Furious Dennis accuses Ferrari of cheating

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McLaren boss Ron Dennis has hit back at Ferrari in the escalating row over spying in Formula 1.

In a letter to Luigi Macaluso, who successfully petitioned the FIA for an appeal against McLaren’s exoneration last week, Dennis accused Ferrari of:

  • Winning the Australian Grand Prix with an illegal car
  • Leaking portions of their memorandum on the spy case to the Italian press
  • Untruthfully claiming that they were not allowed to cross-question McLaren during the FIA hearing last week

He also wrote a lengthy defence of McLaren’s conduct – here’s a breakdown of everything he had to say about McLaren’s defence and Ferrari’s conduct:

On McLaren’s protest against Ferrari’s flexi-floor

Ferrari only withdrew the floor device after it was confirmed to be illegal by the FIA. Were it not for Mr Stepney drawing this illegal device to the attention of McLaren, and McLaren drawing it to the attention of the FIA, there is every reason to suppose that Ferrari would have continued to race with an illegal car.

Dennis claimed that Nigel Stepney first contacted Mike Coughlan to alert him to the design of Ferrari’s floor at the Australian Grand Prix. Ferrari won the race using the ‘flexi-floor’, but after McLaren protested to the FIA the rules governing the floor were changed and Ferrari, and other teams, had to change their design.

McLaren defended Stepney, saying he acted “in the interests of the sport” by alerting them to the matter so that they could alert the FIA.

The claim that Ferrari cheated and got away with it is incendiary.

On Stepney and Coughlan’s relationship

McLaren [took] steps immediately after learning of the contact between Mr Stepney and Mr Coughlan in March 2007 to ensure that Mr Stepney and Mr Coughlan ceased having any contact.


In early April 2007, Mr Coughlan told Mr Neale [his superior] that despite his best efforts to cut off contact, Mr Stepney continued to contact him to express grievances about his lot with Ferrari. Mr Neale arranged for the installation of a “firewall” on McLaren’s computer system to stop emails from Mr Stepney.

In addition to this Mr Coughlan said to Mr Neale that the only way he thought that this would stop is if Mr Coughlan spoke to Mr Stepney face to face and told him to stop trying to contact him. Mr Neale agreed that he could do this outside working hours.


When Mr Coughlan returned to work, he told Mr Neale that his meeting with Mr Stepney had achieved its objective and he believed that Mr Stepney would not contact him again.

These paragraphs are intriguing because FIA President Max Mosley recently questioned why McLaren behaved in this way, by sending Coughlan to Barcelona to meet Stepney “rather than simply phone him”. McLaren’s defence, one assumes, is that they did not appreciate that Stepney wished to furnish Coughlan with technical details of the Ferrari design.

On the Ferrari document and whether any other McLaren staff saw it

Mr Coughlan says that he made no use of the Documents at work and that no one else at McLaren knew that he had taken the Documents.


Mr Coughlan has stated that he showed single pages which he says were from the Ferrari Documents to two other McLaren staff: Mr Taylor (another McLaren engineer who had previously worked with Mr Coughlan when they were both at Ferrari) and Mr Neale.

The Council 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.

So far as Mr Taylor is concerned, Mr Coughlan briefly showed him a single diagram. Mr Taylor had no idea whether this was an old or new diagram and had no idea it came from Mr Stepney. He was not given a copy and made no use of the diagram. He paid no attention to the incident.

As for Mr Neale, he had an informal meeting at a restaurant on 25 May 2007 to discuss a request Mr Coughlan had made for an early release from his contract of employment with McLaren.

Towards the end of this Mr Coughlan began to show Mr Neale two images, but Mr Neale stated that he was not interested in seeing them. Mr Neale has stated that these images did not appear to have any connection with Ferrari or any other team. When asked at the hearing about this, Mr Neale said that although this was only speculation on his part, he thought that Mr Coughlan was about to refer to the images to seek resources from him for digital mock up equipment.

It is critical to McLaren’s defence that Taylor and Neale’s claim, that they did not know they were looking at portions of a Ferrari document, holds water.

On Ferrari’s claim that McLaren staff had seen the Ferrari document

Ferrari has tried to confuse the March 2007 whistle-blowing by Mr Stepney (which McLaren did know about) with the events on and following 28 April 2007 (which Mr Coughlan kept completely secret).

Let me make it clear: McLaren did know about the whistle blowing matters in March 2007 – indeed it reported these matters to the FIA. However that has nothing to do with what Mr Coughlan did on and after 28 April 2007. McLaren management and staff had no knowledge whatsoever about that.

On whether any of Ferrari’s intellectual property was used on the McLaren

Mr Coughlan himself is categoric that he made no use of the Ferrari documents in the McLaren car. Mr Coughlan… did not have responsibility for the performance enhancement of the car.

This function lies with the Chief Engineers and R&D Team who report to the Engineering Director, Patrick Lowe, who provided detailed evidence to the World Motor Sport Council. An important part of Mr Coughlan’s job was, however, monitoring the testing and reliability of the car throughout the year.

McLaren conducted a very thorough physical and electronic search (conducted by Kroll) and a thorough engineering study conducted by Patrick Lowe to see if any of the Ferrari Documents were or are at McLaren or if any use of such documents has actually been made in relation to the McLaren car.

This investigation has confirmed that none of the Ferrari Documents were at McLaren as opposed to at Mr Coughlan’s home and that there is no possibility that any of the information in those Documents could have been used on any development on the McLaren car.

This is another vital part of their case. Following the World Motor Sports Council’s decision the council said that: “If it is found in the future that the Ferrari information has been used to the detriment of the championship, we reserve the right to invite Vodafone McLaren Mercedes back in front of the WMSC where it will face the possibility of exclusion from not only the 2007 championship but also the 2008 championship.”

In other words, were it proved that Ferrari technology had been used on the McLaren, they would be looking at probably the greatest punishment ever handed out to an F1 team.

On whether Ferrari were represented at the WMSC hearing

[Mr Macaluso’s] letter also suggests that the outcome might have been different if the Council had given Ferrari further opportunities to be heard beyond those offered. I again ask you to look at the real facts, which are that Ferrari fully participated in the hearing before the Council.


Ferrari, who were represented by lawyers, were given several opportunities by the FIA President to ask questions and make submissions throughout the hearing. Mr Todt also gave evidence.

It was clear that the FIA President afforded Ferrari every opportunity to be heard in order to ensure that all relevant matters were heard by the WMSC. Indeed, at the very end of the proceeding, Ferrari intervened with a request to make further closing comments. Ferrari’s request was permitted and their lawyer proceeded to make further detailed closing comments at some length.

I am not entirely clear on this matter – some sources have said that Ferrari were not represented at the hearing, others have said they were. Perhaps the former are just taking Ferrari’s claims at face value?

On Ferrari leaks to the press

Ferrari submitted a lengthy, albeit grossly misleading, memorandum dated 16th July 2007 along with supporting documents which together totalled 118 pages.

Ferrari did not send McLaren the memorandum. The memorandum was circulated to the Council on the 20 July. McLaren did not see it until two days before the hearing and it was only then that we were able to correct its grossly inaccurate contents.

In the meantime, the misleading Ferrari memorandum or sections of it appear to have been leaked to the Italian press as much of the Italian press reports echo elements of that memorandum.


We believe that the Ferrari press releases, the leaks to the Italian press and recent events have been damaging to Formula 1 as well as McLaren. The World Championship should be contested on the track not in Courts or in the press.

The final remark may well be an attempt, in light of Todt’s attack on the FIA following the verdict, to put pressure on the governing body to take action against Ferrari.

But it’s hard to imagine the FIA not only siding with McLaren completely, but also punishing its number one rival for, as Dennis appears to believe, strategically leaking certain information to paint McLaren in a worse light.

We wait with bated breath for the announcement of the appeal hearing and its verdict. Perhaps wisely, the FIA have not invited either Ron Dennis or Jean Todt to the team principal’s press conference at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Friday.

The full transcript is available Autosport (external).

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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16 comments on “Furious Dennis accuses Ferrari of cheating”

  1. I just read the whole article on Pitpass….. My eyes hurt.

    Good for Ron, he has kept his mouth shut this long, and if all this is true that must have been very difficult.

  2. We don’t know what Coughlan is saying because his affidavit is being kept a secret. What we do have is Ferrari saying several top members of the management knew about the document, told Coughlan to destroy it and did nothing else. And then we have McLaren saying no one knew about the stolen documents till it was revealed to the public, Coughlan kept it at home and was intending to quit McLaren. So who is telling the truth?

    I would love to bet on Ferrari, but this issue can destroy careers, reputations and several people’s work of an entire lifetime. I think I will reserve judgement till we know all the facts for sure.

    If we were to reconstruct the events:
    (a) Ferrari suspects Stepney of sabotage and carry out investigation.
    (b) Ferrari discovers Coughlan has Ferrari stolen documents. Ron Dennis talks to Jean Todt, and it looks like Todt was not accusing McLaren of foul play at this point of time, in fact Dennis said Todt understood and was not questioning his integrity…they were just cooperating.
    (c) Ferrari discovers Stepney sent detailed emails to Coughlan that the management knew about, and Ferrari understandably blows its top for not being informed of the same. It’s all well for Dennis to talk about “whistle-blowing” but it is obvious Stepney’s intention then was not to bring out the truth but to take it out on his employers. The fact that Stepney tried to contact them numerous times and McLaren had to setup a firewall itself means if they had told Ferrari then, they could have avoided the whole farce with the stolen documents (Stepney would have been kicked out before April 28th). McLaren took advantage of a disgruntled Ferrari employee, and it backfired on them.

    TBH, I feel sorry for both teams.

  3. if, and it’s an ‘if’ alright, everything ron says is correct. there could be a massive penalty heading ferrari’s way. the chances of Todt succeeding Max when he retires would be practically nil.

    a game of high stakes you might say.

  4. That’s a very interesting point, Sidepod; in fact it raises the issue of whether the president of the FIA should have any previous connection with a team currently participating in F1. Todt is demonstrating fairly obviously where his sympathies lie at the moment – is there any reason to suppose he would change overnight and become impartial if elected to the presidency? The same is likely to be true or at least possible with just about everyone in F1.

    Yet how does one pick a president then? It has to be someone who understands the sport and yet whose honesty and honour is above reproach.

    Know what? About the only person that fits is Alex Wurz. Wurz for president! :D

  5. Seconded.

  6. Thirded (OK, that’s not a word, but Wurz would at least be sporting enough to acknowledge when others are right – plus he doesn’t seek power and would therefore be quite safe with a powerful position!)

    It’s a good thing the FIA have refrained from letting Ferrari and McLaren have a press conference seat, or else the poor journalists would spend all hour ducking from the mud being slung by the two rivals.

    As it stands, I’m fed up with the antics of both teams. Neither seems to have understood the concept of handling court cases quietly, and the claims and counter-claims have become extremely irritating. Can’t they just shut up and let justice occur in its own sweet time? Otherwise BMW is going to catch the teams, and that really could change the complexion of the championship, irrespective of how the spy saga ends.

  7. It certainly appears that the purpose of this lengthy disclosure is for McLaren to admit that (contrary to prior assertions otherwise) they did benefit from the technical data – they in fact used it to accuse Ferrari of the moving floor issue in Australia.

    Chinese “fire walls” never work – who is Ron trying to kid.

    I think Ferrari has every right to be upset. Ferrari should not have to prove that Mclaren benefitted from the technical data – that is superfluous. Its like saying we committed a crime but did not benefit from it, so we should not be penalized.

    Oh, what happened to that performance advantage Ferrari had in testing?

    This is going to get very ugly.


  8. so what we’re saying is Wurz for president and Heidfeld for World Drivers Champion?

    i likes the sound of that.

  9. AJ… ferrari trashed their own windtunnel early on this season.

    it put them, at minimum, several weeks behind their rivals. and killed most of the pre-season performance advantage.

    you can’t blame Ron for that!!

  10. Yes, Sidepod, I could definitely go for that!

    But as for the Ferrari wind tunnel, perhaps Stepney managed to get some white powder into the thing… ;)

  11. AJ, it’s not as simple as saying McLaren committed a crime. It’s that a McLaren employee committed a crime without the team’s knowledge. The thing is, Coughlan did not steal the info under orders from Ron Dennis. He may have been doing it for his own personal benefit. Burden of proof lies with Ferrari.

    BUT, I do agree that McLaren are a bit ridiculous with their allegations at Ferrari. Ferrari’s flexi-floor was a loophole in the rules. Don’t all good F1 teams take advantage of such loopholes? As for the memo leakage, it confirms one thing: the leaks are for real. But where did they come from? It may not have been a Ferrari high-up who did it. Burden of proof lies with McLaren. This time, Ferrari is innocent until proven guilty.

    Bottom line: FIA won’t punish them. They didn’t punish McLaren because it would hurt the championship race. Expect the same logic to be applied if McLaren complain against Ferrari.

  12. As I expected… it is getting very dirty …

    McLaren always held their line, that nothing from the documents was used on McLaren car design. However I do not remember one statement from them saying they made no advantage of having information from Ferrari. Now we have it:
    “Dennis claimed that Nigel Stepney first contacted Mike Coughlan to alert him to the design of Ferrari’s floor at the Australian Grand Prix. Ferrari won the race using the ‘flexi-floor’, but after McLaren protested to the FIA the rules governing the floor were changed and Ferrari, and other teams, had to change their design.”

    McLaren always insisted, that nobody other that Coughlan was aware of the documents. ALthough the above line does not specifically say that that the flexi floor info was obtained from the documents, it makes it pretty clear that McLaren team as a team was well aware of information leak from Ferrari to McLaren, and they made use of it.

    Dennis mentioned Stepney about 274 times in his statement. It is very clear that senior McLaren staff were aware of Stepney’s activities, yet they never informed Ferrari, until the careless Ms. Coughlan went to make 760 or so photocopies. I only went to make 103 12″x8″ prints of my race photos and the guy in the shop freaked out …

    As somebody above said, Ron Dennis should have kept his mouth shut. This sounds like a desperate attempt to divert the attention from McLaren to Ferrari. However, again as somebody mentioned here, the flexi floor issue was a grey area, and FIA clarified it. Ferrari changed the design, same as Renault had to changed their mass dumpers bumpers last year. Nobody is accusing Alonso of winning the title in illegal car … And the press leaks … Good on them, at least we had something to talk about…

    And when I think about it, it did not have to go this way at all … McLaren and Ferrari were competitive from the race 1. McLaren did not have to shout about the flexi floors, they should just apply it to their own car as well… And Coughlan should have married somebody less dumb… See nothing, hear nothing, everybody happy :-) Not anymore …

  13. Well first off I am a Ferrari fan, but I have to take sides with Ron on this one. Frankly I’m a little surprised no one is taking him seriously.

    It was stated that Stepney told McLaren that Ferrari was using an illegal device. This was not found out from the stolen documents in which the case is about but from the two communicating prior to documents switching hands. If Coughlin was in possession of the documents at the time of the first GP, why would he have waited months to make copies and burn the evidence. There is nothing wrong with one team finding information about another team if they did not attempt to get that info illegally. Even what Stepney did (revealing flexifloor) is not illegal.

    What happened later in the year is where the courts come into play. Stepney stole information, Coughlin was an accomplice to the crime. At this point in the season McLaren already had the superior car. This seems to be do to Ferrari’s wind tunnel and not to any stolen designs.

    It is also known that the both of them attempted to seek employment else where. If Coughlin were to get a job at Honda lets say, why would he want to improve the McLaren before he left? Wouldn’t he want that info to improve a struggling car? One that was desperate to compete?

    Lastly about Max’s successor, it cannot come soon enough. But why do we need to replace him with a single person who could be easily influenced by money? I think we should have a Senate instead of a President. Changes to such a sport should not be decided by one severely retarded man, it should be decided by a vote. How about one representative from each team. Elected to a 5 year term. If teams are sold then the elected person can be replaced by the new owners.

    Monarchy’s have been proven detrimental to the people. I know you Brits love your Queen, but do you want her making all your laws?

  14. So the FIA should resemble a constitutional monarchy? Good plan. And it might just work…

  15. Golee……..I just suffered through 13 long postings on this Ferrari/McLaren tiff and you know the wisest words written came from Dan M (directly above): “Lastly about Max’s successor, it cannot come soon enough. But why do we need to replace him with a single person who could be easily influenced by money? I think we should have a Senate instead of a President. Changes to such a sport should not be decided by one severely retarded man,……”

    I have always viewed MadMax as a lawyer trying to do an engineers work and he’s proven good at neither! For a man who has spent so many years around F1 he’s got no idea how to “make it work”. I’m not opposed to the “senate” idea either. Good work Dan.

  16. Journeyer –

    The fact Coughlan had the data, is McLaren’s chief designer, used the data to “clarify” the moving floor issue, actually flew to meet Stepney under Ron’s direction, all seems to be rather indicative that McLaren knew it committed a crime. Thats why they stayed silent. I think Ferrari proved all it had to – it need not go further. To claim that Coughlan as an person separate from McLaren and then have a private investigator claim that the firewall worked is superfluous and frankly just Ron talk.

    I think McLaren is in serious trouble.

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