Stepney tipped Coughlan
According to a report published in this week’s Autosport magazine, Ferrari development director Nigel Stepney tipped McLaren chief engineer Mike Coughlan to a critical part of the Ferrari Formula One car’s design.
According to the report, Stepney e-mailed Coughlan about the design of the “moveable floor” of the Ferrari car. Though it is not yet known if Coughlan informed others at McLaren of the information, it is a matter of record that McLaren asked the FIA for a rule clarification about the design at the first race of the season. The FIA ended up changing its rules to disallow the Ferrari design.
It also turns out that Coughlan wasn’t just copying the stolen 780 page Ferrari document. According to the copy shop which tipped police to the theft, Coughlan’s wife wanted the documents transferred to disc, so that it could be easily loaded into a computer. The same report states that the actual documents were subsequently shredded and then burned in Coughlan’s back yard.
Of course, destroying the documents is exactly what Coughlan has said team manager Jonathan Neale told him to do.
That’s what this series of events is beginning to resemble.
In an avalanche, things start small, but they keep getting bigger – snowballing, if you’ll pardon the word – until its force becomes overwhelming.
It started with Stepney, then encompassed Coughlan. Coughlan lead to Neale. Now there is affirmative evidence, albeit circumstantial, that McLaren used confidential Ferrari information to give itself an advantage in competition. That the evidence is circumstantial doesn’t mean it’s not strong. Moreover, it is known that police have been investigating Stepney’s e-mails, so the evidence may eventually be even stronger.
The FIA is a sanctioning body, not a court of law. When it sits in judgment on a team, as it will on McLaren beginning July 26th, it is both prosecutor and judge. It’s goal is not to protect the team, but to protect the sport and Bernie Ecclestone’s pocketbook. It cannot afford to run the risk that whatever action it takes now will be regarded as overly lenient after the British and Italian criminal investigations run their course. Nor can it afford to let the legal authorities take effective control of the investigation.
It does not look good for McLaren.
Not good at all.