Dennis says Alonso not to blame

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, Hungary, 2007, practice | Daimler ChryslerMcLaren boss Ron Dennis has claimed that Fernando Alonso delayed Lewis Hamilton in qualifying at the Hungaroring because the team told him to. Dennis said:

They were out of sequence because Lewis should have slowed and let Fernando past. And he didn’t. He charged off. That’s how we got out of sequence.

[Alonso] was being counted down by his engineer. He’s under the control of his engineer. He determined when he goes. That’s the sequence. And if you think that was a deliberate thing, then you can think what you want. I have given you exactly what happened.

Is Dennis telling the truth? I can’t quite make up my mind – here’s why.

Dennis claims that Hamilton was told to let Alonso pass earlier in qualifying, but didn’t. Therefore, his explanation goes, Alonso wasn’t able to complete as many laps in qualifying as he was supposed to, and wouldn’t get credited with as much fuel as he should have for the far.

Dennis claims Alonso was deliberately kept in the pits to prevent Hamilton from completing a second flying lap.

The story makes sense – but here’s a few reasons why I’m not totally convinced by it:

  • First of all, if Alonso was being held by the team, why was the lollipop keeping him in the car raised?
  • If Alonso was supposed to be leading Hamilton out at the start of the session, then why was Hamilton allowed to lead the pit lane queue?
  • Why did Dennis not relate this information to the journalists immediately after qualifying? Why didn’t Alonso or Hamilton clear it up in the press conference? Would it not have been better to get it out in the open while the live TV cameras were still rolling?
  • Why did McLaren have to ‘punish’ Hamilton by delaying him in qualifying and thus jeopardising his starting position? If he gained an extra lap of fuel over Alonso by holding him up, it would have made more sense for McLaren to ‘right’ this by bringing Hamilton in a lap or two earlier for his first stop in the race.
  • If the intention was to delay Hamilton so that he could not complete a second timed lap, then why did Hamilton drive his out lap at speed? He could have saved a lot of fuel by touring to the flag instead.

And Dennis, of course, would far rather see his drivers start first and second than first and tenth.

In Dennis’s defence, he made all the remarks in the presence of Alonso who seemed happy with what had happened. If I am being too cynical, and Alonso hasn’t committed a ‘dirty trick’, then I take back the content of this post.

But McLaren have shot themselves in the foot, just as the did in Monaco, by not allowing free and open communication of their radio transmissions. Once again the internet is buzzing with criticism of Alonso which may be unfounded.

As ever I’d be intrigued to know what everyone else thinks. Here’s the rest of what Dennis had to say:

We have various procedures within the team and prior to practice we determine how it is going to be run, what our strategy is, and how that’s going to be enacted on the circuit.

There are some procedural issues there on qualifying. One of the things that you’ll have seen several times over the course of this season is long periods of time where the car has gone down to the end of pitlane and sat for a long time.

In this situation, we are timed to when we can dispatch the car based on when the car reaches a given temperature, and then we know how long we can hold it at the pitlane.

The cars are dispatched as soon as possible. In this instance, Lewis’s car got up to that temperature first, we went Lewis, we sent Fernando, and the fuel burn characteristics [mean that] there is a small advantage which we play from driver to driver according to the nature of the circuit.

In this instance, it was Fernando’s time to get the advantage of the longer fuel burn. The arrangement was, OK, we’re down at the end of the pitlane, we reverse positions in the first lap. That didn’t occur as arranged. That was somewhat disappointing and caused some tensions on the pitwall.

We were, from that moment on, out of sequence because the cars were in the wrong place on the circuit and that unfolded into the pitstops. It complicated the situation into the result, which was Lewis not getting his final timed lap.

So this really started from that position, and from our drivers not swapping position to get the right fuel burn in order to arrive at the point where we cut the end result to the end.

Now, as you have often asked the question, and let me make it a very honest answer, it is extremely difficult to deal with two such competitive drivers. There are definite pressures within the team. We make no secret of it. They are both very competitive, and they both want to win, and we are trying our very hardest to balance those pressures.

Today we were part of a process where it didn’t work, and the end result is more pressure on the team. But what you hear is the exact truth of what happened, and we will manage it inside the team through the balance of the season.

Obviously Lewis feels more uncomfortable with the situation than Fernando. That’s life, that’s the way it is, and if he feels too hot to talk about it then that’s the way it is.

But what I’ve done is, I have given you an exact understanding of what took place today. And it’s just pressure, competitiveness, and that’s the way it is. We’ve just got to get on and deal with it, but we’re not hiding from it.

We’re sat on the front row of the most difficult Grand Prix to win as regards to overtaking, and therefore we want to get on with the race.

As an aside, I also can’t shake the feeling that this is all a load of tosh, that qualifying should just be about who can set the fastest lap, and that teams and drivers shouldn’t be able to get up to these kind of antics – that no the sport’s reputation no good at all – in the first place.

Photo: Daimler Chrysler

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