SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - McLaren may ultimately have to pay substantially less than the record $100 million (50 million pound) 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 $31 million could be closer to the mark.
The International Automobile Federation (FIA) announced 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 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”.
The team, 23 points clear of Ferrari after last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix with four races remaining, could have expected $68.9 million in prize money for winning the championship, according to Formula Money.
That lost revenue would still be a considerable blow to McLaren, one of the most successful and well-funded teams, but one they could absorb better than most.
“Effectively, we will still 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,” team boss Ron Dennis said on Thursday.
“But as you can see if you read our accounts, we turn over roughly $450-500 million a year, and we are debt-free, so obviously we are a very strong company with phenomenal growth,” he added.
Paddock insiders estimate that annual budgets in Formula One range from around $50-60 million for teams such as tail-enders Spyker to well in excess of $400 million at the top end.
With Vodafone their title backer and Spanish banking group Santander a leading sponsor, McLaren are 40 percent owned by DaimlerChrysler’s Mercedes.
McLaren said in January that Bahrain’s Mumtalakat Holding Company was taking a 30 percent stake, with Dennis and Saudi partner Mansour Ojjeh halving theirs to 15 percent each.
McLaren have also struck gold in rookie Lewis Hamilton, leading the championship in his debut season and, as the first black driver in the sport, a major asset for sponsors.
The FIA sanction is not expected to trigger any mass exodus of sponsors.
Santander, who have a five-year deal with McLaren and pay the racing team 13 million euros (9 million pounds) per year, said on Friday that they fully supported the team.
“We are totally convinced of the personal integrity of Ron Dennis and that of the McLaren team which has over the years shown a high level of professionalism and corporate ethics,” Santander director-general Juan Manuel Cendoya told Reuters.
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.
The paddock is also based on a strict hierarchy, with teams’ hospitality units and garages lined up in the order that they finished the previous championship, and that will impact on McLaren’s prestige.
Additional reporting by Juan Navarro in Madrid
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