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McLaren escape immediate penalty but threat remains
July 26, 2007 21:32 IST
Last Updated: July 26, 2007 21:39 IST
Formula One leaders McLaren escaped immediate sanction on Thursday after a hearing into a spying controversy found insufficient evidence that they had benefited from leaked Ferrari [Images] data.
However the International Automobile Federation (FIA) said in a statement that the Mercedes-powered team is not exonerated and could still be kicked out of the championship if fresh proof emerged.
The FIA said after an extraordinary meeting of its World Motor Sport Council that there was no doubt McLaren, who have British rookie Lewis Hamilton [Images] leading the championship two points clear of team mate Fernando Alonso [Images], had broken the rules.
"However there is insufficient evidence that this information was used in such a way as to interfere improperly with the FIA Formula One World Championship," it added.
"We therefore impose no penalty."
However with legal action pending in Italy [Images] and England [Images] against suspended McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan and former Ferrari engineer Nigel Stepney, McLaren were not yet in the clear.
"If it is found in the future that the Ferrari information has been used to the detriment of the championship, we reserve the right to invite...McLaren back in front of the WMSC where it will face the possibility of exclusion from not only the 2007 championship but also the 2008 championship," the FIA said.
McLaren lead Ferrari by 27 points with seven races remaining while 22-year-old rookie Hamilton and Spain's double world champion Alonso are first and second.
The 'spy saga' has gripped the sport for weeks, with leaders McLaren stunned by revelations about Coughlan and a cache of Ferrari data found at his home in Britain.
McLaren were charged with unauthorised possession of documents and confidential information belonging to their Italian rivals.
Ferrari's lawyers argued in a document submitted to the London [Images] High Court last week that it was 'likely' McLaren owed their championship lead to Coughlan obtaining some 780 pages of highly sensitive data from the Italian team.
The FIA said the World Motor Sport Council said Coughlan and Stepney could also face long bans.
"The WMSC will also invite Mr Stepney and Mr Coughlan to show reason why they should not be banned from international motor sport for a lengthy period," it said.
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