Lewis' 2008 drive under threat after F1 spy team swoop on McLaren - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Lewis' 2008 drive under threat after F1 spy team swoop on McLaren

Lewis' 2008 drive under threat after F1 spy team swoop on McLaren

Lewis Hamilton's hopes of moving on from the Spygate scandal have been blown apart after McLaren's Surrey headquarters were raided for new evidence of cheating.

Sportsmail understands that the sport's ruling body, the FIA, sent in a highpowered squad of independent legal and technical experts to trawl through every detail relating to the British team's 2008 car.

They spent the last two days conducting an intensive on-site inspection — examining computer hard drives and design records — before leaving the space-age complex in Woking with boxes of data for further analysis.

McLaren, who tried to keep the search a secret, now face an anxious wait ahead of the World Motor Sport Council meeting in Monaco on December 7 when the investigation's potentially explosive findings will be produced.

The dramatic development fulfils the FIA's promise to establish whether the illicitly acquired Ferrari information, which led to McLaren being fined $100million (£50m) and thrown out of last season's constructors' championship, has been used towards next year's machine.

This latest twist is yet another indignity for Hamilton's boss, Ron Dennis. His reputation for honesty has come under severe scrutiny over the past few months and the possibility of exclusion for 2008 remains a nagging threat.

However, speaking in a recent BBC interview, FIA president Max Mosley said: 'The punishment would not necessarily be preventing them from running. It would be more likely that they would be given a negative point allocation.'

But Dennis must be fearful. Bitter experience has taught him just how out of touch he is with the inner workings of his own team, leaving McLaren vulnerable to sanction for the dishonesty of other senior staff.

Dennis stubbornly protested McLaren's innocence in the original Spygate row, blaming 'one rogue employee' — namely chief designer Mike Coughlan for plundering Ferrari's intellectual property.

In fact, the spying web stretched much further. Indeed, when the Italian court in Modena served notice of its intention to investigate the matter, six top McLaren personnel were implicated: Dennis, Martin Whitmarsh, Jonathan Neale, Paddy Lowe, Rob Taylor and Coughlan. There were also hundreds of texts and emails exchanged, even involving former world champion Fernando Alonso and test driver Pedro de la Rosa.

Can Dennis be sure who did what and when with regard to the new car?

In any event, Coughlan is the central figure in the current inquiry. Mosley said: 'The Ferrari data was in the hands of the chief designer at precisely the moment he was designing the 2008 McLaren.

'The difficulty we have is that you're not going to find a part that was designed by Ferrari. Instead, what you may find are ideas.

'At this level of motorsport, if the idea is given to the chief designer, he will make a component utilising that idea, which bears no relation at all to the component perhaps being used by the other car. So we will be looking for ideas.'

If guilty, there will be a question mark over Hamilton's participation next season.

The FIA were criticised for not expelling the drivers in September and would think twice about letting them off scot free again.

The governing body are also sure to ask why Coughlan is merely suspended, rather than sacked.

Yesterday a spokesman for the FIA would only say: 'We will not comment on the details of an ongoing investigation.' McLaren last night declined to comment.

The upheaval is an unwanted distraction as McLaren continue their search for Alonso's replacement.

The Spaniard looks bound for Renault, although team boss Flavio Briatore i s unwilling to offer Alonso his favoured one-year contract.

A two-year deal worth about £20m is the likely outcome.

Dennis's desired choice to fill Alonso's seat, Nico Rosberg, could be beyond reach after Williams pointedly announced the German in their driver line-up for next season, alongside Japan's Kazuki Nakajima.

If Rosberg is off limits, test driver De la Rosa could step back up to competitive duties. His nationality would satisfy Spanish sponsors Santander and Mutua Madrilena, who are smarting from Alonso's acrimonious departure.

Lewis' 2008 drive under threat after F1 spy team swoop on McLaren| Sport | This is London
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