SEPTEMBER 25, 2007
Holding down the lid of Pandora's Box?
As the Formula 1 circus heads out to Japan there are many whispered stories doing the rounds about espionage scandals which may or may not come to light. With the FIA having punished McLaren so harshly, despite having almost no concrete evidence that the information was used, the federation may now find that it has opened a Pandora's Box of similar cases in the F1 world.
"It was common practice in Formula 1," McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa told the World Council during the recent hearing. "If that is wrong, then we are all wrong. I have been listening with all of our fellow drivers. I can give you lots of examples, if you want. I don™t know what all of this is about. This is common practice. We talk about car set-ups, rivals, etc., all day long. It is our passion. It is as simple as that."
McLaren boss Ron Dennis has also hinted at the problem by telling members of the F1 media that "you would be amazed what you would find if you looked in the computers of all the drivers".
More specifically, however, there have been allegations in recent days that Renault engineer Phil Mackereth took three disks of McLaren information with him when he joined Renault. We have also heard rumours that McLaren information may have also turned up at another team which recruited people from McLaren. For the moment everyone is remaining very quiet and playing down the possibilities.
"What happened is what happens probably all the time," Renault team boss Flavio Briatore told a German magazine, oddly echoing the remarks of de la Rosa and Dennis. "It cannot be controlled. I don't want to say anything, because it is now something for the FIA to judge."
Briatore added that the team has given all the available information about the case to the FIA and to McLaren.
The ball is thus in the FIA's court.
McLaren does have other options available. It could go to a civil court as Ferrari did in 2003 when it wanted to challenge Toyota. There may be arguments that all this is bad for the sport but there is no reason why McLaren should take the blame if other teams have been doing the same thing.
McLaren may however feel that it is best to bury the issue as there is a Sword of Damocles hanging over the team at the moment as the FIA will be inspecting the 2008 McLaren to make sure that there is no Ferrari input in the car. Max Mosley says that if the FIA finds any evidence of that McLaren could be banned next year. Proving such things would be difficult but given the small amount of evidence used to convict McLaren at the recent World Council anything is possible. This is acceptable if there are similar zero tolerance attitude for similar offenders but very worrying if there is any suspicion that the FIA is not acting in an even-handed manner. This would serve only to undermine the authority and credibility of the governing body.