Ron Dennis reveals true motive behind 2007 McLaren scandal and two-year ban threat

Sam Cooper
Max Mosely and Ron Dennis

Ron Dennis' feud with Max Mosely was at the centre of the Spygate affair.

Former McLaren boss Ron Dennis has revealed how the actions of a “rogue employee” landed the team in one of the biggest scandals in F1 history.

In 2007, McLaren were fined $100 million (£49.2 million) and stripped of their Constructors’ championship points after an employee was found to be in possession of confidential material belonging to Ferrari and Dennis has revealed what was behind the employee’s actions.

Ron Dennis lifts lid on moves behind McLaren’s Spygate fine

The fine handed to McLaren is still the largest sporting penalty ever handed out in F1 and came about as a result of a disgruntled Ferrari employee, Nigel Stepney, handing confidential documents to his friend Mike Coughlan who was chief designer of McLaren.

The plan was discovered by an employee of a Woking-based photocopier shop who recognised that the documents handed to him by the wife of Coughlan looked rather suspicious and emailed Ferrari.

“These were the actions of a rogue employee,” Dennis recently told the BBC. “They had effectively conspired to take material from both companies and offered their services to an uncompetitive team with this data.

“The data was handed to my engineer (Coughlan) in Spain, he took it home, he commissioned his wife to have it photocopied and then the material was shredded and the discs on which the material were never left his property.

“So nothing came ever physically into the company other than what was in his mind and he didn’t even apply any of that to the circumstances.”

McLaren were initially cleared of wrongdoing but a second investigation by the FIA led to the punishment.

“The reality is that you are faced normally with choice,” Dennis said. “At that point. I had no choice and it wasn’t me, I was representing the company and in the period in which we were, let’s say, facing the governing body in a sort of tribunal…

“I spoke to each of the shareholders and each of our sponsors, gave them the options and they were totally supportive of the decision, not just taken by myself, that we shouldn’t appeal. Because the fact is that would then be two years of racing under appeal and the only way would have been to take it into the civil courts and it’s a very long drawn out process.”

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The end result was a damaging stain on the McLaren legacy but at the centre of it was a bitter feud between Dennis and FIA boss Max Mosley, which had been going on for years before the Spygate affair.

“What had happened, [I had] previously successfully taken the governing body and Bernie Ecclestone to court in Brussels, with two other teams but I led the charge, and Brussels ruled that a governing body could not have any commercial involvement in the sport.

“That changed the complete direction of travel of grand prix racing because the governing body wanted to participate and Max Mosley wanted to participate in the financial side of motor racing and Brussels ruled against him.

“From that moment on, every now and then I felt the laser of the sight fall on me, I had to dodge every single bullet and that was for years that led to that.

“That individual, who unbeknown to me was [acting on] his own personal motives, put the team in a vulnerable position that gave the opportunity to the governing body to jump all over me.”

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