NASCAR & Auto Racing

McLaren chief says team unlikely to appeal FIA punishment

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium – The head of McLaren wants to accept the record $100 million fine and suspension from the team championships if it means ending the Formula One spy scandal.

McLaren chief Ron Dennis also said Saturday he won’t take action against team driver Fernando Alonso. An outburst and threat from the world champion led to the widening of the scandal and the biggest penalty in the history of the sport.

“If we can achieve closure, then at this moment in time that would be my recommendation,” said Dennis, contending it would take up to two years to go through appeals, a process that would damage his team and auto racing as a whole.

He said the cost of the fine won’t affect the actual running of the team. A decision on an appeal will be taken before Thursday after consultation with shareholders.

Earlier, the chief of the world motor racing federation said McLaren had “polluted” Formula One and should have been punished even more harshly.

“When the history of this gets to be written, it may be (that) we will be reproached not for doing too much, but for doing too little,” FIA president Max Mosley said.

FIA on Friday disclosed the extent of what Alonso and McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa knew about the cars of their Ferrari rivals, their setup and even their strategy through a trail of compromising e-mails.

Alonso and overall leader Lewis Hamilton were unaffected by the FIA decision, and resumed their rivalry during qualifying at the Belgian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Mosley said the drivers should feel lucky the measures against McLaren were not more drastic.

“They were extremely lucky we didn’t quite simply say, ‘You have polluted the championship in 2007, you’ve probably polluted it in 2008 – because we’ve no way of knowing what information you’re using for what’s in your 2007 and 2008 cars – so you’d better stay out of the championship until 2009, because that way we know it’s completely clear,”’ Mosley said.

Dennis said Alonso started the escalation of the spy scandal when he threatened to divulge compromising information to FIA after a team dispute at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

“He was hot, let’s put it that way, and passionate about his views,” Dennis said. “He indicated to me that he had material on his laptop” that would be damaging to the team.

“I immediately phoned the FIA to keep them informed,” Dennis said.

However, he said it was a “family” issue that should be dealt with within the team.

“I will not go around to Fernando and Pedro and jump all over them,” he said.

The threat and phone call, however, set off more investigating by FIA, leading to last Thursday’s fine and suspension.

The situation for Alonso has always been an uneasy one within McLaren. He joined the team as a double world champion and expected to receive appropriate treatment. But rookie Hamilton had a stunning start to the season and quickly grabbed the world standings lead and still holds it with a 92-89 margin going into Sunday’s Grand Prix.

Alonso insisted the scandal did not affect the team or him, despite a rare spin during qualifying Saturday.

“For the team I don’t think that many things change, “ he said. “We are here in the race preparing the qualifying and the strategy for the race.”

He added that the team was still providing all the support he could ask for.

“I am fully convinced, totally happy with the team behaving in this situation. They always said they will do the best they can to win races for both riders,” he said.

Mosley said he wants to use part of the McLaren fine to fund the development of young drivers.

“Roughly half of it will go to the other teams, the other half were going – if the World Council agrees – to distribute to our (national clubs) worldwide to bring on young drivers,” Mosley said.

Thursday’s announcement of the fine and Friday’s disclosure are the latest revelations in a case that broke in July when a 780-page technical dossier on Ferrari cars was found at the home of Coughlan, who was later suspended. Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney, who allegedly supplied the documents, was fired.

Dennis has said the evidence given by his drivers, engineers and staff demonstrated that his team did not use any leaked information to gain a competitive advantage.