| Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton’s dream of winning the Formula One world title in his debut season is in jeopardy after the ‘Ferrarigate’ spying scandal stepped up a gear on Thursday. The Briton, who leads the race for the title by 12 points, and team-mate Fernando Alonso face expulsion from the championship following the decision by F1’s ruling body, the FIA, to charge McLaren with a breach of the international sporting code.
The team has been ordered to appear before the FIA’s world motor sport council in Paris on July 26, four days after the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, to answer for the discovery of a 780-page dossier detailing Ferrari secrets in the possession of their chief designer, Mike Coughlan.
The fact that Coughlan had the files, with or without the knowledge of his superiors, thrust McLaren into the clutches of Article 151c of the sporting code, which deals with “any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally”.
Coughlan has given a full account of his involvement to Ferrari in a sworn affidavit. Ferrari were given permission by the High Court in London to make that affidavit available to the FIA.
In a statement, the FIA said: “The team representatives have been called to answer a charge that between March and July 2007, in breach of article 151c of the international sporting code, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes had unauthorised possession of documents and confidential information belonging to Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, including information that could be used to design, engineer, build, check, test, develop and/or run a 2007 Ferrari Formula One car.”
A McLaren statement read: “McLaren is extremely disappointed to note that it has been asked by the FIA to answer a charge of being in possession of certain documents and confidential information belonging to Ferrari.
“Whilst McLaren wishes to continue its full co-operation with any investigation into this matter, it does wish to make it very clear that the documents and confidential information were only in the possession of one currently suspended employee on an unauthorised basis and no element of it has been used in relation to McLaren’s Formula One cars.”
The penalties available to the FIA range from fines to disqualification. To impose a ban, the FIA would need to prove that Coughlan made use of the information he had — either in accommodating Ferrari design features on the McLaren or in adapting McLaren strategy — in light of what he knew about Ferrari. Should that happen, Hamilton and Alonso could be thrown out of the world championship.
The Coughlan affidavit is expected to fill in some serious gaps. The FIA charge sheet includes activities as far back as March, which suggests that Coughlan had the Ferrari files earlier than the end of April, as previously suggested.
It should also reveal the identity of Coughlan’s contact at Maranello, believed to be sacked Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney.
Ferrari have instigated criminal proceedings in Italy against Stepney, who denies passing information to Coughlan and any wrongdoing relating to the case against him in Italy.