Most of the world will know the basic background to this story - a McLaren employee was found with a whole batch of documents which should really have been in the hands of Ferrari team members only, thus sparking a huge uproar from Ferrari that McLaren were guilty of using these secret documents to better their 2007 car.

The FIA however have decided that the current evidence suggests that although McLaren did have this information in their possession, they have not used it to gain an advantage and therefore they are not to be punished.  At the moment at least - if further evidence comes to light then they could face the ultimate penalty of being excluded from not only this year’s Championship but also the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship as well.

As far as both Ferrari and McLaren are concerned, the documents were taken by Nigel Stepney, a Ferrari employee who they claim was intent on bringing the team down from the inside.  He passed these to his couterpart at McLaren, Mike Coughlan who then seems to have kept them at his home until one day deciding to have them photocopied.

An unusually alert attendant at the copyshop picked up that this information shouldn’t be in the public domain, contacted Ferrari and the whole thing became public with claims flying in all directions.

It sounds like a good story for a novel - take a high profile sport with millions of dollars on the line, add a “bad guy” disgruntled employee who has access to the company secrets and a friend with another team, throw in a cameo from a have-a-go-hero photocopy shop attendant then mix it all up and see what you come up with.

Obviously there is still a way to go before all the facts are known (if they ever will be), but so far there are a few things which don’t really add up.

Firstly, the photocopying incident - surely that is either extreme stupidity on the part of Coughlan or simply made up by Ferrari in order to have an excuse for taking the moral high ground and making all this public?  If you effectively steal something from someone you wouldn’t then take it somewhere public would you?

As I read elsewhere, the other point about this is that even if it did happen as it’s meant to have, and the person doing the copying became suspicious, how exactly do you phone the Ferrari F1 team and get them to believe what you are telling them is true?  Especially when what you are saying is pretty unbelievable?

So far everyone seems to be taking it for granted that Stepney is the one who took the information and passed it to Coughlan, yet he is still maintaining his innocence.  As he has said today on ITV’s website,

Someone passed on the designs but it wasn’t me.  I do not want to involve other colleagues.  I know one part of the story, not all.  Ferrari know the whole story.

I don’t know who is telling the truth, but if it’s Stepney then that statement makes it sound like the truth is going to be very juicy indeed! 

For a while there was a feeling that Ferrari wanted to get rid of Stepney, or that Stepney wanted to get away from Ferrari but no real reason was given - if the team have made this up just to get rid of him then that would be unforgiveable, and equally if Stepney is guilty of effectively selling his team’s secrets then he can kiss goodbye to his future in motorsport.

Coughlan has kept pretty quiet, whether that’s due to legal restrictions on what he is allowed to say, or whether he doesn’t have anything new to say it’s not clear.  If I was him and had been accused of some of this stuff then I would be saying as much as I could to get my name cleared, especially when his future in motorsport is at stake.

The FIA verdict last week that McLaren were not to be punished is far from the end of this story which looks set to run through to the end of the season at least, depending on various court cases which are pending as well as the FIA’s own investigations.

Depending on the outcome of this and the Championships, unfortunately it may be this story that’s remembered most about 2007 rather than any of the ontrack action.