JULY 24, 2007

A new focus on Stepneygate

In the run-up to the FIA World Council to discuss the Stepneygate affair, the stream of wild stories about the activities of Mike Coughlan and Nigel Stepney seems finally to have slowed down, as those concerned realise that leaking too much information to the media could affect the outcome of the process.

The two affadavits that exist - one from Mike Coughlan and the other from his wife Trudie - may include elements of the stories that have been published but everyone involved says that the story is far more complicated than it has been made to appear.

What is clear is that Coughlan had a large dossier of Ferrari documents at his house when court officers raided it. Stepney has consistently denied that the documents came from him. There is also talk of e-mails from Stepney to McLaren. This has been used to suggest that McLaren was involved in espionage, but our sources suggest that there may be another explanation, which was that Stepney was acting as a whistleblower, an employee who reports misconduct to people or entities that have the power to take action.

There is legal protection for whistleblowers in many countries, notably the United Kingdom, where the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 protects them from victimisation or dismissal. Normally a whistleblower would go to the authorities - in F1 that would be the FIA - but from what we hear Stepney decided that sending the information to McLaren would be more effective.

McLaren then alerted the FIA to the information and this led to a change in the rules to stop teams using ˜flexible™ floors. According to a number of sources in Italy there were a series of other e-mails from Stepney to McLaren, which included all manner of allegations regarding the technical regulations.

McLaren remains convinced that it will be cleared.

"Time will demonstrate the truth of this matter," team boss Ron Dennis said in Germany. "I refuse to move away from following the correct procedures. The truth is the truth and if that hurts us, then so be it."