McLaren boss Ron Dennis insists that his team will be cleared of any impropriety in the escalating 'spy row' that has engulfed Formula One since it was alleged that technical secrets had been passed from Maranello to Woking.

Now ex-Ferrari technical manager Nigel Stepney has been accused of passing valuable documents to McLaren's Mike Coughlan - although McLaren refuses to name the recipient - but the matter took another twist on the opening day of the British Grand Prix when Honda revealed that both Stepney and Coughlan had approached team boss Nick Fry with regard to discussing future employment with the Brackley-based operation.

Stepney and McLaren have maintained their innocence throughout the allegations, with the Woking team insisting that it had no knowledge of the transfer until information was found at the house of the now suspended 'senior employee' alleged to be Coughlan, and maintaining that no information contained within the documents had found its way into the design or development of its race-winning MP4-22.

The matter was naturally a hot topic at the Friday press conference at Silverstone, with Dennis doing his best to answer the barrage of questions without stepping over the boundaries of the team's usual dignified 'silence'.

"We've been very specific in our press releases," he said, "This [matter] concerns the intellectual property of another grand prix team, and there is no intellectual property of another grand prix team on our cars - nor will there be, nor has there ever been.

"We have very high standards in our organisation. My own integrity is woven into the fabric of our company and I am now, having supervised a very detailed investigation within our own organisation, able to say, with absolute certainty, that, as this unfolds over the next few days, people will clearly understand all the facts behind what has been a difficult experience for McLaren.

"I can attempt to answer questions, but I want to be constrained in what I say because there are lots of people's reputations at stake here, not just our company's. But, in speaking for our company, we, I'm sure, will be completely vindicated with the passing of time."

Admitting that the 'transfer' of ideas was accepted practice in Formula One, particularly when employees legitimately move between teams, Dennis refused to confirm that espionage was rife in F1 and insisted that there were limits as to what was acceptable.

"This is a very competitive sport," he pointed out, "Inevitably, engineers move from team to team quite legitimately - sometimes at the end of a contract, sometimes at a point where a settlement has been negotiated. You cannot un-invent things. People move with all the knowledge and, inevitably, that knowledge is going to appear, sometimes with great perfection and accuracy, onto other grand prix cars.

"Very often it relates to aerodynamics, because those are the ones that you can so easily digitally photograph and demonstrate beyond any shadow of a doubt that their origins are found in other grand prix teams, who are the owners of that intellectual property. But that is, to a certain degree, motorsport and there are limits.

"I remember - with great amusement - locking another team's aerodynamicist, who was measuring and photographing parts of our bodywork, into the back of our truck. You could say that that was over the limit but, equally, many photographers are commissioned to take detailed photographs of other people's cars and we take detailed photographs of other people's cars. That is probably within the accepted practices in grand prix racing.

"But there are unwritten limits to which everybody should adhere and, clearly, these [current issues] exceed all previously known occurrences."

Revealing that McLaren has shown the FIA details of every developments made to the MP4-22 since the alleged transfer of information in late April - as well as those made prior to that date - Dennis is at pains to prove that his team has not acted improperly

"None of those drawings and developments have any trace of a competitor's intellectual property," he insisted, "Clearly, if an individual has access to information that information is in that person. Then you have to determine for what purpose it is going to be used. I can tell you that the purpose for which it was not used was to have any influence on our grand prix cars.

"Our system is a matrix system, which means that the technical work we do is not a pyramid structure with one individual at the top, it is a flat structure. The development of our cars are very much controlled, from an R&D point of view, by Paddy Lowe, and each discipline is under the control of one individual. Therefore, it is extremely easy to track back the influence of any one individual on the development of our racing cars. Everything has a name against it.

"Therefore, I can categorically state that there are no developments, whatsoever, that have occurred in the months preceding 28 April or the months following 28 April - and we can categorically demonstrate that to anybody who needs to have that information. I can comfortably say that this will not end in anything that causes McLaren embarrassment."

Revealing that the matter is being dealt with under civil law, meaning that there is no police investigation, Dennis admitted that he hoped the issue would be cleared up as soon as possible.

"The way of the world is that the truth comes out," he said, "Probably the thing that I have learned more than anything over the last few days is how fast people are prepared to jump into severe criticism of McLaren, [even though] we have had, certainly in the last 20 odd years, an impeccable reputation in the aspect of how we conduct this racing team and how we conduct its business affairs.

"It is not great that, in some countries, they didn't even give us the courtesy of publishing our own press releases, which created an even greater groundswell of public opinion. But we have to be true to our principles. We said that we would follow the process. We are co-operating with both the FIA and Ferrari and, sometimes, that co-operation requires us to stay silent while this unfolds correctly. The silence is costing us, but that is the cost of integrity.

"Over the next 48 hours, there will certainly be more information available to people, and some of that will perhaps give some insight into motives and what lies behind some people's actions. It's not for me to criticise, we will let things unfold.

"Every time any information became available to McLaren, we shared it with both Jean Todt and Max Mosley and that was, to the best of my ability, in real time. There was, very early on in the discussions with Jean, a clear recognition from him that he was not questioning in any shape or form either my personal integrity or that of the company.

"With regards to the FIA, we invited them within one or two hours of this situation coming to light, of us understanding what the issue was, to conduct a full investigation. The duration of the investigation is really determined by, I would think, the civil action, but I'm optimistic that some of the things that need to be established will be established quickly. And, for us, the first thing is the confirmation that there is no intellectual property on our cars, and never has been, and never will be, that belongs to another grand prix team.

"Once that hurdle has been crossed, then there will be the more complex issue of who said what, and did what, what was the true nature of the motives and the circumstances, ultimately just sorting through everything. I can't be more specific but I am comfortable that with the passing of time our reputation will be undamaged as much as it can be having gone through this process."

 

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