McLaren have been fined an unprecedented $100m (£49.2m) and stripped of all their points in the 2007 World Championship for constructors, following yesterday's meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris.
They will not be eligible to score any further points this season, but the team's drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, currently first and second in a thrilling race for the drivers' title, retain their points and can continue their battle for the individual crown.
"The evidence given to the FIA by our drivers, engineers and staff clearly demonstrated that we did not use any leaked information to gain a competitive advantage," said McLaren team principal Ron Dennis. " The entire engineering team in excess of 140 people provided statements to the FIA affirming they had never received or used the Ferrari information.
"We have never denied that the information from Ferrari was in the personal possession of one of our employees at his home.
"The issue is: was this information used by McLaren? This is not the case and has not been proven today. I do not accept that we deserve to be penalised or have our reputation damaged in this way."
Dennis also issued a defiant comment to the team's detractors: "Right now, we've got the best drivers and the best car, and we intend to win the world championship."
In practice, McLaren will have to pay around $60m (£29.5m) in financial penalties, and their 2008 car will also be "closely inspected" by the FIA's technical delegates before next season.
The WMSC will receive a full technical report on the 2008 McLaren car and will take a decision at its December 2007 meeting as to what sanction, if any, will be imposed on the team for the 2008 season," a statement threatened.
The fine is unprecedented in FIA history, with the previous record just $5m (£2.5m), which was handed out to organisers of the Turkish Grand Prix following an untoward podium ceremony last year.
Half of the monies will come from McLaren's prize money won to date this year, which is considerable given the success of the team and the drivers.
Dennis explained: "We will have as an offset the revenue from the points earned to date that will effectively halve the size of the cheque we have to sign – if we ultimately accept this fine.
"We turn over roughly $450-500m per year, and we are debt free, so we are obviously a very strong company, with phenomenal growth."
When the WMSC first met in Paris on 26 July to investigate allegations that McLaren had used confidential intellectual property belonging to Ferrari on their cars, it said: "The World Motor Sport Council are satisfied McLaren-Mercedes were in possession of confidential Ferrari information and are therefore in breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code. However, there is insufficient evidence that this information was used in such a way as to interfere improperly with the FIA Formula One World Championship. We therefore impose no penalty.
"But if it is found in the future that the Ferrari information has been used to the detriment of the championship, we reserve the right to invite McLaren Mercedes back."
New evidence was duly presented recently in the form of email communications between the disgraced McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan, who has admitted to being in possession of the stolen Ferrari documentation, and the McLaren drivers Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa, which suggested that Coughlan had, after all, made use of Ferrari's data.
Yesterday's decision was made following lengthy deliberations by the 23-man council. It questioned Dennis; the group managing director, Martin Whitmarsh; the McLaren Racing managing director Jonathan Neale; technical director Paddy Lowe and De la Rosa.
Hamilton travelled to Paris, but was not required to answer questions. A McLaren source said the Briton had asked to attend the hearing for his own personal reasons. Alonso did not attend.
The council also heard testimony from the former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn, who made a surprise appearance on behalf of the Scuderia.
Further controversy arose yesterday with allegations that Renault have been running with McLaren intellectual property on their car this season, following the departure from McLaren to Renault of design engineer Phil Mackereth, who allegedly took with him three disks of detailed information about McLaren technology.
Asked whether justice had been done, the FIA president Max Mosley said: "Yes." McLaren disagree and have indicated their intention to appeal against yesterday's decisions.Reuse content