McLaren fine may not reach 100 million dollars

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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, Sep 14 (Reuters) McLaren may ultimately have to pay substantially less than the record 100 million dollars fine imposed on the team in a Formula One spying controversy, according to analysts.

A report by Formula Money, which monitors the sport's financial health, said on Friday a sum of million could be closer to the mark.

The International Automobile Federation said after a hearing in Paris on Thursday that McLaren would lose all their constructors' points for the 2007 season and also incur a 100 million dollars fine for having Ferrari data in their possession.

However, it said in a statement that the sum would be ''less the FOM (Formula One Management) income lost as a result of the points deduction.'' McLaren are still considering whether to appeal.

The team, 23 points clear of Ferrari after last weekend's Italian Grand Prix with four races remaining, could have expected 68.9 million dollars in prize money for winning the championship, according to Formula Money.

That lost revenue would still be a considerable blow to McLaren, who as well as being one of the most successful teams are also one of the wealthiest and best funded, but one they could absorb better than most.

Paddock insiders estimate that annual budgets in Formula One range from around -60 million for the likes of tail-enders Spyker to well in excess of 400 million dollars for the likes of Ferrari, Toyota and McLaren.

FINANCIALLY FIT The British-based team are debt free, despite spending a significant sum on an award-winning new factory, with team boss Ron Dennis saying at the start of the year they were financially fitter than at any time in their history.

According to Formula Money, McLaren Racing turned over 228.7 million dollars in 2005, making a profit after tax of 4.9 million.

As well as being supported by major companies, with Vodafone the title backer and Spanish banking group Santander a leading sponsor, McLaren are 40 per cent owned by DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes.

McLaren said in January that Mumtalakat Holding Company, wholy owned by the Kingdom of Bahrain, was taking a 30 per cent stake.

That leaves Dennis and Saudi partner Mansour Ojjeh with 15 per cent each.

McLaren have also struck gold in British rookie Lewis Hamilton, leading the championship in his debut season and as the first black driver in the sport a major asset for sponsors.

With a winning car, McLaren can expect to be back among the leaders next year.

Questions left unanswered by Thursday's hearing concerned the fine, what the FIA would do with it and what would happen to the withheld prize money normally distributed by Bernie Ecclestone's FOM.

It had also yet to be confirmed whether the teams lifted up the championship ranking by McLaren's lack of points would receive a greater share of the prize pot.

The paddock is based on a strict hierarchy, with teams' hospitality units lined up in the order that they finished the previous championship.

That means the most successful enjoy the prime positions of prominence while the tail-enders are cast into the furthest corners.

McLaren will be at the bottom of the heap next year.

''It will be interesting to see how they fit their transporter into the far end of the paddock next year,'' commented one team boss at the Belgian Grand Prix today.

REUTERS BJR PM1717

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