Another PR disaster for McLaren

McLaren Mercedes logoMcLaren’s PR problems have multiplied as the British press slammed them for their handling of the pit lane incident between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton yesterday.

Both The Times and The Daily Mail claim that Hamilton and Dennis were involved in a furious argument. This is from The Times:

Hamilton… exchanged angry words with his team boss Ron Dennis as he returned to the pits, reportedly saying: “Don’t ever f****** do that to me again!”?? Dennis replied: “Don’t ever f****** speak to me like that again!”?? Hamilton delivered a final riposte: “Go f****** swivel!”??

The team may not like it, but the public perception of them will now be that they are not giving Hamilton a fair crack at the drivers’ championship.

Ron Dennis can protest to the contrary all he likes, but the fact is they will be viewed this way because they handled the Monaco and Hungary controversies so badly.

At Monaco the team brought Hamilton into the pits earlier than he needed to so that he wouldn’t be compromised by the safety car period. The stewards later upheld that decision and it was vindicated at Montreal two weeks later when Alonso’s race was ruined by a safety car period at an inconvenient time.

But as the content of McLaren’s radio communications and team policy was not made clear during or immediately after the race, the British papers went to press with ‘Hamilton told to lose’ headlines splashed all over them.

This weekend McLaren have shot themselves in the foot even more comprehensively.

Hamilton disobeyed a direct order by refusing to yield position to Alonso in qualifying. I still suspect that there was confusion over the matter because Hamilton lost his chance to have the privileged qualifying run at the Nurburgring because of his crash.

But nevertheless what Hamilton did was wrong. McLaren and Alonso’s reaction to it, however, made everything much worse.

There are several ways McLaren could have re-balanced the strategies between their two drivers to prevent Hamilton getting an unfair advantage over Alonso. They could have simply arranged to pit him earlier in today’s race, for example.

Instead they chose to do it by holding Hamilton up behind Alonso in the pits. On top of which Alonso then took it upon himself to delay Hamilton by a further ten seconds. And then the team tried to hid what they had done from the stewards.

It was an amateurish catalogue of errors that has turned what should have been an easy one-two for the team in qualifying into an ugly farce.

Far from appealing the stewards’ decision, McLaren should come clean about the whole thing, apologise to both their drivers, and pledge to make their radio communications open for television viewers to listen in to.

But I don’t think much of the chances of that happening.

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