top of page

Spygate- The Punishment

Hello again, readers! This article is a continuation of the events that transpired in 2007, which gave rise to Spygate, the most expensive controversy in the history of world sports.

What we already know is how Mclaren managed to pull off the greatest crime in Formula One. However, every crime is eventually brought to light, and this one was as well. McLaren CEO Ron Dennis told the FiA President Max Mosley about his conversation with Fernando Alonso, McLaren’s lead driver. This directly contradicted his testimony stating that no Mclaren employee inside their factory was aware of the information passed on from Stepney to Coughlan. What seemed to be Dennis’ attempt at damage control backfired colossally. After listening to his confession, Mosley kept a close eye on McLaren and it’s drivers. An investigation meant that their emails and phones were under constant surveillance. This revealed a series of conversations between Coughlan and the McLaren drivers, directly implicating the McLaren team. Emails among the three McLaren drivers further proved that they’d been lying to Ron Dennis, who was then feeding that narrative to the FiA. This set the wheels in motion for a hearing that would rock the sport.

Part 5: The World Motor Sport Council

The FiA had complete knowledge of what had happened, and it was then time to bring out the penalty for committing a crime that put the credibility of the sport and it’s teams under serious question. One email between Pedro de la Rosa and Alonso upended the entire lie that Mclaren had been throwing around. Not only did it prove that this entire scenario was far beyond just trading hands between Stepney and Coughlan, and that this information just landed in their laps; they were taking information directly from a title competitor, and worst of all, they had intent. McLaren was ready to use this information to its advantage and lie to the fullest extent despite being in breach of the laws and ethics of the sport.

McLaren was eventually summoned by the World Motor Sport Council or the WMSC, who took into consideration all the evidence submitted by both parties involved before coming to a conclusion. The evidence proved that the nature of the information illicitly held by McLaren could, if used by them, give them a considerable advantage over their competitors. However, McLaren executives continued to push toward the fact that “the information found in Coughlan’s possession is of no interest to us as our car is significantly different than theirs”, and blamed the actions of Coughlan to be those of a ‘rogue employee’. In addition, they stated that “the entire company can simply not be penalised for the actions of a single embezzled employee”.

The WMSC obviously did not accept this account of McLaren’s. Formula One teams are extremely interested in their rivals’ technology and go to great lengths, usually within the rules, to study each other's innovations and designs and sometimes even replicate their own version of the same through various means. Hence the WMSC believed that this technical information was highly significant and could surely confer a sporting advantage unto McLaren if used or taken into account.

So now the World Motor Sport Council has closely considered all the evidence submitted by everyone under question, and has concluded that McLaren are in breach of Article 151(c) of the International Sporting Code, which prohibits “any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally”.

Despite being nailed against a tight corner, McLaren suggested to the WMSC that unless any actual use and a clear competitive advantage is visible on its cars, the WMSC is not permitted by law to impose any penalty. The WMSC, however, reject this suggestion as they have complete jurisdiction over the imposition of a breach of Sporting Regulations, and further add that “We do not need to show that any information improperly handled has led to any advantage at all. Rather, the WMSC is entitled to treat possession of another team’s information as an offence meriting a penalty of its own if it so chooses.”

Before making any decisions for yourselves, it is important to understand the nature of this information passed on from Nigel Stepney to Michael Coughlan. He passed on Ferrari’s stopping strategy, braking system, weight distribution and other essential characteristics of their car. These are some highly technical and vital aspects that are unique to every car and knowing them would give McLaren a serious competitive advantage. Merely the possession of such vital information is a direct violation of the International Sporting Conduct. A huge possibility that had been taken into consideration was that even if this Ferrari technology wasn’t a part of McLaren’s cars, it could very well have been included in their simulation program to understand how the Ferrari cars worked and come up with strategies to beat their competitors.

The WMSC’s findings revealed that the stolen information was in fact known to more than one McLaren employee. These were McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Pedro de la Rosa, Michael Coughlan and his superior, Mr. Neale (first name anonymous), not to mention Ron Dennis, the CEO and Team Principal of McLaren at the time. Another revelation was that these employees had to have had the intention to put some of this information in its own testing. Hence, a conclusion was reached that some level of competitive advantage was gained, though it may forever be impossible to quantify that advantage in concrete terms, and a suitable penalty was deemed appropriate.

Part 6: The Decision

For the reasons stated above, the WMSC found the McLaren-Mercedes Formula One Team in breach of article 151c of the International Sporting Conduct and imposed the following sanctions for the 2007 World Championship- the McLaren team was excluded from the Constructors’ Championship and all their points before the date of the decision were forfeited. They were however, permitted to race for the remainder of the 2007 season but were not allowed on the podium (a podium is a celebration of the top three racers and their constructors in any given race). This was nothing compared to the explosion they were about to face- a 100 million dollar fine for the breach of conduct to be paid within a duration of merely three months.

The drivers however, were provided immunity for their cooperation with the FiA and the WMSC during their investigations and were exempted from most of the penalties. They were allowed to compete for the World Driver’s Title that year and retain the points they’d earned leading up to the decision.

McLaren were permitted to compete in the following Championship, contingent to the fact that an investigation held by an independent committee appointed by the WMSC found their preparatory work for the 2008 season free of any confidential information stolen from Ferrari.

Was this penalty justified? Did McLaren really gain an advantage from the possession of Ferrari’s documents? The lack of transparency in the sport will never lead us to believe either possibilities, but we do acknowledge the fact that every crime must be punished. And for McLaren, the biggest and most severe punishment could be losing the championship, but to none other than the Scuderia Ferrari Formula One Team. Yes, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari’s star kid and ironically enough, a driver for the McLaren team up until the previous year, took the championship by only a single point ahead of prodigy Lewis Hamilton, following a couple of nail biting finishes in the closing stages of the season.

The 2007 Formula One season is still regarded as one of the greatest seasons in the history of the sport- a huge controversy, a future star trying to make his mark and the closest finish the sport has ever seen in its 71 years. What more could you want?


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page