Write Better English - Day 5

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Of all the copy shops in all of England, Trudy Coughlan had the rotten luck of walking into Document Image Processing.

It was June 2007 in sleepy Surrey County, and Coughlan, a statuesque blonde, sauntered through the door of the shop holding a sheaf of 780 pages. Scan them onto two CDs, she told the clerk, a forgettable middle-aged guy in a forgettable office park in the middle of nowhere. Nothing strange about the order, unless you happened to be a Formula One fan and happened to take a closer look at the material: schematic drawings, technical reports, pictures, and financial information - enough insider dope to design a Formula One car. Each page was emblazoned with one of the most famous logos in the world: the prancing black horse of Ferrari.

Surrey is Mclaren country, just down the road from what locals call the Spaceship, the futuristic, top-secret, half underground headquarters of the Mclaren Formula One racing team. But as it happened, the copy clerk was a rabid Ferrari fan - among the legion who worshipped Ferrari's star F1 driver Michael Schumacher and agonized over the fact that the Ferrari team was lagging behind top-ranked Mclaren that summer.

"Trudy Coughlan," the woman said when he asked her name.

When she left, the clerk Googled.

First he Googled Trudy Coughlan and discovered she was the wife of Michael Coughlan, chief designer of ... Mclaren's Formula One racing team.

Then he Googled Ferrari until he found the name and email address of the company's Formula One sporting director, Stefano Domenicali, in Maranello, Italy.

"Dear Mr. Domenicali," the clerk typed. He proceed to spill the strange tale of the woman with the stack of what appeared to be top-secret Ferrari documents.

The next morning, as Domenicali sifted [examine and sort carefully] through his inbox, he came to the massive from Surrey. He immediately forwarded it to Ferrari security.

A few days later, Trudy Coughlan picked up the two CDs, along with the 780 pages of documents. Following her husband's instructions, she destroyed the papers in a home shredder and burned the remains in their back garden.

Thus began the biggest scandal ever to rock the world of Formula One racing.


Ferrari's home is Maranello, population 15,000, in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. This is where both the company's F1 and road cars are designed, built, tested, and shipped. To drive into Maranello is to drive into Ferrari's big pulsating heart. Most everyone here works for Ferrari or is related to someone who does. The streets, restaurants, and bars are filled with mechanics, drivers, support staff, executives, and wide-eyed fans, many dressed in Ferrari red, all proclaiming their allegiance to the most dominant team in Formula One history. At lunch, the faithful pack in at Montana, a restaurant whose walls are crammed an unofficial Ferrari museum. In the background, patrons can hear the constant rumble of race cars roaring around Ferrari's test track a quarter mile away.

As the head of Ferrari's 30 F1 mechanics, Nigel Stepney walked through Maranello like a king. Big and burly, with neatly cropped hair and goatee, he had been an integral part of Ferrari's "dream team" for 15 years, helping them capture five consecutive world championships from 2000 to 2004. The British-born Stepney brought order to the chaos that was Ferrari's nearly all-Italian F1 pit when he joined in 1993. "The pit stops were disorganized before he got there, and he worked well with technical director Ross Brawn in bringing structure and discipline," says someone who knows Ferrari well. "Nigel was exactly what Ferrari needed: someone who could whip the team into shape."

By 2006 Stepney, who had earnings estimated to be upwards of $1 million a year, held enormous clout, deciding which mechanics went on the road - earning them a bump in salary - and which stayed home. He was one of the many intensely competitive, highly strung men who mark their lives by the F1 season, so dedicated to the team that he didn't complain when, at one race, Michael Schumacher roared out of the pit and slammed into him, breaking his ankle. Stepney bled red.

Then, at the end of 2006, Stepney's world, along with the greatest team in Ferrari history, fell apart. First came the news that Schumacher would retire at the end of the season. Then highly respected Ross Brawn announced that he was going on a sabbatical. Stepney, who had been Brawn's right hand and a key member of the Brawn-Schumacher inner circle, reportedly hoped that he might get the technical director's job, with its multimillion-dollar salary and infinite esteem.

But Stepney wasn't an engineer. He was a mechanic without a college degree. The Ferrari brass chose as technical director Mario Almondo, an Italian promoted from human resources. Almondo had previously served as Ferrari's head of industrial development of racing, but Stepney still didn't think Almondo had the technical savvy to lead the team's overall car development. Ferrari insiders say Stepney was furious with the choice - so much so that he went public with his grievances.


In 2007, as Dennis reached 60, everything in his life seemed to be, well, perfect. He had a fortune estimated at $500 million, made in part by selling half of his original 30 percent stake in Mclaren. He travelled to and from races in a $30 million Challenger 604 jet. His family life, which included a 21-year marriage and three children, seemed flawless. Best of all, his F1 team, his life's mission, had reconfigured its car, landed two star drivers - Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton - and was trouncing the competition. By June, Mclaren was number one, ahead of BMW-Sauber and, even more important, ahead of Ferrari.

But despite his obsession with perfection, despite his desire to get everything just right, Dennis made one mistake that would undo it all: hiring Michael Coughlan.

Excerpt from Wired Magazine's article: Inside the scandal that rocked the formula one racing world