Analysis: Paris hearing key to title chase
|By Alan Baldwin||Wednesday, July 25th 2007, 13:09 GMT|
Formula One's governing body could puncture McLaren's championship bid on Thursday and slam the brakes on Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton's own title aspirations.
The 'spy saga' that has gripped the sport for weeks, with leaders McLaren stunned by revelations about their now-suspended chief designer Mike Coughlan and leaked Ferrari data, comes to a head in Paris.
McLaren will appear before the FIA's World Motor Sport Council charged with unauthorised possession of documents and confidential information belonging to their Italian rivals.
At stake, according to the governing body, is the credibility of Formula One and belief in sporting fairness.
If the Mercedes-powered team are found guilty of fraudulent conduct, in breach of article 151c of the International Sporting Code, then the penalty could be anything from a reprimand to disqualification.
McLaren lead Ferrari by 27 points with seven races remaining while 22-year-old rookie Hamilton and double world champion Alonso are first and second in the drivers' standings.
A decision, made without council member and Ferrari boss Jean Todt who will be present nonetheless as an interested party, is expected later on Thursday.
Central to the hearing is the issue of collective responsibility, even if it will be accepted that only one McLaren employee knew about the information.
Ferrari's view is that some 780 pages of highly sensitive data have been found in the hands of their rivals, damaging their efforts and casting doubt on all the results so far.
McLaren's position is that Coughlan, named in a London High Court action brought against him and his wife by Ferrari, was acting alone and any materials in his possession were unsolicited.
"I cannot see that we are guilty in any way because I cannot see what we did wrong," Mercedes motorsport head Norbert Haug said at last weekend's European Grand Prix.
The Woking team are confident that nothing on their cars can be traced to Ferrari and they will be expecting the FIA to confirm that is the case.
McLaren may also argue that Ferrari, who are taking former engineer Nigel Stepney to court in Italy, are not without blame since someone inside their operation clearly leaked the information in the first place.
Stepney denies having sent information to Coughlan, even though they approached Honda together about job opportunities.
Coughlan has meanwhile provided an affidavit to the two teams and FIA stating his version of events.
The contents of that confidential document, and the FIA's assessment of McLaren's cars, are likely to form a significant part of the hearing.