Dennis spells out 'threat' by Alonso

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The Independent Online

If you believe everything that has been published about the "Stepneygate" spying scandal, it is all about greed, dishonesty and the use of underhand tacticsto gain a competitive advantage.

And indeed it is, on the bottom-feeding level of those who stole and received the intellectual property from Ferrari. But in the upper stratosphere of this curious game of F1, where the people exist who have to take responsibility for the actions of such lowlifes, it is not about any of those things. Instead it is about loyalty, integrity and, yes, even nobility.

Yesterday, the beleaguered McLaren chief, Ron Dennis, asked the media not to punish him as he put his side of the story. Down at Ferrari, tails were high. After the débâcle at Monza last weekend, the WMSC had ruled in their favour, and then they took their first all-red front row of the season courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, who outqualified Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

"You see," said a Ferrari representative, "the truth has come out."

"Everything in this document that the FIA say is true," Dennis conceded, taking it on the chin. "True in their content. It happened. There is only one thing that I feel is not appropriate. This is a fine so disproportionate to the reality of the situation."

There are no real precedents, but $100 million is draconian by any account, even that of the European Commission which the FIA cite, especially as the WMSC judgement could offer no actual proof that Ferrari intellectual property had been used on the McLaren, or that anyone else other than the disgraced chief designer, Mike Coughlan, and drivers Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa knew.

But this is not an issue just about intellectual property. It is about competitive people seeking to gain as much advantage as possible from the situation. One of these even works for McLaren. His name is Alonso. It has emerged that the world champion visited Dennis on the morning of the Hungarian Grand Prix last month and "suggested"that he had information that would be of interest to the FIA, but that he would keep it to himself if Dennis promised him favourable treatment in his quest to win the world championship for a third time.

Dennis reacted in two ways: first, he called the FIA himself and informed them. Second, he steadfastly refused yesterday to expose a man who has caused him more grief in recent months than the feuding Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna ever did back in the late Eighties.

Alonso fell back on a weak defence. "No comment," he said.

Offered the chance to explain the situation further, Dennis said: "When I first heard that Fernando had something on his laptop, I told him to disclose it. It would be totally inappropriate to share the conversation with the outside world.

"Have you ever had an argument with your wife, and said things in temper that you deeply regret? That is the benefit I am giving Fernando. He came to me later that day and retracted his comments and apologised. I accepted it when his manager said that he lost his temper. We have moved on. People have got to understand the nature of competitive animals – they knowno limit.

"I am very generous, but my objective is to win races. My job is to win the world championship, not for people to love and hug me. I am not going to say things that are detrimental to this team, I want to protect its integrity."

Dennis refused to be drawn on whether the Spaniard will be at McLaren in 2008. "We have contracts with our drivers, and we have had no dialogue to change that. Don't be hard on me, because I honestly don't know. At an appropriate time we will focus on that and find a way forward."

Dennis also suggested that McLaren might not appeal against the WMSC decision.

"If we do not, it is because we want closure and want to act in the interest of the sport. I hope that other teams would understand that we would take that $100m hit in that interest. If the perception is that McLaren did not cheat but did everything to co-operate with the FIA investigation into this matter, then we probably would take that hit."

Last night, rumours gathered strength that the WMSC were also told that Renault have admitted being in possession of three disks containing intellectual property belonging to the McLaren team.

Grid positions

1 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1min 45.994sec

2 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:46.011

3 F Alonso (Sp) McLaren 1:46.091

4 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:46.406

5 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:47.334

6 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:47.409

7 M Webber (Aus) RedBull-Renault 1:47.524

8 J Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:47.798

9 H Kovalainen (Fin) Renault 1:48.505

10 G Fischella (Ita) Renault 1:46.603

11 R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:46.618

12 D Coulthard (GB) RedBull-Renault 1:46.800

13 J Button (GB) Honda 1:46.955

14 V Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:47.115

15 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:46.996

16 A Wurz (Aut) Williams-Toyota 1:47.394

17 S Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:47.581

18 R Barrichello (Bra) Honda 1:47.954

19 T Sato (Jap) Super Aguri-Honda 1:47.980

20 A Sutil (Ger) Spyker-Ferrari 1:48.044

21 A Davidson (GB) Super Aguri-Honda 1:48.199

22 S Yamamoto (Jap) Spyker-Ferrari 1:48.199

Watch Lewis Hamilton in the Belgian Grand Prix today from noon to 3.05pm on ITV1.