The stewards’ full verdict on McLaren and Alonso

2007 Hungarian Grand Prix

FIA trailerHere’s the stewards’ decision on the McLaren qualifying controversy in full, accompanied by a few thoughts of my own.

The stewards rejected key parts of Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s testimony over whether the Spanish driver deliberately held up team mate Lewis Hamilton in qualifying for tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Alonso has been demoted from first on the grid to sixth, and although he and Lewis Hamilton will be able to score points tomorrow, they won’t count towards McLaren’s tally in the constructors’ championship.

During the final minutes of Qualifying, the car driven by Fernando Alonso remained in its pit stop position at the completion of his pit stop notwithstanding the fact that his team-mate Lewis Hamilton was waiting immediately behind him to commence his own pit stop. The delay prevented Hamilton from being able to complete his final flying lap of Qualifying.

The Team Principal, together with the team manager and both drivers were called before the Stewards and asked to explain their actions. Reference was made to video and audio evidence. The facts and the explanation given by the team are as follows:

At the commencement of the third period of the Qualifying practice it had been agreed within the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Team (“The Team”) that Fernando Alonso would leave the pit exit ahead of Lewis Hamilton in order to benefit from the possibility for purposes of fuel burn allowance of being able to complete an additional lap.

In the event, the car driven by Lewis Hamilton arrived at the pit exit before that of Fernando Alonso and when the pit lane opened he left in front of Alonso. The team required Hamilton by radio communication to allow Alonso to pass in order that he might endeavour to complete his extra lap. Because of the proximity of the Ferran driven by Kimi Raikkonen, however, Hamilton declined to allow Alonso to pass despite repeated requests from the team to do so.

As Alonso claimed, Hamilton was required to yield position to him at the start of qualifying. Hamilton did not.

What follows is the radio transmissions between McLaren, Hamilton and Alonso just before the final pit stop:

Reference to the radio communications passing between the team and its two drivers shows that the team told Hamilton at 14:56:44 to “box this lap” and required him to do a “hard in lap” but advised him some 32 seconds later to “slow the pace a little, just lose a couple of seconds before the end of the lap because Fernando is pitting in front of you”.

Hamilton was first told to complete his in lap as quickly as possible – then told to take it easy because of Alonso’s stop. Why the change? Had Alonso driven a particularly slow in lap? Were the team concerned about traffic even though there were only ten cars on-track?

At 14:57:34, just 18 seconds later Alonso was told that when he pitted “we are going to hold you for 20 seconds”.

At 14:57:46 Alonso’s car arrived at his pit stop position, his tyres were changed and the jacks removed just 6 seconds later. The car then remained in position from 14:57:52 to 14:58:12 when the signal known as the “lollipop” was raised indicating that the driver was free to leave.

So McLaren told Alonso he would be held for 20 seconds, and after he was held, he was released. But what happened next is crucial:

By this time Hamilton’s car had arrived and stopped immediately behind that of Alonso. Alonso, instead of leaving his pit in order that his team-mate Hamilton could complete his pit stop, remained in position for a further 10 seconds. He then left the pit lane in sufficient time to reach the Control Line before the end of Qualifying, completed a flying lap in which he set the fastest time and secured pole position.

Because of the delay caused by Alonso, Hamilton was unable to complete his pit stop in time sufficient to enable him also to complete a flying lap.

Even accepting that Alonso may have meant to hold up Hamilton, it’s still surprising that, if he meant to cost Hamilton a lap, he was able to time it so accurately.

The team were asked to explain why having indicated to Hamilton that he must stop at his pit on the next lap, they then informed Alonso whilst he was still on the track that when he also pitted on the next lap he would be held for 20 seconds.

The team stated that they frequently give estimates as to duration of pit stop to their drivers before they pit and that the reason the car was in fact held for 20 seconds was that it was being counted down prior to release at a beneficial time regard being given to other cars on the track.

McLaren claimed to have held Alonso so he wouldn’t have to complete his qualifying lap in traffic.

Alonso was asked why he waited for some 10 seconds before leaving the pits after being given the signal to leave. His response was that he was enquiring as to whether the correct set of tyres had been fitted to his car. When asked why this conversation did not take place during the 20 second period when his car sat stationary all work on it having been completed, it was stated that it was not possible to communicate by radio because of the countdown being given to him.

He couldn’t make a straightforward request during a simple countdown that last 20 seconds? It’s asking a lot to believe that.

But the stewards were also not convinced by McLaren’s claim that they held Alonso to give him preferable track position:

Reference to the circuit map shows that at the time Alonso was told he would be held for 20 seconds there were but 4 cars on the circuit, his own and those of Fisichella, Hamilton and Raikkonen. All but Raikkonen entered the pits such that there can have been no necessity to keep Alonso in the pits for 20 seconds waiting for a convenient gap in traffic in which to leave.

And so both explanations were thrown out:

The explanation given by Alonso as to why at the expiration of the 20 second period he remained in his pit stop position for a further 10 seconds is not accepted. The Stewards find that he unnecessarily impeded another driver, Hamilton, and as a result he will be penalised by a loss of 5 grid positions.

The explanation given by the team as to why they kept Alonso stationary for 20 seconds after completion of his tyre change and therefore delayed Hamilton’s own pit stop is not accepted.

The actions of the team in the final minutes of Qualifying are considered prejudicial to the interests of the competition and to the interests of motor sport generally. The penalty to be applied is that such points (if any) in the 2007 Formula One Constructors Championship as accrue to the team as a result of their participation in the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix wilt be withdrawn.

The team is reminded of its right of appeal.

McLaren have, of course, stated their intention to appeal.

I can’t see how they could appeal against Alonso’s penalty as his defence seems very slim. At any rate, once he starts the race tomorrow from sixth instead of first the damage will have been done.

Similarly if the stewards have thrown out McLaren’s claim that they kept Alonso stationary for 20 seconds to keep him out of traffic, then I can’t see how else they might exonerate themselves.

So, do I stand by my earlier claim that this was a ‘dirty trick’ on Alonso’s part?

Yes, I’m afraid I do. And I’m deeply disappointed by it.

As I wrote only yesterday in response to a commenter who thought I was being biased, I accept that it’s not possible to be completely impartial. I don’t believe there is a single F1 correspondent that doesn’t have a few drivers he likes to see do well. That doesn’t mean that we can’t approach matters in an open minded way and see things fairly.

When Alonso won his second championship last year after some very dubious decisions had gone against him and Renault, it felt just. I sympathised with him when he gave that incendiary press conference at Monza last year and said “I no longer consider F1 a sport.”

But today it seems he has taken that lesson on board. Because pulling a dirty trick like that on his own team mate is not sporting at all.

Only two weeks ago he took it upon himself to remind Felipe Massa of certain driving ethics. Now it seems someone should have a similar talk with the world champion.

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20 comments on The stewards’ full verdict on McLaren and Alonso

  1. Ben Goldberg said on 5th August 2007, 0:57

    Well this should make the Constructors Championship a little more interesting. Ferrari really have to capitalize on this situation.

    Well I think it’s pretty obvious that Alonso won’t be at McLaren next year. I wonder where he’ll go.

  2. Journeyer said on 5th August 2007, 1:18

    Don’t be so sure yet. They may still be able to fix this situation.

    But will they bother? If they don’t, Alonso primarily has 3 choices: Renault, Ferrari, and BMW. Renault’s window may have closed though, with the rumors that they have signed Nelson Piquet Jr to drive for them next year. Ferrari, meanwhile, have stated they were never interested in Alonso, and I’m sure Alonso wouldn’t want to go into a team that’s very political at the moment. That leaves BMW, who needs a driver to lead them to titles. Problem is, with the rumors that Heidfeld is just finalizing his contract, the window at Hinwil may close too.

    Williams may still have an opening but I don’t think Frank and Patrick would appreciate what Alonso did today. Same goes for Toyota, and would Alonso really want to go to THAT team?

    Alonso may have to make do with McLaren if he wants to stay winning world championships. Even if it means having to deal with a much improved Lewis next year.

  3. Ben Goldberg said on 5th August 2007, 1:24

    Oh yes, I forgot to add, if McLaren could score points in this race, it’s very well possible they would have put the Constructor’s Championship out of reach for Ferrari, as this is the best circuit out of the remaining races for their chassis. Now Ferrari should cut the lead down and they should be stronger than McLaren in the next few races.

    If I was Ron Dennis/McLaren, I would be so mad at Alonso for ruining their weekend. Do you think McLaren will give Alonso any advantages over Hamilton in the remaining races? I don’t know, but if they don’t, then Alonso will really be mad. Man, he just made this season that much more interesting.

  4. Rob said on 5th August 2007, 1:28

    I really wouldnt like to be in a room with Ron tonight.
    It does show the problems with joint No.1 drivers though. If F.A. had been given team leader status at the start of the season – McLaren would have both championships sown up.

  5. Ben Goldberg said on 5th August 2007, 1:39

    Alonso might want to stay, but what about McLaren. I don’t think it’s really up to Alonso now. McLaren didn’t know that they would have two #1 at the beginning of the season, but now they do know that they have a very good #1 in Lewis, so I think they can afford to get rid of Alonso and just battle for both championships with Lewis as a #1 and someone else as a solid #2.

    And this was the situation before today’s qualifying fiasco. This just makes the decision for McLaren much easier. That’s how I see it anyways.

  6. david berger said on 5th August 2007, 2:50

    Alonso is not to blame. This is the teams fault. The ruling itself vindicated Alonso. He was penalized position but not points. Mclaren lost more than anyone in this. That in and of itself is indicative of the teams role in this event. If Alonso was acting alone (like Schuey last year) than he alone would have to suffer the penalty. Poor team management is the call. And Alonso suffers the worst for following orders, essentially doing his job. It is obvious that he is content to race. He proved that in the last race.

    He is a champion and a professional and though he is eager to win I do not believe he would want to do so in a questionable or unsportsmanlike manner. I can only hope tomorrow lives up to the hype and he brings his A game to Lewis. I’m really liking where this season is headed.

    Ron – Manage your team – this is out of control. This is not the only situation that has brought into question just how much control you have over this operation. For Pete’s sake it appears someone let an overpaid Gym teacher cost the entire team points and to loose the front row of the grid.

    -David-

  7. bogart said on 5th August 2007, 2:52

    I think Alonso has burned a lot of bridges this year. I seriously don’t think Ferrari will touch him after the altercation with Masa last race. And I know the Italians will not tolerate him in a Ferrari. On the other hand i do think BMW will find a way to requisition him if he leaves Mclaren. I think if he can swallow his pride he and Hamilton would make a wonderful team. But i just don’t think he has that kind of internal fortitude. If he has the choice to stay even. Well just my 2 cents worth
    Cheers

  8. Ben Goldberg said on 5th August 2007, 3:33

    David, what do you think then when they pulled up the lollipop and he didn’t go for another 10 seconds? That’s where he acted by himself, or do you believe his explanation that he was making sure the right tires were equipped?

  9. DWB said on 5th August 2007, 9:15

    Alonso has done him self so much harm in his actions, but most of all he has shown himself to be intimidated by Hamilton. Hamilton’s cool, mature, responce will worry him even more. All of Lewis’ demeaner said “I have the measure of you, my friend!”
    It was pleasing to see a top athlete for once behaveing in such a mature grown up way. Much more effective in winning than throwing a tant. Well done Lewis!

  10. 3 things occur to me.

    1) I don’t think other than by retiring Alonso can quit McLaren – those contracts are pretty watertight. McLaren would have to fire him.

    2) I read it as Alonso getting a penalty for doing something wrong, and McLaren are getting a penalty for not admitting that Alonso did something wrong.

    3) One pro-Alonso point, there isn’t 2 way radio in the cars. If the engineer was holding open the channel to do the countdown then maybe Alonso was unable to interrupt?

  11. Journeyer said on 5th August 2007, 10:39

    Oh yes, amidst all the chaos, it was also announced sometime last night that Fisi will drop 5 places on the grid, as a result of blocking Yamamoto in Q1.

    http://www.homeofsport.com/f1/news/item.aspx?id=19854

    But if THIS merited 5 places, surely Alonso’s punishment should be heavier?

    Alex:

    1) He can leave if he wants to. At this point, I think Ron wouldn’t mind letting him go.
    2) I agree with you here completely.
    3) Yup, you’re right. But why were McLaren stupid enough not to be able to control that circumstance? Why does someone who isn’t on the same page as the others allowed access to the radio?

  12. I am just glad to see Alonso being shown for what he is….didnt he say he was checking they put the correct tyres on the car. His dirty tricks finally punished in the lying cheating team. I could see Hamilton leave Mcclaren next year, leaving Alonso there. Hamilton deserves better from a team. Alonso does not deserve to have equalled the great Senna’s 3 championships.

  13. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th August 2007, 10:42

    On Journeyer’s point, both Alonso and Fisichella spoiled one driver’s lap, and both were put back five places on the grid. Sounds fair to me.

  14. Ben Goldberg said on 5th August 2007, 13:08

    But one was deliberate, and one wasn’t. It’s all about the circumstance. As an example, when someone murders someone else, they don’t just all get the same penalty. Factors like if it was premeditated or not make big differences in jail time.

    So I do think Journeyer has a point.

  15. Number 38 said on 5th August 2007, 17:18

    Didn’t F1 get rid of “ONE HOT LAP” qualifying 2 or 3 years ago? There are 15 minutes in the session in which to make one’s best lap. The FIA got rid of it but the mentality is still with the teams. There are other ways to qualify without all this fuel/tyre/driver order strategy. I have no sympathy for Hamilton at all, he broke the team order in the first place and so what if Alonso is on the pole, starting from 2nd is not a bad thing. And what or who caused the FIA to get involved with team “strategy”?

    And what about Fisichella “balking” Yamamoto? Gimme a break, this is the heavy hand of the FIA out of control.

    Have we had a race this year WITHOUT the FIA intervening somehow? THEY are the ones besmerching the ‘sport’ !!!

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