The Truth Behind The $100,000,000 Formula 1 Spy Scandal

Grab some popcorn since this is one of the longest and one of the most expensive sports scandals ever...

42w ago

You might have forgotten about this certain event and story, or maybe you have never even heard about this certain scandal. I mean, now looking back at this specific event it makes a pretty good story. And if you are new to the Formula 1 world, and you want to learn more about motorsport, this event is a fascinating story to learn about. So get comfortable, sit back, maybe turn on some F1 V10 music, and enjoy the most expensive sports scandal in motorsport and sports history.

Let us trackback to the early to mid-2000s. On a fine afternoon day, a woman has walked through the doors into a local copy store. Everything seems normal and usual, yet, the whole situation turned out to be one of the most unusual situations ever. The lady walked up to the desk and asked the photocopying person to make a copy of 780 pages. Unusual if you ask me, but why not? The person behind the desk checked over and inspected the copies, and out of the corner of their eye, they spotted a Ferrari logo on the bottom of the pages. Now, this is starting to get pretty suspicious if you ask me, they asked themselves the same thing. It's not every day when people come in with official Ferrari F1 team papers, especially in a public photocopying store down the block.

Moving on with the story, they made a copy of the 780 papers she asked for, yet the worker still felt pretty suspicious. So, as any other 'normal' F1 fan would do, they googled her name, Trudy Coughlin. When they searched it up, it also showed that she is married to Michael Coughlin who is the chief designer at Mclaren. That's when everything sparked and all the pieces were starting to be put together. The worker who also was a die-heart Ferrari fan, emailed the Italian manager, Stefano Domenicali about this certain action. That's when suspicion rose, and that is why Stefano got very distraught and worried.

Although, this story tracks back to the 90s, and its roots were planted during that certain era. It all started with a man named Nigel Stepney, he was in charge of the mechanics for the Scuderia Ferrari, he did not have too much knowledge for these big roles in F1 and motorsport. Yet, he was close with many big names such as Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn. That gave him a very big advantage and a very big role since he was close to them. Remember, that is the only reason that he had such a big role in Ferrari and F1.

Schumacher and Ferrari continued to dominate the early 2000s, they were at the pinnacle of motorsport, branded as the dream team. Even though Nigel was a big part of that success, the most significant part was that he was just a mechanic without a college degree, so without the big names, he would have been nowhere. He was like Ross Brawn's second in command, and Ross was a very well-known name in the paddock. Known as the genius and as the insightful person, which helped Stepney gain an advantage in power. Nevertheless, everything comes to an end at a certain point in life, once Michael Schumacher announced his retirement back in 2006 everything changed. Once the retirement was made public, it also meant Ross Braun would go on a 'breather' also known as being absent for a while. Therefore, this left Stepney alone and uncovered, he was no longer surrounded and helped by his powerful companions. That caused a decrease in his 'status' and power in the F1 paddock, why? Well as I said before, he did not have a college degree in this specific stuff to be able to hold a higher rank in the Ferrari team.

Yet, Nigel Stepney was motivated and convinced that he had the chance to become a technical director within the team. In the 2007 season that specific role was filled by Mario Almando. Stepney did not realize the fact that he wasn't exactly qualified nor experienced for that technical director role. This caused an uproar, and he was enraged and inflamed, even though he would have never gotten that certain job, it was just not his place. He was not educated enough for that significant role, and he has to accept that he did not have a degree in that certain specifics.

Yes, I know we are still at the beginning of the story, but I promise we are getting to the juicy stuff. Regardless of what happened, Nigel just still could not come to terms and to grips that he was not qualified enough for this job. This certain moment and 'choice' Ferrari made really put this certain scandal and story into ways. Stepney even gave a controversial interview with Autosport, and he explained that if another opportunity arose with another team, he would definitely consider it. He wanted to move on, and this obviously didn't sit well with Ferrari, since most people know their strict terms with people speaking against them. Surprisingly, Ferrari did not fire him, instead, he was just not allowed to travel abroad. Little by little his power would get lessened.

Again, these little things kept pilling more and more, causing Stepney to gain a lot of resentment and rage, which would lead to retaliation. The buzz in Formula 1 was already immense, but that buzz turned into shock and worry once one of the mechanics found white powder outside of one of the cars. And as all teams would do for their team and drivers' safety, they called the authorities immediately after reporting this suspicious white powder. The police investigated and came to the conclusion that Nigel Stepney was indeed the one with powder in his pockets, which was confirmed to be the exact powder that was found in the fuel tank and around the fuel tank. Evidently, you can figure out the certain actions and consequences that were taken against Nigel when this occurred.

Ferrari filed a complaint and investigations against Nigel Stepney. And on July 3rd, Nigel Stepney was fired by Ferrari. This certain sabotage also opened Ferrari's mind, and they started getting suspicious, which meant they started investigations on the Mclaren Mercedes team as well. Which also turned out to be proven that Coughlin was part of the scandal, it was confirmed that Coughlin did indeed have possession of documents from the Maranello Factory. But how did they even get these certain documents you ask?

Stick with me here, I'm going to answer that very important question soon. As we know Stepney was caught with that specific powder, yet, that has to mean something else was going on between them this whole time, there has to be someone behind this. Trudy Coughlin went to the photocopy store to copy every single one of the documents that came from Maranello onto a certain disk drive. All the dots were starting to get connected. After many days of nail-biting and worrying within the F1 world, it was disclosed that the confidential data and information that was transferred from Stepney to Coughlin 'did not reach anyone else inside the Mclaren team'. I know, it is pretty insane that this happened...

The documents were blueprints of Ferrari's cars, yet the important information was not used in the design of the Mclaren cars. Leading the FIA to not punish or hold punishments towards the team. Once the Hungarian GP came around, all the secrets were starting to become exposed. It was qualifying at Hungary when Hamilton had a faster time than his 2 - Time World Champion teammate, Fernando Alonso. Both of the cars came into the pits to change their tires and to get a fresh new pair. Mclaren decided to do a stack strategy, Alonso was the one in front of Hamilton. Now, here comes the suspicious part, the pit crew decided to keep Fernando Alonso in the pits for about 20 extra seconds. This also cost Hamilton from setting a final time, also not being able to secure Q3.

Mclaren revealed they did this because it was done for Alonso to get some clear air. Although the stewards said this was incorrect because the air was clean. Ironically, at the end of the session, Alonso got pole position in Hungary. The FIA investigated the situation, and they concluded that Fernando Alonso delayed and held up his teammate Lewis Hamilton purposely, giving Fernando a grid place penalty.

You would expect everything to be calmed down after that, yet it got even more dramatic and even crazier. Later, Alonso did meet with Ron Dennis. As well as confirming that, Fernando threatened Ron with the fact that he would tell the FIA that they had secret conversations with Coughlin about the information from Ferrari.

Mclaren had been lying to them all along. They said that they did not know Coughlin had the information and that he did not pass that data to the drivers. It was confirmed that conversations were occurring between Alonso, Pedro de la Rosa, and Coughlin. Now, the FIA had all the evidence and information causing for a much better and much more detailed investigation to be held on this situation.

It was also said that 288 texts 35 phone calls were made between Coughlin and Stepney, and there more they also had emails directly from the drivers demonstrating that Mclaren had stolen information from Ferrari. Mclaren knew everything they had, they knew this information was trustworthy, they were ready to lie and to use this information to their full advantage.

At the end of the day Mclaren was caught, and they were fined a 100 million dollar penalty...

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Comments (22)

  • How dumb was it not to just buy a copier and cut out the part where it looked suspicious. For what this cost in the end? I get why they didn't use one connected to someone but that was dumb. I forgot about that part, oh how we move on from the scandals!

      9 months ago
    • Yeah, it was a pretty involved scandal, all those mistakes let to them being caught

        9 months ago
    • I remember thinking wow that is a lot of money and then we kind of forgot about it. Ferrari's little trickery lately was never out of the bag but we can guess. I miss the days when they had more innovation but it was also very expensive, those...

      Read more
        9 months ago
  • I remember this well. A terrible situation at the time, one of the biggest scandals in F1 history.

    I don’t think we ever knew what happened to Mrs. Coughlin, apart from losing her job.

    Ferrari may have sued her, they certainly had a right to.

      9 months ago
    • Yeah, it was a crazy situation, don’t know what happened to Mrs. Coughlin either. Although, Ferrari had all the rights to sue her!

        9 months ago
  • You have documents you know your shouldn’t have.

    You walk into your local copy store with said document, to make a 780 page copy.

    She knew what she was doing was illegal she did it anyway.

    How was she punished? Do you know?

      9 months ago
  • You kept it short and simple! Very good. Painful memories. Or not, we still got the championship at the end of the season!

      9 months ago
  • This was a proper teammate rivalry. Both pushed each other to the limit! Very well written!

      9 months ago