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Industrial Espionage in F1

Industrial Espionage in F1

Ralf checks his mirrorsAs I posted a couple of days ago, Damon Hill has gone on record as saying, “The essence of the sport has been diluted.” Speaking to F1 Racing and reported on ITV’s Formula One site, it is said that Damon feels corporate ethos emphasised by manufacturer control in F1 has robbed the sport of many of its values and appeal.

Whilst I have already spoken about this, Damon’s words rang very true today when three high-level Toyota employees (including the former team boss) were named by German prosecutors as having an apparent involvent in industrial espionage. I say ‘apparent’ because Toyota are claiming they have not been formally notified, and therefore are reluctant to discuss the matter. I’m sure their legal department are working very hard right now!

The whole saga has arisen because of one employee who moved from the Ferrari team to Toyota three years ago. With this transfer comes the obvious possibility of information following suit. Is that acceptable, or is the alleged transfer of data morally unethical?

I would have to say that it is unethical simply because it is unsporting. I may be wrong here, but the last time I checked, Formula One is a sport, despite what some people may suggest. Although it isn’t quite what it used to be, I believe it is unsporting to acquire data through such means. It is essentially theft, as Ferrari would have owned the software (the alleged thing that was transferred with the employee), even if the employee had developed it himself. I myself have a silly little line in my contract that states something like, “If I develop anything new or discover something, it is property of my employer. Any patents following would be in the companies name blah blah blah”.

However, whilst Ferrari may be right and Toyota may be wrong, things like this are damaging to the sport. They damage Toyota, and they damage Ferrari. This puts another black mark against Formula One, just like Indygate and Buttongate did.

I completely appreciate that Formula One is super-competitive, and gaining an extra tenth of a second per lap is vital. Over an 80 lap race (like Monaco, which is 78 I think), the driver with the advantage would finish 8 seconds sooner than they would have done without the advantage! Eight seconds is a looooong time in F1!

I also appreciate that the performance of the teams reflects sales of the cars they make for the public. Renault have hinted at better sales since they started to dominate the 2005 season, and Fiat is still the car of choice in Italy.

With so much riding on the outcome of a race, it is understandable that teams would want to develop new gagets and gizmos to give them even the slightest of advantages over their rivals. But it should never come at the cost of the sport. Without Formula One, not one of them would be there.

Maybe some people in the sport should read those last two sentences and sort this dispute out quietly between themselves, and vow to never let this happen again.

Edit: I have just re-read that and it implies that Ferrari and Toyota should sort out their disagreement in a possibly shady way. I would like to point out that I did not mean for it to be implied this way. What I was trying to say is that both teams need to sort this out as quickly as possible with minimal press coverage. That means they should settle out of court ASAP (if that is possible) and hopefully this can be resolved before the start of the 2006 season in March.

By sorting it out this way, as little damage as possible would be inflicted on the sport and the teams.

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Oliver White

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