NASCAR & Auto Racing

McLaren apologizes for Formula One spy scandal involving Ferrari secrets

WOKING, England – The McLaren team apologized Thursday for its role in the Formula One spy scandal.

In a letter to FIA’s World Motorsport Council, McLaren chief operating officer Martin Whitmarsh expressed his embarrassment that secret Ferrari documents were widely spread through his team.

McLaren was fined a record $100 million in September by the WMSC for unauthorized possession of confidential Ferrari materials. The team was also kicked out of the constructors’ championship.

McLaren has acknowledged that some Ferrari information had been disclosed directly, or indirectly, to people within the company apart from test driver Pedro de la Rosa and former driver Fernando Alonso.

“We apologize unreservedly if our prior ignorance of some of these facts has misled the World Motor Sports Council and we can only assure you all that this was never our intention,” Whitmarsh wrote.

Whitmarsh said McLaren’s own investigations into the case were insufficient and it was “a matter of deep regret for us that our understanding of the facts has improved as a result of a FIA inspection rather than our own prior investigations.”

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

McLaren said in a separate statement that the situation could have been avoided if the team had told FIA about Stepney’s first communication right away.

“We are, of course, embarrassed by the successive disclosures,” the statement said. “To avoid even the possibility of Ferrari information influencing our performance during 2008, McLaren has offered a set of detailed undertakings to the FIA which will impose a moratorium on development in relation to three separate systems.”

McLaren also offered a public apology and promised a similar situation would never occur again. It also agreed to pay FIA’s costs for the investigation.

On Dec. 8, FIA deferred a ruling on whether McLaren illegally used the confidential Ferrari data to design its 2008 car.

The council called an extraordinary general meeting for Feb. 14 in Paris where McLaren, Ferrari and other F1 teams can make their case. If found guilty, McLaren could face severe sanctions for the 2008 season, which starts March 16 with the Australian Grand Prix.

Whitmarsh said McLaren had suffered greatly from the spy scandal.

“Apart from the morale sapping consequence within the team, its ability to continue its task of generating investment has, as I am sure anyone can imagine, been made virtually impossible,” Whitmarsh wrote in the letter, dated Dec. 5

“Consequently, the long term damage to the team’s previously outstanding record and commercial capability is significantly greater than that potentially envisaged by the fiscal penalty that was previously imposed upon the team.”

The letter was written before the WMSC hearing on Dec. 7 in which Renault was found guilty of possessing confidential McLaren information but escaped punishment.