The FIA goes into action in the Ferrari-Coughlan Affair

The FIA World Motor Sport Council has requested that respresentatives of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes appear before an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris on Thursday, July 26. They have been asked to answer "a charge" that the team breached Article 151c of the International Sporting Code between March and July by having unauthorised possession of documents and confidential information belonging to Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro. The FIA statement said that this included information that could be used "to design, engineer, build, check, test, develop and/or run a 2007 Ferrari Formula 1 car".

Article 151c of the International Sporting Code states that competitor can be punished for "any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally".

McLaren has said that it will provide whatever is needed by the FIA to demonstrate that none of the information that was in the possession of Coughlan was used in any way on the McLaren. It is, of course, arguable that the data would be of any use at all to a team that is developing a very different car, beyond being of interest to show what Ferrari was up to.

The data that was found in Coughlan's possession would have been much more interesting to a team that might need to design and build a car from scratch.

Much has been made of the details of when Coughlan received the data and whether/when he showed it to anyone else at McLaren. If other team members did see the data and did not report it to either the police or Ferrari (within a suitable timeframe) then they are in the same boat as Coughlan and McLaren must answer for this. Article 3.1 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations states that "it is the competitor's responsibility to ensure that all persons concerned by his entry observe all the requirements of the Agreement, the Code, the Technical Regulations and the Sporting Regulations".

The defence that junior members of the team did not inform the top management of what was happening is not, apparently, acceptable although those with long memories will remember 1994 when Benetton F1 escaped punishment for illegally tampering with its refuelling equipment, by admitting the charge and throwing itself on the mercy of the court. The FIA agreed to let the team off the hook because the changes had been made by "a junior employee".

That same defence did not work a year later, however, when the Toyota rally team admitted using illegal turbo restrictors on the Catalunya Rally in Spain.

"Toyota said the decision had been made at a certain level of the team and that the management had not known about it," Max Mosley said at the time, "but the team has to take responsibility."

Toyota was excluded from the World Rally Championship for a year.

Oddly, the question of the FIA punishing espionage did not come up earlier this year when there was another case, dating back to 2002, involving Ferrari and Toyota. Ferrari complained to the Italian authorities that its data had been transferred to Toyota. An Italian police investigation resulted in two former Ferrari employees: Angelo Santini and Mauro Iacconi, being indicted on charges of stealing information from the Ferrari F1 team and giving it to Toyota. The German police charged several Toyota team members, but they have yet to be indicted, pending the end of the Italian investigation. In Italy Iacconi and Santini were found guilty of industrial espionage. Santini was condemned to a suspended sentence of nine months in prison by the Tribunale di Modena, while Iacconi was given a suspended 16 month sentence.

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