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

9/13/2007

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.

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.

"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.