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F1 'Spygate': $100m fine for McLaren

  • Story Highlights
  • McLaren fined $100m and docked of all world championship points for 2007
  • McLaren ordered to submit details of its 2008 car to the FIA for scrutiny
  • McLaren to launch appeal, subject to content of FIA statement
  • McLaren drivers allowed to keep their championship points
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By James Snodgrass for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) of the FIA, motor sport's governing body, has fined McLaren -- the team at the center of the "spygate" scandal -- $100m and stripped it of its constructors' championship points for the season. And McLaren faces further penalties when the WMSC reconvenes in December 2007. McLaren must submit a full technical report on its 2008 car. If the WMSC considers that its design was influenced by confidential Ferrari data, then sanctions may be imposed on the team for the 2008 season.

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McLaren team chief Ron Dennis arrives for the hearing in Paris.

In an official press statement, the FIA stated: "The WMSC has stripped Vodafone McLaren Mercedes of all constructor points in the 2007 FIA Formula One World Championship and the team can score no points for the remainder of the season.

"Furthermore, the team will pay a fine equal to $100m, less the FOM [Formula One Management] income lost as a result of the points deduction.

"However, due to the exceptional circumstances in which the FIA gave the team's drivers an immunity in return for providing evidence, there is no penalty in regard to drivers' points."

Should McLaren's drivers, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, win in any of the remaining races of the 2007 season no representatives of McLaren will be allowed on the podium.

The WMSC is expected to announce the reasons for its decisions on September 14.

In July the WMSC ruled that McLaren was in breach of Article 151c of the FIA International Sporting Code but recommended that no punitive measures were taken until a hearing of the FIA's International Court of Appeal on September 13. However, in the light of new evidence -- the source and nature of which remain undisclosed -- the WMSC is to reconvene in place of the Court of Appeal hearing.

The murky story began in June of this year, when Ferrari sacked its performance director Nigel Stepney and initiated court proceedings against him in Modena, Italy.

It then emerged that a 780-page document containing confidential technical data about Ferrari's F1 car had been found in the possession of McLaren's chief designer Mike Coughlan.

Coughlan's wife, Trudy Coughlan, had taken the document for duplication at a copy shop near McLaren's Woking headquarters. An employee of the copy shop, suspicious that confidential data was being copied, blew the whistle to Ferrari.

Ferrari suspected the source of the leak was Nigel Stepney, a friend and former colleague of Coughlan's (the pair had worked together at Lotus in the late 1980s). Stepney had been the team's chief mechanic, but in February took his new role as the team's performance director -- which did not require him to attend grands prix -- when he expressed his disquiet at the Ferrari's reorganization following the departure of technical director Ross Brawn.

Ferrari filed a formal complaint against Stepney in Modena, Italy where the district attorney initiated a criminal investigation.

Ferrari issued the following press statement:

"Ferrari announces it has recently presented a case against Nigel Stepney and an engineer from the Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes team with the Modena Tribunal, concerning the theft of technical information. Furthermore, legal action has been instigated in England and a search warrant has been issued concerning the engineer. This produced a positive outcome."

McLaren promptly dismissed Mike Coughlan, its chief designer. It then emerged that Coughlan and Stepney had met with Honda F1 boss, Nick Fry, in June this year to discuss employment possibilities. However Honda were cleared of any wrongdoing by the FIA who were satisfied that no confidential material had been offered to or received by Honda.

Coughlan and his wife appeared in the High Court in London for a preliminary hearing on July 10. Ferrari dropped the case in consideration of the Coughlan's full disclosure and promise of future cooperation.

The furore seemed to cool down after the WMSC's verdict. Ferrari remained unhappy that McLaren had emerged from the scandal without penalty but the WMSC did not have sufficient evidence to enforce such a penalty.

But now the FIA is in possession of new evidence. Rumors have centered on emails between McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa and reigning world champion Fernando Alonso. On August 31 Max Mosley the FIA president wrote letters to all three McLaren drivers -- de la Rosa, Alonso and Lewis Hamilton -- in which he stated: "The FIA has subsequently been made aware of an allegation that one or more McLaren drivers may be in possession, or that such drivers have recently been in possession, of written evidence relevant to this investigation."

The letter continued: "I can confirm, given the importance of this issue, that any information you may make available in response to this letter will not result in any proceedings against you under the International Sporting Code or the Formula One regulations. However, in the event that it later comes to light that you have withheld any potentially relevant information, serious consequences could follow."

Five days later the WMSC announced it was to reconvene "following the emergence of new evidence", in place of the Court of Appeal hearing.

Other rumors had emerged regarding a mysterious white powder said to have been found on the fuel caps of the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa in practice leading up to the Monaco Grand Prix. Stepney has denied involvement in these sabotage claims or in the espionage case in general.

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Further drama overshadowed Alonso and Hamilton's one-two on the podium at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday. Modena's public prosecutor, Giuseppe Tibis, issued a legal notice -- known as an 'avviso di garanzia' -- that six McLaren employees were under criminal investigation . The six included McLaren supremo Ron Dennis, managing directors Martin Whitmarsh and Jonathan Neale, technical director Jonathan Neale and designer Rob Taylor as well as Mike Coughlan.

This outcome has put a dark shadow McLaren's return to winning ways. The team, dominant in the late 1990s, had struggled with reliability for some years. But the team is not taking the decision lying down. Martin Whitmarsh, COO of the McLaren Group said: "We believe we have got the grounds for an appeal, but of course we are going to wait for the findings of the FIA." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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