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McLaren spy hearing hangs

September 12, 2007 20:36 IST

Formula One could be thrown into crisis on Thursday if leaders McLaren are found to have benefited from leaked Ferrari secrets and kicked out of the championship.

It may not come to that but a thrilling title battle, thanks to 22-year-old rookie Lewis Hamilton and double world champion team mate Fernando Alonso, is in danger of having the heart ripped out of it.

The Mercedes-powered team were already found guilty of unauthorised possession of Ferrari technical information at a hearing in July that imposed no sanction because there was no proof they had benefited from it.

But at that hearing, McLaren were also warned they could be excluded from this and next year's championship if proof emerged.

Now with the International Automobile Federation confronting McLaren with new evidence at their Paris headquarters, and Ferrari determined to have their say after being outraged by the earlier verdict, all those involved in the sport are holding their breath.

McLaren say there is nothing on their cars that owes anything to the Ferrari information but the feeling in the paddock is that the FIA's World Motor Sport Council could hit them with at least a heavy fine and points penalty.

According to a report in the Times newspaper, the new evidence runs to 166 pages and includes details of telephone and text messages between McLaren's suspended chief designer Mike Coughlan and now-dismissed Ferrari employee Nigel Stepney.

There are also said to be e-mails between Alonso and McLaren's Spanish test driver Pedro de la Rosa.

Hamilton, who leads Spaniard Alonso by three points ahead of Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix, made evident his concern last weekend. "I could be out of a job next weekend, and then what happens?" the Briton said.

BELGIAN BATTLE

The consequences for Formula One are huge and the challenge for the FIA is to ensure that justice is done while somehow ensuring that the sporting contest is not tainted or destroyed.

"They need to deal with this in an extremely intelligent, sensitive and thoughtful manner," said triple champion and former team boss Jackie Stewart.

"I fear for the future of Formula One if this is not handled correctly tomorrow.

"The two most influential people in this sport, Bernie [Ecclestone] and [FIA president] Max [Mosley], have to see the wisdom of defusing this to a level where it can be dealt with in a corrective and undestructive fashion," he added.

"If they do, it will be a feather in both their caps."

The backdrop of the hearing has overshadowed Sunday's return to Spa-Francorchamps for the first time since 2005.

McLaren, who have refused to bow to the relentless pressure and were rewarded with a one-two victory in Ferrari's backyard in Monza on Sunday that sent them 23 points clear of their Italian rivals, remain confident that they will be there to fight another day.

"It's a fantastic championship and I think it will go down to the wire," said McLaren chief executive Martin Whitmarsh.

The big rival on Sunday promises to be Kimi Raikkonen, winner of the past two Belgian Grands Prix and now seeking to continue that streak with Ferrari.

"This is not a world championship that is in any way over," said McLaren boss Ron Dennis. "And Ferrari will prove to be a very worthy competitor over the course of the year.

"We hope to have every opportunity to fight them for the rest of the season."

Source:
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