Motorsport: Plenty of bugs in F1 the system
Bob McMurray predicts closer racing and more F1 acrimony
Nowhere in the world does a race track test a Formula 1 car more than that with the address of Route du Circuit 55, 4970 Stavelot, Belgium. That’s the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, and no car tests that track like a Formula 1 car.
The race this weekend is the start of the second half of the F1 season and in the next three months or so the teams are going to be faced with nine races. Three will be “double headers”.
They will travel to races in Europe, Asia, North America, South America and the Middle East. That’s a travel schedule that is at once punishing and a logistical nightmare as well as the stuff of many a boyhood dream.
It should be an exciting run of races with the Mercedes team seemingly perpetually on the brink of internal strife with its drivers, and ever so slightly on the run from the increasing threat of the Red Bull team. And you never know, maybe even Ferrari, perhaps even McLaren.
I believe the competition is going to get closer and there will inevitably be acrimony involved as the season progresses — also between teams with those closely guarded secrets of getting the cars to go faster being even more closely guarded as the margins narrow.
Daniel Ricciardo during the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix. Picture/ Getty Images.
Hopefully there will be no outrageous incidents such as the alleged “bugging” of the All Blacks’ hotel room before last week’s game against the “Wannabies”, but spying of some sort raises its nasty head every so often in Formula 1.
In past years I have been witness to engines that have been left overnight in a locked garage at a race only to find them strangely “different” the next morning — with bolts undone, parts disturbed and the packing boxes replaced the wrong way round.
Or a test car that, after finishing a test, was left in a track garage to be shipped back to the UK but “delayed” a few days, then arrived back at base with clear evidence it had been partially disassembled by.
With the “open door” policy in Formula 1 meaning all garage doors having to be open during the day and the cars on full show when on track and in the Parc Ferme after the race, almost all the teams employ photographers to take images of rival cars. They take highly detailed images showing the smallest changes or developments.
When a car with a mechancial problem has stopped on track, nearby photographers delight in trying to get some image of a potentially secret part.
Some years ago the McLaren team was running a three-pedal system The brake and throttle pedals were joined by a third which, when pressed, braked just one rear wheel and consequently helped to eliminate “understeer” which in turn helped the car turn into a corner much more easily, and faster.
This third pedal’s existence was not confirmed, nor suspected, until the car stopped on track and a photographer managed to get a photo of the inside of the cockpit of the abandoned car.
McLaren designers and senior management were frustrated and angry that this innovation had been discovered and after protests, mainly from Ferrari about its legality, the third pedal development was quickly banned.
All of that was pretty much part of the game.
Perhaps the most widely publicised case of espionage in recent memory was the Ferrari versus McLaren episode that ended up costing McLaren some US$100 million.
A disgruntled and previously loyal English mechanic, in charge of the entire team of Ferrari mechanics, allegedly obtained hundreds of pages of documents detailing the then current and successful Formula 1 car and passed them on to a close friend, who also happened to be a senior designer at McLaren.
The existence of these documents came to light when the wife of the designer had them copied and put on to a computer disc at the local copy shop — which just happened to be operated by a longtime Ferrari supporter. He told Ferrari and a huge amount of the proverbial hit the fan.
There is some evidence that this information was seen by senior engineers at McLaren but in any case the mere association of the people involved and their respective positions was enough to fanthe flames of the firestorm Ferrari was stoking with all its might.
The end result was that McLaren had to pay the largest fine in sporting history and lost all its points in the Constructors Championship. Perhaps the biggest loss was that done to the reputation of the company.
The situation was further complicated by an antagonistic friction between the personalities involved — FIA President Max Mosley and McLaren CEO Ron Dennis.
Strangely, while all this was happening, the Renault F1 team was found to be in full possession of blueprints of the McLaren racing cars, and those files were actually loaded on to the Renault computers.
After an investigation the FIA found Renault guilty of this crime but amazingly no punishment whatsoever was applied.
A sad saga all round but not an isolated one.
To this day security cameras are installed in each team garage at a race to ensure nobody breaks the FIA “curfew” but also to keep watch over the precious contents.
Like everybody else, I have no idea whether the “bugging” of the All Blacks’ room was directed at them or perhaps a previous occupant, a jealous husband or wife or a top level meeting of the CIA and the KGB, but in this world of ever more competitive businesses or sports, it will certainly not be the only “bug” bugging someone. Somewhere. Right now.