The (Mclaren) plot thickens: "Liar, liar, pants on fire, nose as long as a telephone wire"
Somehow, that lyric from the immortal song by the Zombies fits Formula One today.
As the team managers of McLaren and Ferrari get into a shouting match prior to qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix – a match that ends only when Bernie Ecclestone physically stands between the two – details of the McLaren defense are emerging.
They’re not pretty.
According to McLaren - as related by the team’s manager, Ron Dennis, in a letter written in response to the FIA’s decision to hear anew Ferrari’s allegations that McLaren spied on the team - the initial contact between the teams occurred when Nigel Stepney, then with Ferrari, contacted Mike Coughlan, then and now the chief engineer of McLaren. Stepney ratted out, according to Dennis, an illegal floor design being used by Ferrari. Coughlan reported the information to his superiors at McLaren and McLaren used the information to complain about the design to the FIA, which eventually changed the regulations in a manner that rendered that design illegal.
Stepney also informed McLaren about an ostensibly illegal rear wing design, and this, too, was part of the McLaren complaint. But, the wing design survived FIA scrutiny.
Somehow, despite all this, Ferrari didn’t suspect that McLaren was privy to inside information.
In other words, McLaren had a mole inside Ferrari and used the information the mole provided to challenge two of the most important aspects of a Formula One design and were successful in getting the most important of them - Ferrari’s floor design – disqualified by the FIA.
So, having succeeded in using the information that Stepney provided,
Dennis says that Coughlan was instructed" to cease contact with Mr. Stepney."
Nonetheless, according to Mr. Dennis, his chief engineer, Mr. Coughlan, was thereafter persistently contacted by Stepney and those contacts ultimately resulted in a face to face meeting between Stepney and Coughlan on April 28th.
According to Dennis, the team knew of the meeting but did not know what transpired at that meeting.
Presumably the team’s chief engineer was attempting to explain to Ferrari’s director of development that he, i.e., Mr. Coughlan, really wanted to be left alone, that Stepney was becoming a bit of a pest, and that Coughlan really had better things to do, such as washing his hair.
According to Dennis, prior to the April 28th meeting between Coughlan and Stepney, Coughlan showed single page documents to others on the McLaren team on two occasions and those documents were which were, in fact, stolen Ferrari documents.
Dennis, however, claims the team was not aware that the documents were from Ferrari until 780 pages of stolen Ferrari documents were recovered from Coughlan’s residence on July 3rd.
That was shortly after Coughlan had sent his wife to a photocopy shop to have the stolen documents duplicated and ran into the misfortune of a copy clerk that recognized them for what they were, loved Formula One, and called Ferrari.
Think about that for just a second.
A clerk at a copy shop recognized the stolen Ferrari documents for what they were.
A clerk at a copy shop.
Ron Dennis acknowledges that Coughlan showed his superiors in the team two pages of stolen Ferrari documents.
Coughlan was the chief engineer of the McLaren team.
One presumes that the stolen documents were not the Ferrari team’s lunch order, and that the two pages – of 780 pages that he possessed – which Coughlan showed to his superiors were not Jean Todt’s invitation list for his next party.
Here is what Dennis wrote:
"Ferrari has tried to latch on to two instances where Mr. Coughlan has stated that he showed single pages which he says were from the Ferrari Documents to two other McLaren staff: Mr. Taylor [a McLaren engineer who was previously employed at Ferrari] and Mr. Neale [Coughlan’s immediate superior, whose superior, in turn, was Mr. Dennis]. The Council [of the FIA] has fully investigated these instances, and concluded quite rightly that neither Mr. Taylor nor Mr. Neale were aware that the single pages they were shown were Ferrari confidential information, still less that they were part of a dossier of several hundred pages which Mr. Coughlan had secretly received and kept at his house."
Dennis concludes by asserting that Coughlan "was acting secretly, in breach of his contract with McLaren, and for his own private purposes, quite conceivably as part of a scheme to leave McLaren and join another team together with Mr. Stepney."
So, why is Coughlan still employed at McLaren?
Ferrari fired Stepney, and the general impression one gets from Ferrari’s public statements is that the only reason that they fired him is that they couldn’t legally kill him.
But McLaren has merely “suspended” Coughlan.
Granted, McLaren is an English team, and England lacks that sense of revenge which has made the Sicilian mafia both unpopular in fact and popular in fiction. On the other hand, no country values successful spying more than England. Think Bond, James Bond.
So, do you believe Ron Dennis?
Reportedly, Dennis and Ferrari team manager Jean Todt got into a shouting match prior to qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, an incident initiated when Dennis made a provocative gesture toward Todt and that ended only when Formula One czar Bernie Ecclestone stepped between the two.
Ecclestone, it is said, told the two they were being “childish.”
Few children get a budget as large as that of the two leading Formula One teams.
They aren’t being childish. Exactly the opposite.
They’re playing for keeps.
So, here are the choices, courtesy of your devoted reporter at TopSpeed.com:
If you owned a Formula One team - i.e., you were so rich and powerful that you would spend $30 thousand on the floor for the tent in which you provided lunch - and your chief engineer got himself into enough trouble that you could lose the championship that you were in the process of spending $100 million to capture,
a. Keep him on the team?
b. Keep him on the payroll?
c. Not say anything bad about him publicly?
d. All of the above?
e. None of the above?
Apparently, Mr. Dennis would select d.
As should we all.
We should do our best to emulate Mr. Dennis because,
He’s obviously a generous and kind man.