We're seeing the worst of it these days: Formula 1 at its most self-interested, self absorbed and self-centred.

The FIA's draconian decision against McLaren last week headlines an odious affair that leaves everyone looking like anything but sportsmen.

Ron Dennis and his team have been made to look like cheaters and prevaricators. The FIA appears imperious and detached from reality (hardly the first time!) while Fernando Alonso has been revealed as an ill-tempered, spoiled brat who's become petulant and vengeful.

His squeeze job on team-mate Lewis Hamilton exiting the first turn at Spa last weekend clearly demonstrated his ill-will toward Hamilton as well as a lack of any on-track ethics.

Then of course, there's Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan. It's deeply ironic that Stepney in effect brought Ferrari this year's F1 constructor's title by unleashing his greedy game, and of course, nobody can imagine what Coughlan was thinking when he dispatched his wife to a local copy shop to reproduce all the Ferrari drawings.

In the past week I've heard from many long-time friends in the sport, people who have built, engineered and/or crewed F1 and Indy cars. To a man these fellows are pragmatic, world wise people, but this latest episode in F1's soap opera has left them deeply disillusioned.

"This is what happens when you show little men big money and have dorky engineers thinking they can ask for half a million a year," one of my friends remarked.

"Stepney is the obvious villain, but Coughlan is the complete idiot. Of course, you can always take what's in your head, but Stepney's not an engineer and maybe he thought a reference volume would be useful. It would never be mentioned, of course, and all the ideas would be presented as if it came from their own knowledge. But Coughlan couldn't resist parading his little treasure trove."

Of course, most people shake their heads over the fact that so much has been made of something that has always gone on in racing.

There have been many renowned public instances of copycat cars in F1 and most other racing categories. It's happened through the years all through the sport as small car builder after builder made copies of the previous year's dominant car.

In Formula Ford more than thirty years ago everyone used to chuckle over the well-known fact that the American-built Caldwell D9 was a rip-off copy of the UK's Merlyn mk 11A while Canada's Magnum was a copy of the Caldwell! And for many years in all forms of racing photographers have been commissioned by teams to shoot on track views of their rivals' cars in action compared to their own.

"This stuff occurs all the time," commented one of my friends. "It's just that this time someone was dumb enough to get caught."

As Bernie Ecclestone said, 'If this was a matter between Spyker and Super-Aguri it wouldn't get one second of media coverage.'."

Another of my friends was disgusted with the FIA's holier-than-thou attitude to the Stepneygate saga.

"For the love of god, tell F1, Max and Bernie to get over themselves!" he implored. "Getting or stealing information from other teams was part of racing back in the good old days. Getting mechanics drunk and getting info out of them was par for the course."

He then launched into a story about a Bobby Unser-inspired photographing of a rival team's car designed to poke fun at - to destabilise, as Ron Dennis would say - their rivals' theories.

"We cut the padlocks off a competitor's truck one night, went inside with a camera and took photos of their new car," my friend related.

To read the rest of this Gordon Kirby column and other 'The Way It Is' columns go to www.gordonkirby.com



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