NASCAR & Auto Racing

FIA implicates world champion Fernando Alonso in F1 spy scandal

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium – World champion Fernando Alonso knew a lot about Ferrari – even down to what high-tech substance it used to inflate its tires to keep them from blistering.

With stunning detail, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) disclosed the extent of what McLaren’s drivers knew about their rivals’ cars, their setup and even their strategy.

In the biggest scandal to hit one of the world’s most popular sports, FIA implicated McLaren’s top driver and its test driver Pedro de la Rosa through a trail of e-mail exchanges.

“The e-mails show unequivocally that both Mr. Alonso and Mr. de la Rosa received confidential Ferrari information,” FIA said Friday in a 15-page explanation of the World Motor Sport Council’s decision to fine McLaren a record $100 million and expel it from this year’s constructors’ championship.

“Both drivers knew that this information was confidential Ferrari information,” it said.

The WMSC said it had documents showing the exchange of information between the two drivers and McLaren’s then chief designer, Michael Coughlan, about the Ferrari car’s weight distribution, flexible rear wing, braking system and a gas used to keep tire temperatures low.

Thursday’s fine announcement and Friday’s disclosure are the latest revelations in a case that erupted in July when a 780-page technical dossier on Ferrari cars was found at the home of Coughlan, who later was suspended. Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney, who allegedly supplied the documents, was fired.

While Alonso was added to the scandal Friday, teammate and chief rival for the world championship – Lewis Hamilton – remained unaffected.

The e-mails showed just how specific the knowledge was.

“Hi Mike, do you know the Red Car’s Weight Distribution? It would be important for us to know so that we could try it in the simulator. Thanks in advance, Pedro,” FIA quoted De la Rosa’s message to Coughlan as saying.

In another e-mail quoted by FIA, de la Rosa wrote to Alonso about a gaseous substance Ferrari was using to inflate its tires.

“We’ll have to try it, it’s easy,” wrote de la Rosa.

FIA said Alonso replied: “Let’s hope we can test it during this test, and that we can make it a priority!”

FIA said Thursday it did not penalize McLaren’s drivers because they provided evidence in exchange for immunity. Alonso is second in the drivers’ standings, three points behind rookie Hamilton with four races left entering Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

McLaren chief Ron Dennis said Thursday that the evidence given by his drivers, engineers and staff clearly demonstrated his team did not use any leaked information to gain a competitive advantage.

“The evidence today was primarily e-mail traffic between our drivers, and in one instance, Mike Coughlan,” Dennis said.

“These were a few e-mails, and the drivers have stated categorically that no information was passed to the team. And of course, the team had no knowledge of this e-mail traffic at any stage.”

FIA said Friday the latest evidence made clear that “the information has been disseminated, at least to some degree (e.g. to Mr. de la Rosa and Mr. Alonso), within the McLaren team, and included secret information regarding Ferrari’s sporting strategy.”

FIA said de la Rosa sought and obtained “secret Ferrari information from a source which he knew to be illegitimate,” before sharing it with Alonso.

In an e-mail, FIA said De la Rosa asked Coughlan about the Ferrari brakes. “Can you explain me as much as you can,” he wrote. “Are they adjusting from inside the cockpit?”

For the WMSC there was little doubt.

“There was a clear intention on the part of a number of McLaren personnel to use some of the Ferrari confidential information in its own testing,” it said.

And it doubted De la Rosa could have acted totally on his own.

“It seems entirely unlikely to the WMSC that any Formula One driver would bear the sole responsibility for handling or processing sensitive Ferrari information,” the statement said.

Beyond the 780 pages of documents found at Coughlan’s home, FIA said it had evidence of at least 288 text – or SMS – messages and 35 phone calls between the two from March 11 to July 3.

The World Motor Sport Council said it “believes that the nature of the information illicitly held by McLaren was information of a nature which, if used or in any way taken into account, could confer a significant sporting advantage upon McLaren.”