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McLaren, Ferrari resume duel at Italian GP as off track controversy simmers

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MONZA, Italy (AP) _ Lewis Hamilton believes McLaren has a mental edge over Ferrari in the Formula One championship despite the discovery of new evidence in the spy scandal.

``If you look at what's gone on, I do think we are the stronger team,'' the McLaren driver said Thursday, three days before the Italian Grand Prix.

The International Automobile Federation has called a meeting of the World Motor Sport Council on Sept. 13, which could lead to a two-year ban for McLaren for obtaining confidential information from Ferrari.

That would spell the end of Hamilton's title challenge, but the 22-year-old Briton, who leads the series in his rookie season, is thinking only about Sunday's race at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza.

``I'm trying to get on with my job and act as if it's a normal weekend,'' Hamilton said. ``I've been oblivious to what's going on.''

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who trails Hamilton by 16 points in the driver's standings, said the mood in the Italian team's camp was positive.

``As a team we have a very good atmosphere,'' Raikkonen said. ``(The case) doesn't affect our racing.''

One of the most open championships in years has been overshadowed by the discovery of a 780-page technical dossier on Ferrari cars in July at the home of McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan, who was later suspended.

Nigel Stepney, the Ferrari mechanic who allegedly supplied the documents in April, was fired.

After a hearing in Paris in July, the World Motor Sport Council ruled that McLaren had possession of the Ferrari documents, but it did not punish the team because there was insufficient evidence the material was misused.

FIA president Max Mosley sent the matter to an appeals panel to allow Ferrari to present its case and to ensure ``public confidence'' in the result _ although the hearing has now been cancelled in light of ``new evidence.''

The new information could include a letter Stepney sent to FIA, in which he acknowledged he met with Coughlan to discuss Ferrari's technical data but ``only to exchange an opinion with a person I respect,'' Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported Thursday.

Stepney, who also faces a criminal case from Ferrari for allegedly trying to sabotage the team's cars before the Monaco GP, has maintained that he is the victim of a setup.

Ferrari ``wishes to reaffirm its own strong wish that all the elements in this case are brought to light,'' the team said in a statement. ``Ferrari is confident that the truth will come out.''

Ferrari and McLaren have won all 12 races this season, and with five to go, the title race likely will go down to the wire.

Hamilton leads with 84 points, followed by teammate and two-time defending champion Fernando Alonso with 79. Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Raikkonen are third and fourth with 69 and 68 points.

All four drivers have three wins apiece.

``We are working hard everyday to win for Ferrari,'' Massa said. ``We're in battle (with McLaren).''

A Ferrari victory before a home crowd could reduce McLaren's 11-point lead in the constructor's standings _ although the British team is hoping to restore the points it was stripped of at the Hungarian Grand Prix at a FIA hearing Sept. 19.

McLaren lost points after Alonso impeded Hamilton in qualifying for the Aug. 5 race.

Ferrari won at Monza for the fourth time in five years in 2006, when seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher claimed his 90th victory before announcing his retirement.

The Italian outfit could struggle to repeat that Sunday, as McLaren was more than a second faster in the final two days of testing at the storied track last week.

``We are a lot stronger than it looks, that's for sure,'' said Massa, who finished ninth last year. ``In testing, I've often lacked the conditions to run at my best.''

Raikkonen, who was second in a McLaren in 2006, is expecting a close contest. But the Finn is hoping to emerge victorious on his Ferrari home debut.

``I think you can say that we have a fierce fight ahead of us,'' Raikkonen said. ``Traditionally Ferrari has been very competitive here, but also McLaren has been very strong.

``Winning the home race of Ferrari would be a great feeling.''

Alonso failed to finish in his Renault last year, retiring with an engine problem while in third place. That followed a penalty hours before the race, when he was dropped from fifth to 10th on the grid for impeding Massa in qualifying.

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McLaren, Ferrari resume duel at Italian GP as off track controversy simmers
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