Ron Dennis hits back. Letter to Luigi Macaluso. 

Written by David on August 02nd, 2007 at 12:30 pmLast Update: August 02nd, 2007 at 12:31 pm

Ron Dennis McLaren Formula One F1McLaren made public yesterday a lengthy letter from team boss Ron Dennis to Italian motorsport President Luigi Macaluso, whose own letter to Max Mosley this week resulted in the re-opening of the FIA investigation into the spying affair.

Letter from Ron Dennis to Luigi Macaluso:

Dear Mr Macaluso,


I refer to your letter dated 30 July 2007 to Mr Mosley of the FIA and to Mr Mosley’s reply to you dated 31 July 2007, both of which were published on the FIA website yesterday without McLaren being given any opportunity at all to comment on this exchange of letters.

In your letter to the FIA you state that you “find it quite difficult to justify how a team has not been penalised while it has been found in breach of clause 151c of the International Sporting Code.”

As it is apparent from your letter that you have only heard Ferrari’s version of events, I would like to set the record straight and to explain to you in some detail why it was entirely fair that McLaren was not penalised and why it would in fact also have been fair if McLaren had not been found to be in breach of Article 151c at all.

Since this matter first came to light, McLaren has been completely open with Ferrari and the FIA and has cooperated to the fullest extent in the investigation of the facts.

At the hearing before the World Motor Sport Council, I and senior members of McLaren’s staff gave evidence and were cross-examined by the Council and by Ferrari. We presented to the Council and to Ferrari all of McLaren’s relevant documentary records for consideration. All of this evidence was fully tested at the hearing.

Our evidence makes it completely clear that the true facts of this matter are as follows:

“Whistleblowing” in March 2007

In March 2007, Mr Stepney of Ferrari contacted Mr Coughlan and informed him about two aspects of the Ferrari car which he regarded being in breach of FIA regulations. Specifically, he told Mr Coughlan about a floor attachment mechanism and a rear wing separator, both of which could be and were seen on the Ferrari car prior to the Australian Grand Prix.

Mr Coughlan immediately told McLaren’s senior management about Mr Stepney’s allegations. McLaren took steps to confirm whether the allegations were true, and we concluded that they were. Accordingly we reported these two matters to the FIA, adopting the customary practice of asking the FIA Technical Department for their opinion.

As regards the rear wing separator, the FIA subsequently ruled that this was compliant with the Technical Regulations. However the FIA ruled that this floor device was illegal. You will appreciate the significance of this.

As far as we are aware, Ferrari ran their cars with this illegal device at the Australian Grand Prix, which they won. In the interests of the sport, McLaren chose not to protest the result of the Australian Grand Prix even though it seems clear that Ferrari had an illegal competitive advantage.

Ferrari only withdrew the floor device after it was confirmed to be illegal by the FIA. Were it not for Mr Stepney drawing this illegal device to the attention of McLaren, and McLaren drawing it to the attention of the FIA, there is every reason to suppose that Ferrari would have continued to race with an illegal car.

In the press, Ferrari have described the information which Mr Stepney provided to Mr Coughlan in March 2007 as being Ferrari’s “confidential information”. This is completely misleading. There is nothing confidential about the rear wing separator, which is immediately visible on the exterior of the car.

As regards the floor device, Mr Stepney revealed that Ferrari was proposing to use an illegal device at the Australian Grand Prix and no doubt for the rest of the season. He 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.

Ferrari have also complained in the press that McLaren and I in particular should have disclosed to Ferrari that it was Mr Stepney who blew the whistle on their illegal floor device. They also criticise me for entering a gentlemen’s agreement in April 2007 about how to conduct technical complaints without revealing that it was Mr Stepney who made the disclosures in March.

For reasons which must be obvious to anyone fair minded, I reject these criticisms absolutely. I did not think it correct to disclose the name of the whistle-blower to Ferrari as it is not in the interests of Formula 1 for members of teams to feel that they cannot disclose instances of illegal activity without risking their name being disclosed to their employer. It is in the interests of Formula 1 that whistle-blowing is encouraged and not discouraged. If team members think that their identity will be revealed they will not whistle-blow.

What McLaren did do was to take steps immediately after learning of the contact between Mr Stepney and Mr Coughlan in March 2007 to ensure that Mr Stepney and Mr Coughlan ceased having any contact.

Whilst we saw nothing wrong with Mr Stepney whistle-blowing on Ferrari’s illegal activities, we felt that it was not helpful for him to choose Mr Coughlan to blow the whistle to. We did not feel comfortable with a disgruntled Mr Stepney being in contact with Mr Coughlan. For this reason in March 2007, immediately after the Australian Grand Prix, Mr Coughlan was instructed by his superior Mr Neale to cease contact with Mr Stepney.

In summary, faced with clear information that Ferrari was proposing to use an illegal device, McLaren acted entirely properly, indeed we acted with considerable restraint. If any criticism is to be made, then I suggest that you should reflect carefully on the conduct of your licence holder, Ferrari, which appears to have won the Australian Grand Prix by racing with an illegal device.

The “Ferrari Documents”

I turn now to the events which occurred later in the year between Mr Stepney and Mr Coughlan and in particular to the provision of a “dossier” of Ferrari Documents by Mr Stepney to Mr Coughlan at a meeting in Barcelona on Saturday 28 April 2007.

As I will explain, these events are quite separate from Mr Stepney’s whistle blowing in March 2007, because during this period Mr Coughlan was acting secretly, in breach of his contract with McLaren, and for his own private purposes, quite conceivably as part of a scheme to leave McLaren and join another team together with Mr Stepney.

The background to the meeting on Saturday 28 April 2007 is that in early April 2007, Mr Coughlan told Mr Neale that despite his best efforts to cut off contact, Mr Stepney continued to contact him to express grievances about his lot with Ferrari. Mr Neale arranged for the installation of a “firewall” on McLaren’s computer system to stop emails from Mr Stepney.

In addition to this Mr Coughlan said to Mr Neale that the only way he thought that this would stop is if Mr Coughlan spoke to Mr Stepney face to face and told him to stop trying to contact him. Mr Neale agreed that he could do this outside working hours.

On Saturday 28th April 2007, Mr Coughlan went to Barcelona and met Mr Stepney. Only Mr Coughlan and Mr Stepney know what truly happened at that meeting. So far as McLaren was concerned, however, when Mr Coughlan returned to work, he told Mr Neale that his meeting with Mr Stepney had achieved its objective and he believed that Mr Stepney would not contact him again.

After this, no-one at McLaren heard anything more about contact between Mr Stepney and Mr Coughlan until 3 July 2007. Everyone at McLaren assumed that the issue of Mr Stepney contacting Mr Coughlan to express grievances had been resolved.

On 3 July 2007, Ferrari executed a search order at Mr Coughlan’s home and seized two CDs containing Ferrari Documents. I emphasise that these documents were found at Mr Coughlan’s home. No Ferrari Documents were found at McLaren’s offices.

As is now in the public domain, Mr Coughlan has admitted that Mr Stepney gave him a dossier of Ferrari Documents in Barcelona which he took for his own private reasons, he says “engineering curiosity”.

He kept these Documents at his home, and later with the assistance of his wife copied onto two CDs at a shop near their home, before shredding the originals using a home shredder and burning them in his back garden. Mr Coughlan says that he made no use of the Documents at work and that no one else at McLaren knew that he had taken the Documents.

Since Ferrari discovered that Mr Coughlan had the Ferrari Documents at his home, it has gone to extraordinary lengths to try to maximise the damage to McLaren, no doubt hoping to gain some advantage for the World Championship.

In particular, Ferrari has alleged, without any justification, that other McLaren staff were aware of what Mr Coughlan had done and that McLaren made some use of the Documents. Ferrari has no evidence whatsoever for these offensive and false allegations and presented no such evidence to the World Motor Sports Council. The Council quite correctly rejected these allegations.

As regards Ferrari’s allegation that other McLaren staff were aware of what Mr Coughlan had done, in its statements to the press, Ferrari has tried to confuse the March 2007 whistle-blowing by Mr Stepney (which McLaren did know about) with the events on and following 28 April 2007 (which Mr Coughlan kept completely secret).

Let me make it clear: McLaren did know about the whistle blowing matters in March 2007 – indeed it reported these matters to the FIA. However that has nothing to do with what Mr Coughlan did on and after 28 April 2007. McLaren management and staff had no knowledge whatsoever about that.

In addition to this, Ferrari has tried to latch on to two instances where Mr Coughlan has stated that he showed single pages which he says were from the Ferrari Documents to two other McLaren staff: Mr Taylor (another McLaren engineer who had previously worked with Mr Coughlan when they were both at Ferrari) and Mr Neale (Mr Coughlan’s superior).

The Council has fully investigated these instances, and concluded quite rightly that neither Mr Taylor nor Mr Neale were aware that the single pages they were shown were Ferrari confidential information, still less that they were part of a dossier of several hundred pages which Mr Coughlan had secretly received and kept at his house.

So far as Mr Taylor is concerned, Mr Coughlan briefly showed him a single diagram. Mr Taylor had no idea whether this was an old or new diagram and had no idea it came from Mr Stepney. He was not given a copy and made no use of the diagram. He paid no attention to the incident.

As for Mr Neale, he had an informal meeting at a restaurant on 25 May 2007 to discuss a request Mr Coughlan had made for an early release from his contract of employment with McLaren.

Towards the end of this Mr Coughlan began to show Mr Neale two images, but Mr Neale stated that he was not interested in seeing them. Mr Neale has stated that these images did not appear to have any connection with Ferrari or any other team. When asked at the hearing about this, Mr Neale said that although this was only speculation on his part, he thought that Mr Coughlan was about to refer to the images to seek resources from him for digital mock up equipment.

In short these instances did not alert Mr Taylor or Mr Neale that Mr Coughlan had taken possession of the Ferrari Documents. Neither they or any other member of McLaren staff had any idea what Mr Coughlan had done.

I turn then to Ferrari’s allegation that McLaren somehow made use of the Ferrari Documents which Mr Coughlan kept secretly at his home.

Mr Coughlan himself is categoric that he made no use of the Ferrari documents in the McLaren car. Mr 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 did not have responsibility for the performance enhancement of the car.

This function lies with the Chief Engineers and R&D Team who report to the Engineering Director, Patrick Lowe, who provided detailed evidence to the World Motor Sport Council. An important part of Mr Coughlan’s job was, however, monitoring the testing and reliability of the car throughout the year.

In addition to this functional analysis, McLaren had conducted a very thorough physical and electronic search (conducted by Kroll) and a thorough engineering study conducted by Patrick Lowe to see if any of the Ferrari Documents were or are at McLaren or if any use of such documents has actually been made in relation to the McLaren car.

This investigation has confirmed that none of the Ferrari Documents were at McLaren as opposed to at Mr Coughlan’s home and that there is no possibility that any of the information in those Documents could have been used on any development on the McLaren car.

At the hearing, McLaren demonstrated clearly to the satisfaction of the World Motor Sport Council that no use whatsoever has been made of any of the contents of the Ferrari documents in the McLaren car.

Accordingly, Ferrari’s continued allegations in the press that McLaren has made use of the Ferrari Documents are entirely false.

I deal lastly with Mr Coughlan’s true motives for taking and keeping the Ferrari Documents. Although McLaren cannot know for sure what Mr Coughlan’s (and Mr Stepney’s) motives were, what McLaren do know is that only a few days after the 28th April Mr Stepney contacted Honda (on 2 May) and commenced a process whereby Mr Stepney and Mr Coughlan together offered their services to join Honda. McLaren believes that it is highly likely that Mr Stepney provided the Ferrari Documents to Mr Coughlan as part of a joint scheme to seek employment at another team.

These are the facts. Although McLaren does not know for sure what Mr Stepney’s purpose was in passing the Ferrari Documents to Mr Coughlan and what Mr Coughlan’s purpose was in receiving them, McLaren does know for sure that Mr Coughlan acted secretly and that the Ferrari Documents were not used in the McLaren car but that Mr Stepney and Mr Coughlan were looking to leaving Ferrari and McLaren to join another team.

It is fact that Mr Coughlan never passed the Ferrari documents to anyone else at McLaren or told anyone at McLaren that he had these documents. It is fact that no-one at McLaren knew that Mr Coughlan had received any documents from Mr Stepney on the 28th April. It is fact that Mr Coughlan had been told by his superior Mr Neale to stop all contact with Mr Stepney straight after the Australian Grand Prix.

Other matters

Your letter also suggests that the outcome might have been different if the Council had given Ferrari further opportunities to be heard beyond those offered. I again ask you to look at the real facts, which are that Ferrari fully participated in the hearing before the Council.

First, Ferrari submitted a lengthy, albeit grossly misleading, memorandum dated 16th July 2007 along with supporting documents which together totalled 118 pages.

Ferrari did not send McLaren the memorandum. The memorandum was circulated to the Council on the 20 July. McLaren did not see it until two days before the hearing and it was only then that we were able to correct its grossly inaccurate contents.

In the meantime, the misleading Ferrari memorandum or sections of it appear to have been leaked to the Italian press as much of the Italian press reports echo elements of that memorandum.

In addition to this Ferrari, who were represented by lawyers, were given several opportunities by the FIA President to ask questions and make submissions throughout the hearing. Mr Todt also gave evidence.

It was clear that the FIA President afforded Ferrari every opportunity to be heard in order to ensure that all relevant matters were heard by the WMSC. Indeed, at the very end of the proceeding, Ferrari intervened with a request to make further closing comments. Ferrari’s request was permitted and their lawyer proceeded to make further detailed closing comments at some length.

I therefore simply do not understand what basis there is for Ferrari’s claim that it was denied an opportunity to put its case. It put its case both in writing and orally.

I respectfully ask you and the ACI-CSAI to look at the hard facts of this matter in an objective and fair manner rather than being influenced by selective and misleading statements put out with the object of damaging McLaren.

The reason McLaren was not penalised is that the World Motor Sport Council rightly concluded that it should not be blamed for Mr Coughlan’s actions. It based its decision on solid facts and not false innuendo. McLaren’s reputation has been unfairly sullied by incorrect press reports from Italy and grossly misleading statements from Ferrari.

This is a fantastic World Championship and it would be a tragedy if one of the best World Championships in years was derailed by the acts of one Ferrari and one McLaren employee acting for their own purposes wholly unconnected with Ferrari or McLaren.

We believe that the Ferrari press releases, the leaks to the Italian press and recent events have been damaging to Formula 1 as well as McLaren. The World Championship should be contested on the track not in Courts or in the press.

We will naturally present our case before the FIA Court of Appeal as we strongly believe McLaren has done nothing wrong. It is our belief that justice will prevail and that McLaren will not be penalised.

Yours sincerely,

Ron Dennis CBE
Group Chairman and CEO

Max Mosley, President FIA
Jean Todt, CEO Ferrari SpA

No comments yet. Be the first.

Leave a Reply