NASCAR & Auto Racing

Governing body offers McLaren drivers amnesty in exchange for evidence in F1 spy case

MONZA, Italy – Formula One’s governing body has asked McLaren’s drivers for information on the Ferrari spy scandal, hoping they will supply evidence against their team in return for amnesty.

Max Mosley, the president of the International Automobile Federation, sent a letter to Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and test driver Pedro De La Rosa, saying FIA had been told that “one or more McLaren drivers may be in possession ... of written evidence relevant to this investigation.”

Mosley also asked the three drivers to cooperate “in the interests of the sport and the Championship.”

“Any information you may make available in response to this letter will not result in any proceedings against you,” he wrote in the letter, which was dated Aug. 31 and made available to media on Friday.

McLaren and Ferrari are embroiled in a dispute over alleged espionage and attempted sabotage, after technical data about the Italian team’s cars turned up in the possession of McLaren’s chief designer. An Italian newspaper said Friday that McLaren team boss Ron Dennis could face criminal charges in the case.

The dispute ignited in July when a 780-page technical dossier on Ferrari cars was found at the home of McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan. He was later suspended, while Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney, who allegedly supplied the documents, was fired.

Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport on Friday published an e-mail exchange between Alonso and De La Rosa, which suggested the drivers knew confidential information about Ferrari’s car designs.

“Do you know that I’ve found out how Ferrari is able to get its tires to work to perfection?” Gazzetta quoted De La Rosa as asking Alonso via e-mail. “Nigel Stepney told Mike Coughlan.”

“I don’t believe it,” Alonso reportedly replied.

Alonso – himself involved in a highly publicized rivalry with teammate Hamilton – remained tightlipped about the case ahead of Sunday’s Italian GP but denied reports he hoped McLaren would be punished so that he could move to another team.

“No way,” Alonso told Friday’s edition of Spanish daily As. “We are here to win the driver’s and constructor’s world title.”

In his letter to the drivers, Mosley also wrote that “serious consequences would follow” if they were later found to “have withheld any potentially relevant information.”

Mosley also wrote a letter to the heads of all F1 teams – with the exception of McLaren and Ferrari – asking them if they had any information about the case, including e-mails, letters, text messages, drawings, and diagrams.

The World Motor Sport Council has scheduled a hearing on the case for Sept. 13 after the FIA said Wednesday that “new evidence” had emerged. The council ruled in July that McLaren did possess secret Ferrari documents but did not punish the team because there was insufficient evidence the material was misused.

It was not immediately clear if the new evidence included material from the McLaren drivers or from the heads of the other teams.

McLaren said Friday that “we intend to make a strong set of submissions” to the council, but that it will not comment on the case until next week’s hearing.

The Woking-based team could face a two-year ban from the F1 championship if found guilty of obtaining the confidential information.

Dennis and seven others, including Stepney and Coughlan, face accusations of industrial espionage, sporting fraud and unlawful possession, according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

With five races left in the season, rookie Hamilton leads the drivers’ standings with 84 points, followed by Alonso with 79. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Raikkonen are third and fourth with 69 and 68 points.