Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 20 News List

McLaren hit with a record-breaking US$100 million fine

AP , PARIS

Accused of using leaked secret data from its main rival Ferrari, the Formula One team McLaren was hit with a record US$100 million fine on Thursday by the World Motor Sport Council in the biggest scandal to hit auto racing's premier circuit.

Although McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso escaped punishment, the espionage claims have rocked the sport and tainted McLaren's lead in the drivers' standings.

The team, also stripped of its constructors' points, already was battling accusations that it had used team orders to decide which driver would win races this season. Now, it is facing a new crisis.

The F1 case broke 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.

McLaren escaped censure by the World Motor Sport Council in July due to insufficient evidence that Ferrari's technical documents were misused.

But Honda's revelations that Stepney and Coughlan had approached team boss Nick Fry in June about joining the Formula 1 team whipped up further concerns over Ferrari's intellectual property.

The US$100 million fine imposed on McLaren is 40 times larger than the previous Formula 1 record.

Still, team boss Ron Dennis argued the fine is effectively halved because McLaren doesn't have to forfeit any revenue it's earned this season. He added that the financial strength of McLaren would also help absorb the impact of the fine.

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