Comprising of mostly communication logs and some details of the communication, it is hard to hold any respect for McLaren as a sporting team, or take Ron Dennis' word that it was only a rogue employee who was involved in holding data from Ferrari illegally. The evidence, as described in the FIA's press release (pdf, autosport.com) is damning.
Some of the really damning evidence is in the email logs between Pedro de la Rosa, Mike Coughlan and current F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso.
3.5 On 21 March 2007 at 09.57 Mr. de la Rosa wrote to Coughlan in the following terms:
"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.
p.s. I will be in the simulator tomorrow."
3.6 In his evidence given to the WMSC, Mr. de la Rosa confirmed that Coughlan replied by text message with precise details of Ferrari's weight distribution.
3.9 Mr. de la Rosa replied on 25 March 2007 13.02 stating the following:
"All the information from Ferrari is very reliable. It comes from Nigel Stepney, their former chief mechanic - I don't know what post he holds now. He's the same person who told us in Australia that Kimi was stopping in lap 18. He's very friendly with Mike Coughlan, our Chief Designer, and he told him that."
3.13 Mr de la Rosa's e-mail to Mr. Alonso on 25 March 2007 at 01.43 identified a gas that Ferrari uses to inflate its tyres to reduce the internal temperature and blistering. The e-mail concludes with a statement (in relation to the gas) that "we'll have to try it, it's easy!".
3.14 Mr Alonso replied at 12.31 that it is "very important" that McLaren test the gas that Ferrari uses in its tyres as "they have something different from the rest", and "not only this year. there is something else and this may be the key; let's hope we can test it during this test, and that we can make it a priority!".
3.15 Mr. de la Rosa replied on 25 March 2007 13.02 stating the following: I agree 100% that we must test the [tyre gas] thing very soon.
After this level of evidence, how can it be possible that no one else in McLaren knew about what Coughlan was up to? Drivers are supported by huge technical staff, and even simulators are hardly about popping into the local arcade.
The FIA's verdict however is still puzzling. The full verdict:
9.2 The WMSC therefore, in accordance with the provisions of the International Sporting Code, imposes the following sanctions relation to the 2007 FIA Formula One World Championship:
- a penalty consisting of exclusion from and withdrawal of all points awarded to McLaren in all rounds of the 2007 Constructors' Championship. For the avoidance of doubt, McLaren will be permitted to race in the remaining rounds of the 2007 Championship but will not be permitted to score points in the Constructors Championship or attend the podium in the event of a top three finish in any of the remaining races in the 2007 season. Points scored by other competitors in the Championship to date will not be affected further to the withdrawal of McLaren's points;
- a fine of USD100 million (less any sum that would have been payable by Formula One Management Limited on account of McLaren's results in the 2007 Constructors Championship had it not been excluded). This fine shall be payable within three months from the date of this Decision.
The drivers were given immunity in exchange for full co-operation, and can still carry on their (current winning) position of fighting for the World Driver's Championship. In the interest of the show, there are still 5 drivers with a mathematical possibility of winning the WDC, and 3 with a real chance of winning it. So, in terms of the entertainment value, nothing is lost. And as discussed in this Guardian commentary there is a precedent for this.
What puzzles me is why McLaren's fine is pegged to their on track performance? After all, wasn't the spy saga all about using rival team's information to advance their own performance on track?
As for the WDC, it is tainted this year. There will always be an asterisk next to whoever wins this year. The case is off course far from over - there are still criminal charges pending for Nigel Stepney and civil action against Mike Coughlan. But what is most absurd is that Mike Coughlan still has his job ...