Was Dennis to blame in McLaren’s Hungary row?

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

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28 comments on Was Dennis to blame in McLaren’s Hungary row?

  1. To be fair to Dennis the quote: “That shows what happens when you don’t f****** do what you’re told!” might have been just a slip of a tongue at an angry moment. Dennis might have been at this moment equally angry with what Alonso’s part of the pit crew did as he was with Hamilton not following the instructions. Translation from Ronspeak could have been: “When you decide to (4 letters here) up somebody’s job don’t be surprised if they (4 letters here) yours !”

    Maybe .. And maybe he meant exactly what he said … In McLaren they know, we can only guess …

    But it may really be time for Dennis to slowly bow out. He is perhaps more to blame for the 100 mil fine than the famous de la Rosa / Alonso mail exchange … There is nothing worse than a boss who has no idea about what is happening inside his company …

  2. Architrion said on 4th February 2008, 10:32

    If Ron didn’t know anything about the Ferrari dossier I will take my balls and serve them to him on a silver plate….. that’s more incredible that man landing on the moon in 1969….

  3. Wait a moment, McLaren chose to ‘punish’ LH(their own Driver), that made them guilty? McLaren/a team can do whatever their want to their drivers, it’s none of FIA/stewards bussiness!!!

  4. Michael K said on 4th February 2008, 11:28

    …and you can serve my balls as an hors d’oeuvre ;-) What happened in Hungary only the ones involved know, but as nobody seems willing to even tell their side of the story I think everyone was at fault in some way. So in order to not look childish/stupid themselves they just shut up about the whole thing. I think Ron had nothing to do with this as he was angry with everyone.

  5. If the quote is true, then I would have thought that milos’s reading is the most accurate. Surely Ron Dennis was not looking to punish Hamilton — Keith’s original post even criticises Dennis’s closeness to Hamilton. But surely Ron Dennis was basically saying to Hamilton that he got what he deserved — it’s karma.

  6. Ron Dennis built a winning machine out of a team that was heading down the tubes. He has kept that team at the forefront of F1 for over twenty years, even when severely disadvantaged by uncompetitive engines. It is his team and we may criticize the way he runs it but never presume to instruct him to give it up. Let us achieve half of what he has done and we might be slightly qualified to suggest that it might be time for him to go. We may mutter about bosses that don’t know what their employees are up to but let us be fair in this and admit that Jean Todt and Montezemolo were just as ignorant of what Stepney was doing. Get real, guys – we all know nothing until some copyshop operator phones us and spills the beans, whether we’re talking Ferrari documents or what Keith had for lunch today.

  7. I have always been amazed at why the FIA decided to penalize both McLaren AND Alonso over this incident. If indeed Fernando unilaterally decided to impede Lewis in order to secure pole, then why should McLaren be punished if this was nothing more than driver’s rage? If, on the other hand, it was a team decision that Lewis was to be blocked so he wouldn’t get the extra lap, then why penalize Fernando if he was simply following team orders to stand pat? To this day I still don’t get it.

  8. Thousands of theories about what really happened in the Hungarian Q3, but one real fact: Alonso was punished, Hamilton wasn´t and World Champion points were lost for Alonso. That´s all.

  9. Steven Roy said on 4th February 2008, 20:50

    I agree with Alex. The FIA blew this up as they did with the spying.

    Fernando Alonso parks his car in the pits hurting no-one but his own team. The FIA punishes the team.

    Michael Schumacher parks his car on the racing line at Monaco causing the session to be stopped. The FIA doesn’t punish the team.

    Which situation is worse?

    Michael Schumacher rams Damon Hill Aus 94, Villeneuve Jerez 97, Hakkinen Spa, Alonso Silverstone. Not once did the FIA punish the team. So what was so bad about what Alonso did that McLaren deserved punishment? No wonder he wants to driver for Ferrari.

    As for Ron Dennis. The guy started as a mechanic and built the best racing team in the business. What more can he do? If he favours Hamilton it is because he is too close to him. If he does not favour him it is because he is too close to him.

    He was close to Prost, Senna and Hakkinen. None of them did too badly by being associated with him. The only difference now is Ferrari are competitive so the bias in the FIA has been ressurected.

  10. Number 38 said on 4th February 2008, 21:33

    It’s taken some time but I see some vindication for my argument
    about McLaren “equality” and it came from our friend Keith himself: (clipped from the article above) “… it is further evidence that Dennis’s closeness to Hamilton is compromising his judgement.” Ron Dennis has long contended things are equal at McLaren but lets face it Hamilton was long term ‘family’ and Alonso was an orphan taken in off the street.
    The technicians may have provided equal cars but Dennis’ “closeness” surely had to play a part in tipping the scales.
    I’m 63 years old and don’t use foul language, it hurts my eyes to read this stuff and it probably hurt Dennis’ ears to hear his protoege using such.
    Denying it was probably all he could do.

  11. I feel like swearing – a conversation on a team radio is disclosed by a renault employee – spying again?? – if I was the head of a multi million company and my drivers were playing silly (deleted) – I would tell them straight too
    Is the F1 world really that far removed from the world – check out alan sugar and silly chefs on tv – pressure release(expletives) get it out and over – you keep it in and stand by for the heart attack – Ron is no angel but I respect him better than various other team leaders with their old boys network

  12. Pink Peril said on 4th February 2008, 22:54

    Seems like Dennis & Alonso were the ones punished for something that started with Hamilton.

    I am sure that when you are dealing with drivers with ego’s bigger than Texas it is probably easy to lose your temper. I don’t think that is grounds for calling for Dennis’ retirement just yet though.

    I’m with Steven Roy – had this been any other team the resulting penalty and/or furore would be non-existant.
    It’s one rule for them, one for us.

  13. If The Times hasn’t declared its source, and it’s already printed up one unreliable radio exchange for this event, then I see no reason to believe this version either. It hasn’t exactly received independent verification yet (unless there’s something in “My Story” about it other than what was quoted here).

  14. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th February 2008, 23:36

    There’s no alternative transcript in “My Story”. It does say this:

    Someone had claimed they had seen a transcript of the radio communication during qualifying when the team had not even produced one.

  15. May I ask a very stupid question here?

    I may have a different view of such things, but — just on the swearing at one another issue alone — why is this such an “event”? The rest of it, I certainly get … but the f-words at one another in the heat of the moment … meaningless, really, in the scheme of things, at least to me.

    Or am I missing something??

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