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McLaren await their fate in Paris 26 Jul 2007

Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, United States Grand Prix, Practice Day, Indianapolis, USA, Friday, 15 June 2007 Ron Dennis (GBR) McLaren Team Principal with the perfectly fine Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren returning from the hospital.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 21 July 2007 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 8 June 2007

McLaren will appear at an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting in Paris on Thursday morning to answer charges relating to the alleged possession of confidential technical data belonging to rivals Ferrari.

The British team, currently atop both the drivers’ and constructors’ standings, are accused of breaching Article 151c of the International Sporting Code. If found guilty they could have points docked or even be disqualified from the championship.

Article 151c relates to “any fraudulent conduct, or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition, or to the interests of motor sport generally”. The charges stem from claims that McLaren’s chief designer Mike Coughlan, currently suspended by the team, held almost 800 pages of Ferrari documentation - enough to design, engineer, build, check, test, develop and/or run a 2007 Ferrari Formula One car.

McLaren have maintained throughout the affair that prior to Coughlan’s suspension no other member of the team was aware of the material, and have insisted that no Ferrari information has at any stage been used in the development of their 2007 car.

“McLaren looks forward to having the opportunity to present the complete and accurate picture of events in the appropriate forum,” said the team, after admitting their disappointment at being called before the FIA.

If the Council does accept McLaren’s defence it will then be faced with the unenviable task of deciding whether the team should be held accountable for the actions of one individual. Ferrari will be present to witness the outcome, though it is not clear whether they will be presenting evidence to the hearing.

Whatever the result, the affair is likely to rumble on for some time to come. Coughlan has submitted an affidavit detailing his version of events, but, along with his wife, remains the subject of a London High Court action by Ferrari over the materials allegedly found in his possession.

And then there is the question of sacked Ferrari engineer Nigel Stepney, a former colleague of Coughlan’s. Stepney was dismissed following allegations of theft and also remains the subject of legal proceedings by the Italian team. The Englishman has protested his innocence and denies he was the source of the now infamous 780-page dossier.

For most Formula One fans, of course, the biggest question mark is over the 2008 championship. McLaren’s drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, are separated by just two points at the top of the standings, with Ferrari counterparts Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen still very much in the running, both within 18 points of the lead.

In fact, with the current pace of the McLaren and the Ferrari so evenly-matched, it looks set to become one of the most keenly-contested title fights in years - and whatever decision the Council comes to could have a huge impact on its outcome.