Should McLaren be penalised?

There’s a new feud in Formula One. Move over Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, it’s now the turn of the real ‘big boys’ of the sport – Jean Todt and Ron Dennis.

Todt, Dennis. Who are these guys? Well, they are perhaps not as powerful as Bernie Ecclestone, but being the team bosses of Ferrari and McLaren, they sure can pull their weight around.
The bone of contention has been McLaren’s breach of the International Sporting Code, after the team’s chief designer Mike Coughlan was found in possession of confidential documents belonging to Ferrari. Coughlan, who is now under suspension, allegedly got the material from sacked Ferrari employee Nigel Stepney, who was the man knocked over by Michael Schumacher during a pit-stop at the 2000 Spanish Grand Prix.

The FIA’s World Motor Sport Council did find McLaren in breach of the International Sporting Code, but let the team off as there was no substantial evidence to prove that McLaren used the information available to Coughlan. It’s speculated that Coughlan held almost 800 pages of Ferrari documentation – enough to design, engineer, build, check, test, develop and/or run a 2007 Ferrari Formula One car.

Todt wasn’t amused with the decision and said he believed McLaren had access to the data when the team requested a clarification over the use of ‘moveable’ floors. Dennis promptly replied, admitting that it was from a tip-off from Stepney and not because McLaren were privy to Ferrari documents.

Following the mounting pressure from Ferrari, FIA president Max Mosley has now referred the case to the Court of Appeal. McLaren’s championship hopes could be in jeopardy if they are found guilty of using the material.

However, should McLaren be docked points or excluded from the championship even given the fact that only their employee possessed Ferrari data and the team didn’t use it? It’s like a Coca-Cola employee having the secret formulation of Pepsi. Would you penalise the employee, or both employee and employer?

After all, Coughlan and Stepney apparently did together approach Honda in June with an eye at job prospects. So, perhaps it was just a thing involving the two of them.

What really would have been interesting is if they had not been caught so early, assuming all the allegations against them are true. Imagine a lower-placed low-budget team suddenly having access to all this costly data and giving the big boys a run for their money.

Now, that would be a tale to tell.

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