OCTOBER 2, 2007

Montezemolo and Stepney comment (individually)

The Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo is a highly intelligent individual and he knows that whatever he says will be slavishly reported because of who he is - and because of the newspapers he controls. But his recent attempts to undermine McLaren's success this year by claiming that the British team has copied the Ferrari are utterly unfair. There is not a shred of evidence that would stand up in a proper court that McLaren used any of the Ferrari information that ended up in the hands of McLaren's Mike Coughlan in April to design and develop the current car - which was designed eight months (and more) before Coughlan received anything from Ferrari's Nigel Stepney.

To claim otherwise is to knowingly distort reality. In a world of media sound bites and short attention spans perhaps this cynical ploy will work amongst the ill-informed but any race fan with half a brain should be able to see straight through such manipulation.

Montezemolo's latest ploy is to talk down Lewis Hamilton's likely World Championship.

The only thing about Montezemolo's remarks that are true is that "he will win it partly thanks to Ferrari". It is not because there is a lot of Ferrari in his car as Montezemolo went on to say, but rather because Ferrari threw away its chances this year with poor attention to detail, bad strategic decisions - notably the tyre decision in Mount Fuji - and because the team used less consistent drivers.

This sort of conduct is unbecoming. Being a good loser is the mark of a great team and sadly Ferrari cannot claim such status as long as it is coming out with such dross to justify its own failure. Ferrari is a great name and an impressive brand and one wants to see this being used for the good of the sport but the way it is currently be used is merely undermining the work of previous generations and of the great Enzo Ferrari himself.

In recent days we have received (unsolicited) communication from Nigel Stepney which raises a number of questions which have not been touched on in the scandal to date. Stepney says that he believes Ferrari have been let off surprisingly lightly by the FIA. He says that there is a point that everyone is missing because they are assuming that the flow of information to Mike Coughlan was a one-way flow and that Ferrari did not gain anything. There is no evidence at all that Stepney was being paid to pass on information and he says that it was rather more simple than that.

"I got information about when they [McLaren] were stopping," Stepney says. "I got weight distribution, I got other aspects of various parts of their car from him [Coughlan]. Ferrari got off very lightly. I was their employee at the time. I was aware of certain stuff they were doing at tests, fuel levels, for example. I knew what fuel level they were running. I think they should have been docked points personally. The question is: Did I use the information, did I talk about it?' That's the big question. I spoke to some people about it. I can't prove it, there are no e-mails or anything. Points about the fuel and the differences [between Ferrari and McLaren] were discussed inside. As well as McLaren having an advantage, did Ferrari have an advantage? I think so."

So is Stepney surprised that Ferrari got off entirely without penalty?

"Very surprised," he says. "It looks like information flowing only one way. No one has been balancing the argument. No one has asked the question. They were thinking Mike was asking the questions and I was answering them."

Stepney, one can argue, is a source that is seen to be somewhat tainted given all the allegations that have been made in Italy. But they are only allegations at the moment. Nothing has been proved in a proper court of law and until it is he has as much right to make his feelings known as Montezemolo.