine website, Coughlan admitted in his affidavit the obvious – that he had possession of the Ferrari documents. No news there. The documents were found in his residence. But he also acknowledged showing them to several of his colleagues at McLaren. According to Coughlan, all of those to whom he showed the documents told him that he should destroy them.
While, at first blush, this suggests that McLaren employees, with the exception of Coughlan, acted honorably, it may actually raise a number of nasty new questions for McLaren to answer. If, as he claims, all of the McLaren employees told him to destroy the documents, why didn’t he do that? And why would they have recommended destroying them, rather than reporting the theft of the documents to the FIA, the proper law enforcement authorities, and Ferrari? Exactly how many people were shown the documents, and in what level of detail? Did these employees think the documents should be destroyed because it wasn’t fair to keep them, or because they thought it would eliminate the chances of getting caught?
It is also reported that Coughlan’s affidavit did not – that’s not - name Nigel Stepney, former Ferrari director of Development, as the person who provided the documents to Coughlan. There is, as yet, no indication of the identity of the person who was named as the source.
Brundle’s report also offers insight into the value of these documents to Ferrari. Though design information would not be easy to immediately incorporate into design of the race car, it would have immediate value in race strategy. Brundle cites, as an example, knowledge of the fuel capacity and strategy of the Ferrari teams as giving McLaren an advantage. Knowledge of the flexibility of Ferrari aerodynamic parts would also have immediate value.
This much is becoming clear: McLaren’s attempt to portray itself as ignorant of Coughlan’s actions, is becoming harder to credit. Coughlan was chief engineer. He might have shown the documents only to subordinates, but the identities of those to whom the documents were displayed is going to be critical in determining the impact of this episode on the McLaren team’s chances of avoiding FIA sanctions and, potentially, being stripped of race wins during the current season.