AUGUST 1, 2007
McLaren breaks its silence
Ron Dennis has written to Luigi Macaluso of the CSAI to outline McLaren's position in the ongoing Stepneygate scandal. The letter, which has been published on the McLaren website, gives the first real glimpse of McLaren's arguments in the dispute, while underlining the team's obvioius anger at the way in which it feels Ferrari has dealt with the scandal.
The letter, Dennis wrote, was designed to "set the record straight" and went into detail about the the various elements of the story, beginning with Nigel Stepney's whistle-blowing activities in March when the Ferrari employee told McLaren's Mike Coughlan about the floor attachment mechanism and a rear wing separator that were being used by Ferrari. Coughlan immediately told McLaren senior management about Stepney's allegations and McLaren reported them to the FIA, "adopting the customary practice of asking the FIA Technical Department for their opinion". The FIA ruled that the floor device was illegal.
Dennis said that "as far as we are aware, Ferrari ran their cars with this illegal device in the Australian GP, which they won". He added that McLaren did not protest "in the interests of the sport". Ferrari later withdrew the floor after it was confirmed to be illegal by the FIA.
Dennis went on to say that Stepney "acted properly and in the interests of the sport in blowing the whistle about this. No team can expect their employees to keep quiet if they suspect - correctly in this case - that their employers are breaching the rules of the sport". Replying to criticism that he did not make this information known to Ferrari, Dennis argued that he did not think it was correct to disclose the name of the whistle-blower to Ferrari, "as it is not in the interest of F1 for members of teams to feel that they cannot disclose instances of illegal activity without risking their name being disclosed to their employer".
The letter goes on to say that McLaren was uncomfortable with the fact that Stepney had used Coughlan to blow the whistle and "after the Australian GP Coughlan was instructed to cease contact with Stepney". This order was given by Jonathan Neale. Later, Dennis wrote, Coughlan told Neale that the only way to stop Stepney would be to speak to him face to face. Neale agreed that Coughlan should do this but only "outside working hours". That led to Coughlan's trip to Barcelona, where he met Stepney.
"Only Coughlan and Stepney know what truly happened at that meeting," Dennis wrote. "So far as McLaren was concerned however when Coughlan returned to work he told Neale that the meeting with Stepney had achieved its objective and he believed that Stepney would not contact him again. After this no-one at McLaren heard anything more about contact between Stepney and Coughlan until July 3."
Dennis pointed out in the letter that Coughlan said, presumably in his affidavit, that "he made no use of the documents at work and that no one else at McLaren knew that he had taken the documents". Dennis went on to say that Ferrari had gone "to extraordinary lengths to try to maximise the damage to McLaren, no doubt hoping to gain some advantage in the World Championship."
He added that "Ferrari has no evidence whatsoever for these offensive and false allegations".
Dennis went on to give details of two occasions on which Coughlan says that he showed single pages of the Ferrari paperwork to McLaren's Rob Taylor and to Neale.
"Neither Taylor nor Neale were aware that these single pages were Ferrari confidential information, still less that they were part of a dossier of several hundred pages," Dennis wrote. In the case of Taylor, Dennis said that "Coughlan briefly showed him a single diagram. Taylor had no idea whether this was an old or new diagram and had no idea it came from Stepney. He was not given a copy and made no use of the diagram. He paid no attention to the incident."
In the case of Neale, Dennis says that Coughlan and Neale met on May 25 to discuss Coughlan's request to end his contract prematurely.
Coughlan began to show Neale two images but the McLaren Racing MD said he was not interested in seeing them.
"When asked at the hearing about this Neale said that although this was only speculation on his part, he thought that Coughlan was about to refer to the images to seek resources from him for digital mock-up equipment," Dennis explained.
"In short," Dennis concluded, "these instances did not alert Taylor or Neale that Coughlan had taken possession of the Ferrari documents . Neither they or any other member of McLaren staff had any idea what Coughlan had done."
Dennis also went into details about what Coughlan was doing in this period.
"Coughlan's job related to the management of drawing production by the design staff and their sign-off prior to issue to our production facilities," he wrote, adding that Coughlan "did not have responsibility for the performance enhancement of our car."