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Last Updated: Friday, 14 September 2007, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
F1 gets back to business
By Andrew Benson
BBC Sport at Spa-Francorchamps

The magnificent Spa circuit is famous for its fickle weather, but the only clouds hanging over the Formula One paddock here this weekend are metaphorical ones.

Lewis Hamilton
It was a relief this morning to get away for a while from the endless stories about who might have said what to who and when

Under beautiful blue skies, the Grand Prix drivers are going about their business on the world's greatest race track. But behind the scenes this sport's notoriously murky waters have rarely been as cloudy as this.

As the dust slowly settles from Thursday's verdict in F1's spy scandal, ever darker tales are emerging about the events that have taken place behind closed doors over the last few weeks.

The reaction to the decision to fine McLaren $100m (49.2m) and expel them from this year's constructors' championship has been mixed.

Some feel the punishment is wildly out of line with the crime - which is one that, bar a few of the more entertaining details, happens relatively often in F1.

Others, by contrast, felt the decision was about right, that the FIA did about the only thing it could do in the circumstances.

All, though, are united in relief that the drivers' championship was left alone for Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso to continue their fascinating duel for the title.

Parachuting into the middle of this for my first trip to a Grand Prix since Silverstone in July, it was a relief this morning to get away for a while from the endless stories about who might have said what to who and when.

I went out on the track with a colleague to watch the cars on this fabulous circuit, to remind myself what this sport is meant to be about.

The crisp morning sunshine put the Ardennes mountains in their most attractive light. And the experience of watching the world's greatest drivers trying to tame their incredible cars on this breathtakingly challenging circuit was as fabulous as ever.

Inevitably, though, the politics intruded as soon as we made our way back to the paddock at the end of the first practice session.

Even the timing of the latest release from the FIA has been the subject of gossip.


As we headed out on to the track at 0930, I was told that the full reasons behind the world motorsport council's decision would be published "before lunchtime".

But lunch came and went, and at 1400, it was going to be "in 10 or 15 minutes". It finally emerged just after 1435.

The details, which you can read elsewhere on this website, appear to show a far more extensive, systematic flow of information from Ferrari performance director Nigel Stepney to McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan.

This information was passed on at least to test driver Pedro de la Rosa, who told Alonso. Which makes it unlikely that other McLaren engineers did not know as well.

The difference between that and what McLaren initially admitted is significant. But that does not alter the fact that teams in F1 constantly seek to find out information about their rivals, so in some ways this is nothing new.

And when you read the document it is clear McLaren knew very little that was of much use to them in the running of their car this year.

That means they probably gained very little performance advantage from the information, although there may be exceptions to that such as knowing about the use of a specific unspecified gas to blow up the tyres that might make them work more effectively, as well as Ferrari's braking system and weight distribution.

Ron Dennis
Ron Dennis returned to his day job on Friday in Belgium

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that it is shocking to those less aware of some of the things that regularly go on in F1 - nor that more information will come out when the FIA publishes a full transcript of both world motorsport council hearings early next week.

For all that, the spy scandal appears to be almost over, from a sporting perspective at least. McLaren, despite their apparent anger at the verdict, are not expected to appeal against it.

And while Ferrari are pursuing their various cases in the civil courts, they now appear to be satisfied that justice has been done as far as this year's championship is concerned.

In many ways, though, what happened in Paris on Thursday is no longer the most interesting aspect of this story.

One of the rumours circulating this weekend is that Alonso, who it is widely known is not happy at McLaren, was involved in this scandal in ways that appear to make his position within the team extremely uncomfortable - some say untenable.

And from that information stem a whole load of other rumours - how can the double world champion possibly stay at McLaren next season? If he does not, will he go back to Renault? Or go on a sabbatical and join Ferrari in 2009?

And the biggest question of all could be how McLaren feel about the very real possibility that he, rather than Hamilton, might win the title for them this year, and what they might do about that.

The problem with F1 is that the dirty waters of this sport run very deep, and you never know what you know. Every 'fact' is only a fact until you discover a new layer of information, which can change completely what you thought about the first one, and so it goes on.

That means you can be sure of only one thing. Like an iceberg, however much you see on the surface, there is a mountain more still unseen.

And only a tiny number of select insiders will ever know what is really going on.

McLaren 'came close to exclusion'
14 Sep 07 |  Formula One
McLaren exposed by spy evidence
14 Sep 07 |  Formula One
McLaren ponder 'spygate' appeal
14 Sep 07 |  Formula One
F1's face-saving ruling
13 Sep 07 |  Formula One
McLaren hit by constructors' ban
13 Sep 07 |  Formula One
F1 'spygate' Q&A
12 Sep 07 |  Formula One


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