Ferrari 'spied' on McLaren in return, alleges Stepney
Ferrari were at the centre of a sensational and possibly far-reaching claim yesterday that the traffic of information which led to McLaren last month being docked all their constructors points in the Formula One world championship and fined a record $100m [£49.2m] was far from one-way.
The claims came straight from the prancing horse's mouth – from Ferrari's former head of performance development, Nigel Stepney, who allegedly sent the suspended McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan intellectual property stolen from the Italian company.
Speaking to the grandprix.com website, Stepney said: "I got information about when they [McLaren] were stopping. I got weight distribution, I got other aspects of various parts of their car from him [Coughlan]. Ferrari got off very lightly. I was their employee at the time."
It was Coughlan's sharing of similar information about Ferrari with drivers Fernando Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa that led the World Motor Sport Council to punish McLaren.
"I was aware of certain stuff they [McLaren] were doing at tests, fuel levels, for example," Stepney said. "I knew what fuel level they were running. I think they should have been docked points, personally.
"The question is: did I use the information, did I talk about it? That's the big question. I spoke to some people [at Ferrari] about it. I can't prove it, there are no e-mails or anything. Points about the fuel and the differences [between Ferrari and McLaren] were discussed inside. As well as McLaren having an advantage, did Ferrari have an advantage? I think so."
Stepney added that he was "very surprised" that Ferrari were not penalised. "It looks like information was flowing only one way. No one has been balancing the argument. No one has asked the question. They were thinking Mike was asking the questions and I was answering them."
Stepney's claims, which could be highly embarrassing to a number of parties, came at a time when the Ferrari president, Luca di Montezemolo, was quoted as saying that, if Lewis Hamilton wins the world championship this year, he will have done so with Ferrari's help. Montezemolo was referring to the fact that Coughlan had shared his information about Ferrari with Alonso and De la Rosa, however no evidence has been produced to show that McLaren had actually used the data.
The FIA, who run Formula One, may soon be asked by McLaren to investigate Renault; now Ferrari could be added to their list.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was allowing nothing to disturb his focus on the rest of the season.
"I'm only focused on the next two races and doing the best I can in China and Brazil with the team," he said yesterday. "We're going into these races with a really tight battle and with only 12 points between me and Fernando. Anything is still possible but I'm feeling confident and very determined.
"There is always a lot of talk of pressure and distractions at this time of the year but all I'm thinking about is racing and winning at Shanghai and Interlagos."
For his part, Alonso said yesterday: "My retirement in Japan [last Sunday] has not made it easy for me but there are still 20 points to be won and I am going to fight hard for each one of them."