JULY 27, 2007
The dust has been settling over the Stepneygate decision at the FIA World Council yesterday in Paris and while Ferrari and a few media outlets have been making outraged noises about the decision, the fact is that the federation has said its piece and unless Ferrari can come up with some real proof that McLaren used the information found in Mike Coughlan's house, it seems that the issue is now dead.
The general feeling in F1 circles seems to be that justice was done.
Having said that Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo has said that "this story will not end here".
Possibly not, because some of the Ferrari people seem to have a fair head of steam, but the question that they need to answer is where can it go from here?
Ferrari has the option of taking civil or even criminal action against McLaren but if there is not enough evidence to convince the World Motor Sport Council it is hard to imagine that there is enough evidence to convince the High Court to issue another search warrant in a civil action as these are very difficult to get without compelling evidence - which was exactly what was missing in the FIA hearing. Getting a search warrant in a criminal action would be easier but McLaren would have some very strong arguments about why Ferrari should not be allowed to see the contents of its computers. One should perhaps add that if Ferrari is right (and everyone else is wrong) about the ethics of McLaren, what chance is there that there would be any incriminating evidence left in McLaren's computers, a month after the story broke?
And, anyway, the legal process is slow and any case would be unlikely to come to court for many months. The FIA regulations state that after the end of each year, the results of that season cannot be challenged. Ferrari might try for an accelerated legal process or might campaign for that rule to be changed, but there are dangers in that course of action as well.
Nigel Stepney's talk of knowing "where the bodies are buried" may be dramatic - and may even be overblown - but who knows what Stepney knows; what he may claim about Ferrari's successes under his watch and what evidence he has to back up any claims?
In F1 circles, Stepney's "bodies" are the talk of the town and thus it is interesting that the FIA wants Stepney and Coughlan to justify themselves to the World Council. This will give the pair the opportunity to tell their stories to the sporting authority - if they choose to do so. Both are facing a lifetime ban from the sport and so their only real option would seem to be to tell all and hope that they will not be banned. Coughlan is likely to have done that in his affadavit and thus presumably he has nothing left to tell, but Stepney has said relatively little about what he has been up to. Faced with a lifetime ban from the sport in which he has worked for 30 years, Stepney may relish the opportunity to tell the FIA all about what he has seen and done over the years.