Any time there is a scandal, innocents get dragged in. From cash for peerages to the industrial espionage in F1, people who have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide are tainted not by specific accusations that can be robustly defended, but by inferred associations that cannot. The unconscionable actions of the few pull down the many with them.
In the industry that is F1 even outsiders, be they sponsors, suppliers or simply enthusiasts like you and me, end up being lowered by it all. Like everyone other than those directly involved, I know very little of what did or did not transpire between McLaren, Ferrari and their respective staff. But I suspect a lot did, and even now I have become less sure of the ethics of a number of people who may well turn out to be entirely innocent.
In theory, all such people are entitled to emerge from such an unfortunate episode without a stain on their character. In practice, many will not be looked at in the same way again. That damage will last longer than any short-term performance advantage.
My most profound hope in this and any future case is that no team can be shown to have benefited, for the actions of an individual are easily dealt with by comparison. Even if an individual with access to illicit information told no one else and never intended to use the information, once it was in his head how could he be sure that knowledge in no way coloured his actions?
But if a team could be shown to have derived benefit from such information, even if it has done so unwittingly and in all innocence, what is to be done? Do you punish a team for a crime only one of its members committed? I’m afraid I think you do.
There is a greater good here, and that is to send out a message so strong that others are deterred from doing the same. The allegations do not concern a team seeing how hard they can butt up against the rulebook before it bends, for that is rightly part of life at the cutting edge. But if now or in the future any team can be shown to have derived any illegal advantage at the direct expense of another, the FIA should come down on them with full force.