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More tension between Ferrari and McLaren

THE bottom line in contemporary F1 is that the sport's blue riband category lacks for sheer quality at the sharp end of the field. If one is extremely brutal, the very fact that British American Racing - which did a pretty convincing imitation of a dead-beat outfit during its freshman year in 1999 - can run in the top six for most of the time this season, reflects very badly indeed on some of the other, more seasoned performers.

Facing such shortage of competitive rivals, it's perhaps hardly surprising that McLaren and Ferrari seem magnetically drawn to each other when it comes to swapping acerbic comments.

Yet the mutual air of suspicion which exists between them was further intensified at Hockenheim when it emerged that Maranello's sporting director Jean Todt had lobbied the Austrian GP stewards to disqualify both the McLarens of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard after their 1-2 result in that race.

In what was clearly regarded by McLaren as an act of gross impropriety, Todt sent a letter to the stewards suggesting that both McLarens should be thrown out - even though the issue of the missing FIA seal on the electronic control unit only concerned Hakkinen's winning MP4/15.

McLaren chairman Ron Dennis picked his words carefully when invited to comment on the matter. "It was poor form, but you must draw your own conclusions," he said. "When we win it's very important how we win. We at McLaren believe that, as a team, we have a high level of integrity and we believe we have style.

"That is how we perceive ourselves. You are free to chose how you perceive other teams. We certainly have views about other teams, but it is not appropriate to express them."

In connection with the loss of Hakkinen's 10 constructors' championship points in Austria, Dennis added; "The FIA position was very difficult. The stewards tried well to come to a conclusion which would sit well with everyone concerned."

Todt has claimed that he was only making a general point to the FIA, although the evidence of the letter sits very uneasily with this viewpoint.

On a parallel issue, Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo has blamed Coulthard's weaving at the start of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim as being responsible for Michael Schumacher's collision with Giancarlo Fisichella. In the words of Mandy Rice-Davis, "he would say that, wouldn't he?"

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