Dennis says Alonso not to blame

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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21 comments on Dennis says Alonso not to blame

  1. david berger said on 5th August 2007, 1:37

    What strikes me as odd is that this happened in the prior pitstop as well. Something was most certainly out of sequence, but I do not feel it was Alonso.

    If there is a rift within the team, Which lets face it, OF COURSE THERE IS and that was displayed today by those who develop the strategy and not those who execute it (i.e. the drivers). The rift is that of competition. They have two drivers on the same team competing for the world championship in similar equipment within 2 points of each other.

    What seems to excite the press and thereby exacerbate the issue is that this happened between “teammates”. I have news for you…this is MOTORSPORT. It is a team sport and that team consists of the driver and his crew. Not two drivers who are buddies.

    When Rubens pulled over to hand a race over to Michael that was far worse than this incident. The fact that Alonso and Hamilton wear the same livery is nothing more than giving the advertisers more value for their Billions of dollars. It is a convenience that gives the ad folks more airtime and a greater probability that their brand will remain on track for the duration of the race. In the end, while they may wear the same uniforms, right now the championship is being raced between Alonso’s crew and that of Hamiltons, Two very separate teams right now.

    I do not blame Hamilton for not pulling over nor to I blame Alonso for waiting if he was instructed to do so OR it was in his best interest to do so based on the position of the remaining vehicles on track etc.

    THIS IS RACING! In the good old days with Hill, Lauda Berger, Senna, Prost etc. the antics were far worse even life threatening to some degree. This sport is getting to “Rulesey” and Soft! The more rules this sport gets the more cheating is going to occur. Personally I find this to be one fo the greatest seasons in a long time. Now that Michael is gone the sport is up for grabs again and man is there some talent out there.

    The main pattern I see forming here is this: THE TRACKS NEED UPDATING! With the billions poured into this sport it’s time someone actually took a good hard look at track design. If an aero expert such as Newey were to design a track he could work around the Aero inefficiencies that occur when these vehicles come into close proximity. Proper track design would allow these cars to be ABLE to pass one another on cicuit. I agree to the veteran enthusiast the chess game is great to watch but skill, daring and luck take a backseat to consistency and predictability more and more each year. These antics like Schumachers Monaco incident last year and Today’s would not HAVE to occur if grid position was not so indicative of finishing position. Change the tracks (at least the bulk of them) and move the real important racing back to Sunday and Not Saturday qualifying. Sunday’s now are about attrition, and pit strategy. Passing, Tire wear and brake wear play almost no part in the race anymore. Fix this and you’ve got one heck of a sport again.

    PS I like the new qualifying format because it really works for TV and it is so exciting…I just wish it didn’t matter so much in the end. Sorry for the mini-blog


  2. When it’s a problem between drivers within one team, should the stewards even be involved? I would think it’s only a matter for them had Alonso held up Massa for example.

    Maybe why I don’t work for the FIA!

  3. David is right… good mini-blog…fair and realistic!


  4. josema garcia said on 6th August 2007, 23:37

    I wonder if you (neighbors from the islands) would believe McLaren boss if he had decided to attack Fernando.
    Lewis is a spoilt boy. He’s been cheating since the beginning of the season. He can’t set up his car and he’s been systematically cheating on Fernando’s.
    Just remind you that setting up a car it 75% of a victory.
    Lewis wouldn’t set up an alarm clock if his life depended on it.

  5. josema garcia said on 6th August 2007, 23:44

    Dear McLaren Man
    There’s only one thing you may be right about.
    Alonso won’t be in McLarens next year.
    That’s a nest of snakes, especially the one driving car #2.
    I wonder who will take Lewis as a mate next year: Sato, Liuzzi?
    Who’ll set up the cars then? Not Lewis that’s for sure

  6. Zulu said on 9th August 2007, 23:10

    You know what would be a brilliant end to the season. When Mclaren is punished during the Sept 13th hearing and all points from them and the drivers are docked….hehe…I want Kimi to win :)

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