Following allegations of persistent and systematic pressure from powerful forces within Formula One, the McLaren team yesterday issued what amounted to a grovelling apology for their role in the "Stepneygate" industrial espionage scandal which sullied the 2007 racing season.
In a letter dated 5 December, two days before the decision in which the World Motor Sport Council declared that Renault were guilty of possession of McLaren intellectual property but elected to issue no penalty, McLaren's chief operating officer Martin Whitmarsh wrote to the WMSC to express embarrassment that secret Ferrari documents handed to disgraced the McLaren chief designer, Mike Coughlan, in May by the former Ferrari head of performance development, Nigel Stepney, had been more widely distributed through the team than originally thought.
In September, the WMSC – the disciplinary body of the sport's ruling FIA – fined McLaren a record $100m [£50m] for unauthorised possession of confidential Ferrari data, and disqualified them from the constructors' championship. It is alleged that there has been growing pressure on parties close to McLaren for team principal Ron Dennis to resign. That followed allegations at the Italian Grand Prix in September that he had been informed that if he were to quit, "all McLaren's problems would go away".
In the letter McLaren acknowledge that some Ferrari information had been disclosed directly, or indirectly, to people within the company apart from Coughlan, test driver Pedro de la Rosa and the former driver, Fernando Alonso.
"We apologise unreservedly if our prior ignorance of some of these facts has misled the World Motor Sports Council and we can only assure you all that this was never our intention," Whitmarsh wrote. He said it was "a matter of deep regret for us that our understanding of the facts has improved as a result of an FIA inspection rather than our own prior investigations".
McLaren said in a statement the situation could have been avoided if the team had told the FIA about Stepney's first communication right away: "We are embarrassed by the successive disclosures. To avoid even the possibility of Ferrari information influencing our performance during 2008, McLaren have offered a set of detailed undertakings to the FIA which will impose a moratorium on development in relation to three separate systems."
McLaren also agreed to pay the FIA's costs for the investigation.