McLaren name hangs on testimony of fired employee

The elegant surroundings of the FIA's Paris headquarters will this morning play host to potentially one of the most explosive confrontations in recent formula one history when the McLaren team will be asked to explain how their chief designer, Mike Coughlan (pictured right), came to be in possession of almost 800 confidential drawings of their principal rival's car, the Ferrari F2007.

The investigation, to be conducted by the governing body's world motor sport council, could have profound consequences for McLaren if the verdict goes against them. The council has the power to impose draconian penalties on those found guilty of infringing the sport's rules and a worst-case scenario could see McLaren thrown out of the world championship or, failing that, Lewis Hamilton's title bid undermined by a loss of points. McLaren remain convinced that they can prove beyond doubt that Coughlan was acting independently. His motivation for acquiring the Ferrari documents seems unlikely to have been to enhance his position with McLaren.

Coughlan has delivered a sworn affidavit to the FIA detailing the sequence of events from his perspective. His words will be crucial.

This saga highlights the problems involved when engineers and mechanics switch teams. "This is one area where people in formula one tend to be rather paranoid," said a senior formula one figure. "The question is can McLaren have benefited from sight of the Ferrari data, if they had it? Ultimately it's difficult to see how they could have." For all that, Coughlan was a McLaren employee when he began trafficking in this information. McLaren's team principal, Ron Dennis, believes anything less than total vindication will be unfair but his company's reputation today lies in the hands of others. More at The Guardian

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