Was Dennis to blame in McLaren’s Hungary row?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, Hungary, 2007, practice | Daimler ChryslerAt the heart of last year’s biggest controversy, the after-effects of which were still visible in the spectator enclosures at Barcelona this weekend, is a rather pathetic row about who swore at who in the heat of the moment.

The explosive fall-out between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso at the Hungarian Grand Prix set in motion the chain of events that would see McLaren lose both titles, be excluded from the constructors’ championship, culminating in Alonso leaving the team and Hamilton not being able to set foot in Spain without being suffering vile racist abuse.

Today The Times claims the stewards’ decision that went against McLaren that weekend hinged on words that were spoken by Ron Dennis to Hamilton over the team radio.

McLaren were investigated by the stewards at the Hungaroring after Alonso blocked Hamilton in the pits during qualifying, preventing his team mate from completing his final qualifying lap. This followed Hamilton ignoring an instruction from the team ordering him to let Alonso past earlier in the session.

What was really said?

At the time several newspapers including The Times reported this exchange between Hamilton and Dennis after Hamilton failed to begin his final lap before the end of the session:

Hamilton: ??Don?t ever f****** do that to me again!????
Dennis: ??Don?t ever f****** speak to me like that again!????
Hamilton: ??Go f****** swivel!????

The Times claims the reportage of this exchange came from a Renault engineer. It now claims this is what was actually said:

Hamilton: ??Thank you, guys. Thank you, that was great.??
Dennis: ??That shows what happens when you don’t f***ing do what you’re told!??

It does not declare is source for this, but it insists that Hamilton did not use the phrase ‘go swivel’. This description of the exchange has not been verified by McLaren, but it does agree with what Mark Hughes suggests was said in his biography of Hamilton, “The Full Story”:

The Hamiltons were adamant that Lewis had not sworn during the exchange and insisted afterwards that McLaren issue a statement to the effect. This came the following week. The Hamilton insisted that Lewis had actually begun the exchange with a sarcastic comment of: ‘Very funny’, and that he had not uttered the word ‘swivel’.

Does it matter?

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Jerez, 2008 pre-season testing | DaimlerThis may seem like a childish squabble over who swore and who didn’t. But I think it offers an insight into McLaren’s frequently self-damaging public relations as well the difficulties Ron Dennis is having trying to lead the team.

At the time McLaren vehemently denied that Hamilton had swore, but did not publish the radio communications that might have proved it. This explains why – they didn’t want to embarrass Dennis.

But most interesting is the claim the radio exchange was the main piece of evidence the stewards relied upon when penalising McLaren and Alonso for what happened at the Hungaroring. They claimed Dennis’s words were proof that McLaren chose to ‘punish’ Hamilton for refusing to let Alonso past at the start of qualifying.

Dennis’s future at McLaren is already under threat because of the damning revelations of the espionage episode, in which the McLaren boss was forced to admit he did not know how widely confidential Ferrari information had been disseminated within his own team.

It now seems his reaction to Hamilton may have been the cause of his team’s and Alonso’s penalty at the Hungaroring, which can surely not help his position or popularity within the team.

And it is further evidence that Dennis’s closeness to Hamilton is compromising his judgement. Given the tactical blunders made by the team last year at the Nurburgring, Shanghai and Interlagos, as well as Dennis’s infamously ill-judged ‘we were racing Alonso’ quote at the Chinese race, perhaps McLaren need cooler heads on the pit wall?

It also makes me think that while some people imagine fanciful conspiracy theories of a nefarious plot at McLaren to undo Alonso’s efforts to win the title, the naked reality is that incompetence is more often the cause of things than malice.

More on the Hungarian Grand Prix controversy