Monday, September 17, 2007

When Mclaren broke the Eleventh Commandment

A journalist wrote in the Times of India a couple of months back “Mclaren have so far stolen Ferrari’s thunder. The question remains – Is that all they have stolen?”.Mclaren had it all covered. They could try out the weight distribution in the simulator, try out the tyre gas in testing, change their pit strategy in real time based on information flow from the Ferrari garage… the list goes on. Unfortunately they got caught.

The FIA came down very strongly on Mclaren. The team was fined $100 million and banned from the Constructors Championship. You can read the entire judgement here.

I thought that Mclaren was let off easy. The amount of information that was passed on by Nigel Stepney, the ex-chief mechanic of the Ferrari team to Mike Coughlan, the Mclaren chief designer was shocking. What was more shocking was that Alonso and de la Rosa were part of this all along. They exchanged several emails with each other and other members of the team on strategy around the best form of exploitation of the data. What a disappointment it must have been when they realized that their car was technically too different from that of Ferrari for them to try out their newly learnt tricks.

What is incredible is that in its defence to the FIA in July, Mclaren submitted:
(i) that the Ferrari confidential information in question had not been circulated within McLaren;
(ii) that McLaren had neither used nor benefited from the receipt by Coughlan of the Ferrari confidential information; and
(iii) that the actions of Coughlan in receiving and dealing with the Ferrari confidential information were those of a "rogue employee" for which McLaren should not be held responsible.

(i) appears to be untrue as was proved by the emails exchanged between de la Rosa and Alonso

(ii) Mclaren was unable to use the information… more because of technical reasons (more uncharitable souls would argue it was due to lack of capability to copy… but not I) than lack of any intention to do so and..

(iii) Sure Coughlan was a “rogue employee” but appears to not have been the only one

This incident reminded me so much of 1994 in Adelaide and 1997 in Jerez when a certain Herr Michael Schumacher crashed into Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve respectively. Both were in the last race of the season. In both cases Schumy was leading the championship by a narrow margin. In both cases Schumy was the only one to benefit from the crash. In both cases (in my opinion) Schumy caused the crash deliberately. MS won the Championship in 1994 (the race marshalls were too kind) and in 1997, he was stripped of the second place in the Championship. A farcical punishment, much like the FIA’s July judgement in which it said that Mclaren was being reprimanded for possessing Ferrari information but not fined or banned as it had not used the information.

Imagine my shock when I heard the commentators argue that Mclaren was being excessively punished. However, this one was easy for me to make my peace with. A formula one commentator on TV is average…on a good day.

Actually I wouldn’t mind being in Ferrari’s shoes(!?). Through the season while they have got their backsides kicked by Mclaren they could argue “They beat us with our own car… either way a Ferrari would have won the Constructors Title ;)”

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