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Mclaren Fined US$100 Million, Lose All Points
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The McLaren team was fined US$100 million and stripped of all of its points in the constructors' standings yesterday in the spy scandal that has rocked the sport.

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

McLaren could still be penalized for the 2008 championship, FIA said in a statement after a hearing.

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.

"We have never denied that the information from Ferrari was in the personal possession of one of our employees at his home," 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 (yesterday)."

McLaren can appeal.

"We believe we have grounds for appeal. But of course we are going to wait for the findings of the FIA which are going to be published," Dennis said. "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 was later suspended. Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney, who allegedly supplied the documents, was fired.

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

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

The US$100 million penalty includes McLaren's expected loss of income.

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.

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.

Among others attending were 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 August 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 on 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.

(Shanghai Daily via Agencies September 14, 2007)

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