The questions that remain over the espionage scandal (2/2)

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What will the consequences of the espionage verdict be for Ferrari, the team whose information was stolen?

And perhaps most importantly of all, where does the sport go from here?

Further thoughts on the state of play following the spy scandal hearing.


Why did Nigel Stepney betray Ferrari?

Arguably the whole episode began when Nigel Stepney became disenchanted with his role at Ferrari.

He joined the team in 1993 and apparently had hopes of ascending to the role of technical director following the departure of Ross Brawn at the end of last year.

But Mario Almondo, who had been the head of human resource, took over the job instead in February. Stepney requested a change of jobs and it seems that shortly after then he made his first, fateful contact with McLaren’s Mike Coughlan.

How was he able to obtain such a large amount of material without detection?

As this remains the subject of a legal dispute in Italy it’s difficult to speculate. At other teams it is apparently not possible for most employees to obtain hundreds of pages of confidential information not directly related to their area of work.

On top of that Ferrari had recently suffered a similar leak, where a quantity of material had been obtained by Toyota employees.

Why was the Ferrari-Toyota espionage scandal ignored by the FIA?

In April this year former Ferrari employees Mauro Iaconni and Angelo Santini were found guilty of using information taken from their time at Ferrari to develop Toyota’s car. Iaconni left Ferrari in 2000 having been with them since 1986, and made use of the drawings in 2002 and 2003.

This case was prosecuted in an Italian court and the involvement of the FIA was not requested. But seeing as the sport’s governing body has prosecuted McLaren so fiercely for its act of espionage, why did it not seek to do the same to Toyota?

What further prosecutions are Ferrari pursuing?

Ferrari have taken a civil action against Mike Coughlan in Britain and are trying to prosecute Nigel Stepney in Italy. Stepney has also been accused of attempting to sabotage the Ferrari cars.

Does the constructors’ championship have any value for Ferrari now?

Ferrari president Luza Montezemolo said this week that he would be happy to win the title in the courts.

Formula 1

How has this damaged the sport?

It’s difficult to gauge exactly how the verdict will go down with casual F1 fans, particularly those attracted to the sport by the success of Lewis Hamilton this year.

It’s hard to avoid the impression that Alonso, de la Rosa and Hamilton were given the opportunity to secure a means of escaping punishment by supplying details of their e-mail communications so that they could be ‘let off’ the eventual punishment. It allowed the governing body to avoid being responsible for wrecking Lewis Hamilton’s championship campaign.

But if Hamilton or Alonso were to go on and win the title there will inevitably be those that suggest they only did so because of the information their team obtained from Ferrari.

Bernie Ecclestone said today that McLaren were on the verge of expulsion from the championship, but: “A few of us sort of battled on and campaigned for the fine instead.” Rest assured that Ecclestone, with at least one eye on the wider commercial picture, was one of them.

How widespread is espionage in F1?

Some have reacted to the scandal with the attitude that teams spying on other teams is not a big deal, and that everyone does it.

Let’s be clear here. In this case we are not talking about the inevitable and unavoidable transfer of information and ideas that occurs when a designer moves from one team to another.

This was one renegade employee using his position to undermine his team and supply what was potentially a very large amount of information to a member of a rival team, who then disseminated it among several members of his team.

Should that kind of thing be allowed in motor sport? Clearly not and, regardless of whether or not the Toyota incident failed to establish a worthwhile precedent, the FIA had to act.

The sport will take a lot of pain over this. But if it prevents future abuses from happening, then it will have been for a good cause.

Have Renault, or any other team, done the same?

If espionage of this type is as widespread as some people are claiming, then the verdict could open a Pandora’s Box. McLaren have already suggested that one of their employees, Phil Mackereth, supplied confidential information to Renault.

Photos: Ferrari | BMW

More on the espionage scandal

Tags: f1 / formula one / formula 1 / grand prix / motor sport

Author information

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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4 comments on “The questions that remain over the espionage scandal (2/2)”

  1. Very balanced look at things there, guys.

    Seriously is there any damage to the sport? I don’t know. The real motorsport fans may feel cheated by all this. But on the other hand, the rise of Hamilton, and this controversy have made a lot of people more curious about the sport. I have had people calling up to ask about the details of the scandal – so maybe it is all good in the end.

  2. I forgot about toyota… I was wondering, what if Mclaren weren’t racing Ferrari for the WC … well you got the Toyota example … says alot of Ferari … no matter if McLaren did something wrong or not… it’s clear Ferrari are bad losers (and yes I know they didn’t do much wrong)

  3. I say all this is much ago about nothing, or at least about very little. First of all “espionage”
    requires actionable use of something against an opponent from WITHIN! Had Ferrari PLANTED bad data in McLaren computers that would be espionage. But for McLaren to merely use STOLEN Ferrari data is merely life in F1 circles! If Williams learned Ferrari were using a strange gas to inflate their tyres Williams would try it in a flash. If Spyker learned a small canard winglet wasn’t giving the expected result, that would save then time and money as they WOULDN”T bother testing that device. This goes on everyday. All I see that makes this case any different is the SCALE, the MAGNITUDE, of the information. Instead of a couple pages of notes or some small verbal instruction, this time it was a virtual BOOK, some 780 pages. Oddly, although McLaren drivers were practicing
    weight distribution and other aspects of the data it’s not known that ANY of it was ever actually incorporated into the real car. I think this story unfolded BEFORE McLaren were able to confirm the Ferrari data and take advantage of it.
    The actually WMSC charges had little to do with espionage or stealing but rather the “disrepute” this action may have brought on the “sport”.
    The FIA could have (and should have) handled this quietly, the media may have exposed it … but a $100 mil worth of harm? Not in my eyes !!!!!!

  4. A further point concerning just how far the Ferrari data got within Mclaren…..I stated above I didn’t think any of it had and perhaps the FIA realized the same. Had Ferrari data actually been incorporated in the Mclaren then Alonso and Hamilton would likely have been excluded also,
    why would they have been allowed to continue in an illegal or inelligible car?
    Again I say, “much ado about little”, Mclaren got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, so what! It was (fortunately) the first cookie, little harm done. $100 mil is not punishment, it is RETRIBUTION.

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