The stewards’ full verdict on McLaren and Alonso

2007 Hungarian Grand PrixPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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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