McLaren drivers can still win title despite team's $100 million fine

Updated: September 13, 2007, 5:16 PM ET
Associated Press

PARIS -- The McLaren team was fined $100 million and stripped of its points in the constructors' standings Thursday in the spying scandal that has rocked the sport.

Lewis Hamilton
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty ImagesMcLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, seen Thursday in Paris, and teammate Fernando Alonso can still compete for the F1 series title. The penalties levied against McLaren were far more severe.

McLaren, which leads the current drivers' and constructors' standings, was punished by the World Motor Sports Council for allegedly using leaked secret technical documents belonging to F1 rival Ferrari.

Team drivers Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, currently 1-2 in the championship standings, were not punished and can continue to compete for the season title.

"Ferrari is satisfied that the truth has now emerged," the Italian team said in a statement.

The $100 million penalty includes McLaren's expected loss of income, and McLaren still could be penalized for the 2008 championship, FIA said in a statement after a hearing.

Fernando Alonso
AP Photo/Geert Vanden WijngaertFernando Alonso spent much of his news conference at the Belgian GP declining to answer questions on the McLaren scandal.

"We have never denied that the information from Ferrari was in the personal possession of one of our employees at his home," McLaren team chief Ron Dennis said. "The issue is: Was this information used by McLaren? This is not the case and has not been proven today."

McLaren escaped the harshest possible penalty, as FIA could have kicked the team and its drivers out of the 2007 and 2008 championships. In December, FIA will decide on any possible sanctions against McLaren for the 2008 season.

FIA said it did not penalize McLaren's drivers "due to exceptional circumstances" because they provided evidence in exchange for immunity.

"We believe we have grounds for appeal," team chief Ron Dennis said. "But of course we are going to wait for the findings of the FIA which are going to be published. The most important thing is that we go motor racing this weekend, the rest of the season and next season."

The case broke open in July when a 780-page technical dossier on Ferrari cars was found at the home of McLaren's chief designer, Mike Coughlan, who later was suspended. Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney, who allegedly supplied the documents, was fired.

Rookie English driver Hamilton leads the standings with 92 points, followed by two-time F1 champion Alonso of Spain with 89. Ferrari teammates Kimi Raikkonen (74) and Felipe Massa (69) are third and fourth. Four races remain in the season, starting with Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.

Alonso and Hamilton finished 1-2 in Sunday's Italian Grand Prix -- at Ferrari's home track of Monza -- to extend McLaren's lead in the constructors' championship to 23 points. McLaren had 166, Ferrari 143.

Under Thursday's ruling, McLaren loses all its constructors' points and is ineligible from scoring any more in the season's final races.

The World Motor Sport Council ruled in July that McLaren was guilty of fraudulent conduct for possessing the Ferrari documents but did not punish the team because there was insufficient evidence the material was misused. However, the council warned that McLaren could be kicked out of the 2007 and 2008 series if it is found in the future that the information has been used "to the detriment of the championship."

FIA announced last week it was calling a new hearing of the council after "new evidence" had emerged.

Among those appearing at the hearing before the 26-member council were Hamilton, Dennis and McLaren test driver Pedro De La Rosa. Alonso did not attend.

Others attending included Ross Brawn, Ferrari's former technical director, and team officials from Red Bull, Williams and Spyker.

FIA president Max Mosley sent letters to Alonso, Hamilton and De La Rosa on Aug. 31, saying the sport's regulator had been told that "one or more McLaren drivers may be in possession ... of written evidence relevant to this investigation."

Mosley asked the three drivers to cooperate "in the interests of the sport and the championship" and offered them amnesty in return. Mosley also wrote that "serious consequences would follow" if they were later found to "have withheld any potentially relevant information."

The case against McLaren reportedly consists of a 166-page dossier that includes e-mail exchanges between De la Rosa and Alonso, as well as details of phone and text message traffic between Coughlan and Stepney supplied to FIA by authorities in Italy.

Separately, McLaren was notified Saturday that it is being investigated in a separate criminal inquiry in Italy. Dennis and five other team personnel are reportedly under investigation.

Those allegations stem from Ferrari's criminal case against Stepney for allegedly placing a mysterious white powder on the gas tanks of the team's cars before the Monaco GP, in a supposed sabotage attempt.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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