McLaren and the FIA: Sgt. Schultz or Capt. Renault?
No, not that Renault. The one in the movie Casablanca.
On of the most baffling tidbits to be revealed in transcripts of the World Motorsports Council hearings into McLaren’s misconduct, as published in the last two days, is McLaren team manager Ron Dennis’s explanation of how he came to discover that McLaren was, in fact, using data stolen from Ferrari. He claims that Fernando Alonso attempted to blackmail him by threatening to reveal e-mails that contained the information.
Dennis’s testimony shows a deeply antagonistic relationship between himself and the team’s star driver, Alonso. Dennis described an argument with Alonso in early August, on the morning of the Hungarian Grand Prix. In it, Dennis said that Alonso threatened to reveal McLaren’s use of stolen Ferrari data unless he, Alonso, was named the number one driver on the team, relegating Lewis Hamilton to a secondary driving role. Dennis testified that he instead informed Max Mosley of the FIA, which then reopened its investigation of McLaren.
Dennis specifically asserted in his testimony that he was personally unaware of the e-mails containing Ferrari information until this conversation with Alonso, indicated that McLaren has 1300 employees and that he was, for that reason, removed from the operations that would have given him that knowledge. Dennis also testified that Alonso did not attend the Council hearing because Alonso chose not to do so, and Dennis could not compel him to do so.
Here is what is undisputed: at least three people at McLaren were involved in the use of stolen Ferrari data: the chief engineer, one of the two team drivers, and the team’s test driver. As team manager, Dennis may not be in a position to know what all 1300 McLaren employees are doing. But Coughlan, Alonso, and De la Rosa are three very important employees with whom it would be expected that Dennis would have frequent contact and over whom he was exercising direct supervisory authority.
How could he not know?
Moreover, if Ron Dennis knew nothing of the facts, why would Alonso choose to reveal his own involvement in conduct which clearly put him at risk of being banned from racing? Following the first Council hearing, it had been abundantly clear that action would be taken if it were to be discovered that McLaren had benefited from confidential information stolen by Ferrari. Were Dennis to inform the FIA that Alonso had been involved and attempted to shift the blame from the organization to Alonso personally, Alonso would clearly be at risk of being banned for the balance of the season, if not forever, for participating in the violations. If Dennis’ antipathy to Alonso were as great as it seems to be, how could Alonso have run that risk?
Alonso could not have run the risk of revealing this to Dennis unless Alonso knew – absolutely knew – that Dennis was involved
Predictably, the British press is issuing opinion pieces decrying the unfair treatment meted out to McLaren. To them, McLaren is the victim, not the perpetrator.
Not so fast.
The whole situation is reminiscent of Sgt. Schultz, the legendary prison guard at Stalag 13 in Hogan’s Heroes, a television series so often shown in repeats that it must be imposed on the collective consciousness of all those over the age of 35. Periodically, Schultz would stumble upon some nefarious plot the prisoners were hatching to aid in the underground smuggling of Allied soldiers to France. Always, Schultz would initially say that he would have to report what he’d seen to the camp commandant, Col. Klink.
But always, Col. Hogan would explain things to Schultz: were the sergeant to report what he’d seen, he’d be admitting that he’d failed to prevent it from happening. He’d be implicating himself in dereliction of duty, and subject to punishment.
ltz always responded the same way:
“I know nooothink!!!”
Then he’d walk away.
Team McLaren has been nailed for $100,000,000.00.
They have until today to appeal.
They are not expected to do so.
But, why not?
If it is as Dennis says it is, then there has been a terrible injustice done. Alonso, who was involved, walks away scott-free. That’s not fair to the Ferrari drivers or to anyone else driving in Formula One. It most especially isn’t fair to Hamilton, who would have a much better chance of the championship if Alonso weren’t in the competition and who, by everybody’s acknowledgement, has done nothing whatsoever wrong. Moreover, no less an authority than Juan Pablo Montoya calls Hamilton the favorite of Dennis, and says he is Dennis’ protégé.
So why not appeal?
If Dennis is clean, as he claims, the $100 million fine isn’t fair. Sure, take the constructors points because the team, through Alonso, Coughlan, and de la Rosa, did violate the rules. But a fine that exceeds the annual budget of most Formula One teams? How’s that fair?
If Dennis is clean, it’s not fair.
But there’s still that one problem:
Dennis knew about the stolen documents Coughlan had, and he told no one. He obviously knew Max Mosley’s phone number. He could have called.
But he didn’t.
McLaren won’t appeal for one simple reason:
Dennis is dirty and Alonso knows too much. At this juncture, neither can afford to have another round in front of the FIA.
The first Council hearing was a whitewash, designed to sweep the whole thing under the rug.
So, too, was the second.
That hundred million wasn’t a fine.
It was a price.
McLaren has done a lot more than they have admitted publicly, even more than they’ve been publicly accused of doing.
That hundred million was a buy-out.
You see, there’s another movie analogy: it is Captain Renault in Casablanca who shuts down the gambling at Rick’s. As the Captain is handed his own winnings, he says to Rick, “I’m shocked, shocked, to discover that there is gambling going on here.”
So, too, no doubt, is the FIA.