Despite the unusual punishments handed down by the World Motor Sport Council after Thursday's hearing into the espionage affair, the team bosses involved in Friday's FIA press conference at the Belgian Grand Prix agreed that it would have been damaging to strip McLaren's drivers of their points.

Although some thought it odd that the team could lose their tally for the season after being found guilty of 'using' secrets passed to chief designer Mike Coughlan and the drivers - who have obviously benefited from Coughlan's work - could escape, few doubt that Formula One would have been devalued by effectively handing both championships to Ferrari.

"It would have been, in my view, extremely destructive and almost vindictive to penalise the drivers," Honda's Nick Fry commented, "I think that we can easily slip into self-destruct mode here, trying to ruin everything. I think we've got a great drivers' championship, it's being fought out on a very even basis between those drivers and I believe the decision was exactly right to leave them out of it. I can see the point, I can see the purist's point of view, but I think it was a very sensible decision in my view."

Renault's Flavio Briatore emphasised the point that both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton will have benefited from a car that the WMSC clearly believes has been developed in light of the Ferrari dossier found in Coughlan's possession, but absolved either driver of blame in the affair.

"If the car has any advantage because of some information or whatever, if the car is competitive because of some information, I think the driver has some advantage as well," the Italian commented, "It's quite simple, but the driver has no fault about all this, although I still believe that the driver has some advantage."

BMW Sauber's Mario Theissen took the phlegmatic approach, pointing out that it wasn't just the McLaren drivers preventing his team from achieving greater success.

"Of course it is very difficult to differentiate between the driver and the team in this matter because, of course, the driver uses the car in order to be successful," he mused, "But this is just not the way we look at it. There are four cars in front of us. Apparently, all the four cars and their drivers are able to drive quicker than us. There is a gap and we have to close the gap no matter if it is two or four cars. We don't want to gain any position in the championship by someone in front of us being removed. It is just not relevant to us."

Red Bull Racing's Christian Horner pointed out that, for the average man in the street, it is the drivers that mean the most, and to have removed two of the title contenders for something their team had done would have been damaging from that point of view.

"Whilst it will be painful for the team and for the manufacturer involved, I think ultimately the emphasis of Formula One is on the drivers," he confirmed, "They're the people's heroes at the end of the day. It's been a fantastic championship to date and, hopefully, it will be a very exciting run into the finish.

"Every TV channel I turned on last night showed Ron Dennis leaving a court in Paris looking fairly forlorn and having been awarded, I think, the largest ever financial penalty in sport. So, in terms of 'are people aware of it?' yes, I think they are. It was broadcast around the world and that, as a penalty in itself, I think was right that the team were judged to have acted inappropriately. The drivers had no influence over that, so why should they be penalised? I don't think it has affected their performances this year. I think the FIA made the right and appropriate decision to leave the drivers' championship uninterrupted and, as I said earlier, I hope we see a classic end to this year's championship."

Both Horner and Toro Rosso counterpart Gerhard Berger, however, hoped that the hearing on Thursday will be the last that is heard of the scandal.

"I think you can see everything from so many different angles and try to find explanations and try to find some clever ideas but, at the end of the day, there was a decision made yesterday," the Austrian concluded, "I think we should put [the affair] off the table, we should get on with the sport as before, and obviously the two drivers have a good chance to win the championship. The better one of the two should win it but, still, I would say Ferrari is still in the game also, so the fans can see a couple more good races and I think we should just forget all the other business."

 

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