PARIS – Just days after its 1-2 finish at the Italian Grand Prix, the McLaren team faces possible heavy sanctions Thursday in the spy scandal that has rocked Formula One.
McLaren will go before a hearing of the World Motor Sports Council to face new evidence in the investigation into the team’s alleged use of secret technical documents belonging to F1 rival Ferrari.
If found guilty, McLaren could face stiff punishment, ranging from expulsion from the championship this season and next to deduction of points from the team or drivers Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
Rookie English driver Hamilton and two-time F1 champion Alonso of Spain took the top two spots Sunday in Italy – at Ferrari’s home track of Monza – to extend McLaren’s lead in the constructors’ championship to 23 points. McLaren has 166, Ferrari 143.
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Hamilton leads the drivers’ standings with 92 points, followed by Alonso with 89. Ferrari teammates Kimi Raikkonen (74) and Felipe Massa (69) are third and fourth with four races remaining in the F1 season.
Alonso has reportedly submitted evidence to FIA following the governing body’s request that McLaren’s drivers cooperate in the inquiry.
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.
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 that it was calling a new hearing of the council after “new evidence” had emerged.
McLaren said it would make “a strong set of submissions” in its defense, but declined to comment further until the hearing.
FIA president Max Mosley sent letters to Alonso, Hamilton and test driver Pedro 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 Times of London newspaper reported Wednesday that the case against McLaren 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.
McLaren was notified Saturday that it is being investigated in a separate criminal inquiry in Italy.
McLaren chief Ron Dennis and five other team personnel are reportedly being investigated for alleged sporting fraud, industrial espionage, and unlawful possession and duplication of financial information.
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.