David Coulthard has come to the defence of Ron Dennis and McLaren-Mercedes, who have been summoned to an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council to answer charges relating to the ongoing spy row surrounding their chief designer Mike Coughlan.

Ferrari has accused Coughlan and wife Trudy of stealing technical information, after the latter was said to have taken a 780-page Ferrari document to a photocopying shop to be reproduced.

That information is believed to have come from Ferrari's ex-head of performance Nigel Stepney, who was dismissed from his role last week and was then named by the team as the source of the suspected leak just a day after McLaren announced it had suspended a 'senior employee' - later named as Coughlan - over obtaining information from a rival team.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis has maintained that the team was completely unaware of any wrong-doing prior to the information being found at Coughlan's home and said none of the data found in the document had found its way into the design or development of its race-winning MP4-22.

According to reports by British newspaper, The Independent, DC reckons that there is no way McLaren would resort to the kind of tactics claimed.

"I don't doubt Ron Dennis and McLaren's position on it," said the Scot, who of course drove for McLaren from 1996-2000. "They are too clever and their integrity too high to be involved.

"As to who's responsible and how far it goes, it will all come out in time I'm sure. The truth is it does happen sometimes. It's not good, it's not sporting and it should really have no place in F1 competition. It's as dodgy as blood-doping in cycling."

As for the effect it has had on the sport, Coulthard added that it really is damaging for Formula 1: "In my view the whole saga is disappointing. This isn't a Hollywood movie where when you get to the end credits and it's the end of the story. This could have a long-lasting damaging effect to the integrity of the sport," he continued.

"The spin doctors will say there is no such thing as bad publicity, and that if it gets column inches in newspapers and magazines then it alerts more people to F1. But I think the sport is strong in its media coverage right now, and the type of companies that invest in F1 consider any whiff of insider trading on technology to be a taboo subject."

A number of reports in the British press meanwhile are currently speculating on how this will affect the team and its drivers' - Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

McLaren have maintained that Coughlan didn't get hold of the Ferrari dossier - 'that could be used to design, engineer, build, check, test, develop and/or run a 2007 Ferrari Formula One car' - until April 28. However, it now appears, according to reports in The Daily Mail, as if the FIA believe the information could have been in his hands from as early as March, something that has allegedly come to light after Coughlan had to provide a sworn statement following this week's High Court hearings in London.

If McLaren are found guilty - the team and its drivers' face possibly disqualification and points' deductions.

More to follow as and when it develops...



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