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. Angler you are not missing some thing – it is a non event in that its done and dusted and in the light of more serious abuse incidents – and also as it was last season – lets drop the subject and get ready for the new season – ps like what Ron has done for mclaren – just wouldn’t like to fall out with him!!

  2. Whew — thanks, Alan. For a minute there I thought I was entirely clueless as opposed to just mostly so, grin …

    Strangely enough, in reading much more about McLaren lately, I’ve grown to know more about Dennis — and, gulp — my respect for his overall accomplishments has grown. (I still do not respect his behavior/attitude one bit, however.)

    You’re right about moving onto this season … I think part of a lot of rehash (and I’m doing some of it in my own postings, too, granted) is that we simply can’t wait for it to start! Anticipation is like fuel to old fires, lol …

  3. Maybe this has already been covered but the reference to the “we were racing Alonso” comment keeps appearing on various websites as proof of Ron Dennis’s bias.
    Maybe my memory’s not very accurate but I’m sure I recall him using “we” when he was referring to McLaren relative to Kimi/Ferrari but saying “HE was racing Fernando” when referring directly to Hamilton. Does anyone know of an accurate transcript or recording of Ron’s comments?
    It may seem like a minor point but that one word makes quite a difference as far as judging bias is concerned.

  4. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th February 2008, 14:24

    Dennis’s quote after the Chinese race was:

    The problem was rain and his [Hamilton’s] tyres were in the worst condition. But we weren’t at all fazed about Kimi. We weren’t racing Kimi, we were basically racing Fernando.

    Kimi winning and Lewis coming second was adequate. It just didn’t quite work out that way.


    At that point in the championship Raikkonen was third and Alonso second behind Hamilton, so a strategy centred around finishing ahead of Alonso was logically the correct one to pursue. But for Dennis, who goes to considerable lengths to give his drivers equality of treatment, to speak of himself as part of one driver’s effort to beat the other, was monumentally stupid.

  5. The point of Ron’s comment in Hungary MAY have been you just suffered a consequence of your (Lewis’s blocking)) own action, not an action dictated by Ron. Alonso was obviously outraged and out of control.

    It was all so very stupid and illogical.

    As for Ron’s ownership of the team, I believe his interest is down to 15%. How long do the team majority share holders give him to run down everything positive he’s built up? He should go!

  6. Where would he go, though, George?

    And I do mean that question sincerely.

    I’m not thinkin’ that Ferrari will want him any time soon, and I’m not sure his ego could take trying to retool and reignite a team like Honda (Brawn) … so, what on earth would F1 “do” with Dennis if he wasn’t at McLaren?

    You all know so very much more than I do about F1 … (and I realize that I’m sarcastic more often than not, but I’m actually serious right now). Do any of you see another place for him among teams, or … is a man of his accomplishments supposed to simply slink off into the sunset of the sport? He’s too young for that.

    (Please don’t misunderstand me — I can’t stand him. This is a purely curious question on my part.)

  7. PS, grin … please don’t tell me India!

  8. You have a unique take on things angler, I would only offer Ron the solitude of retirement. Take your millions and contemplate how you managed over the years to build up an empire only to toss it all under the bus through your own mismanagement and ego. They should toss him out on his arse (if he refuses to go voluntarily) and hire Eddie Jordan to run the race operations: Wouldn’t that be a hoot!

    And I’m a HUGE McLaren fan, ever since Bruce and Denny raced those monstrous CanAm cars.

  9. ///ever since Bruce and Denny raced those monstrous CanAm cars///

    grin … do you see my quandary now? This is why it’s taken me almost a whole year to build up the spine to offer comments here at F1Fanatic, lol — you all know SO MUCH MORE than I do about F1 and its technicalities/history!!

    Just kidding (not so much, lol) … but, yes, I do have a “unique” take, in that I probably almost never see many things as most people do on much of any subject, granted. However …

    In trying to be charitable to the man I hold so much disdain for, grin …
    If it were just his “ego” — and maybe you’re right there. I mean — that’s probably 80% of why I dislike him so much — hubris is entirely unattractive, even on a brilliant man/woman. It degrades the reason for its inception, really.

    So many towers have fallen due to hubris alone … I suppose I want to remain a dreamer, in that there must be some “inner reason” for what’s happened to Dennis’ career — his life’s work. I keep searching for that, honestly — and I haven’t found jack other than a few past glories to support it yet.

    Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re right. Brilliant or not, in the “past” … it’s what we all do “now” that matters. In that sense, then — it IS high time for him to trot off into the sunset … perhaps NASCAR/ISC/Brainchild-France could find a home for him. (LOL — NOT!!!!)

    Or, perhaps he could simply … grow a little intestinal, moral fortitude, and recreate a few glories for McLaren and the sport. He has the ability, no doubt … it would appear, however, that he has not the inner compass.

  10. I agree that we are all suffering from off season malaise. I also agree that Ron made mistakes in the last few races that cost the drivers title (stress makes you do stupid things) and I’m sure he was trippin’ after being busted. But I think Ron deserves credit for proving the rewards gained funding programs for young talented less advantaged drivers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see McLaren regroup and take the championship this year.

  11. Hey, George!

    Yeah, I’m real unique, grin … I actually have the courage to post here, among F1 fans, like you, who constantly amaze me with their expertise. If I were one of those people who are easily intimidated, I’d be SO silent here, lol …

    Regardless — where on earth would Ron Dennis GO, if he were summarily “retired”? (Not that I’m not advocating that.) I don’t like him — that’s not news — but … considering his vast accomplishments, etc. … he’s not LIKE a “Brawn” with the same or more under his belt — meaning, someone who could walk into the garage of a seriously failing team and see it as a lovely “challenge”.

    Quite the contrary, I simply don’t see Dennis’ personality-type as ABLE to start seeding something that might become a strong root of a stronger tree “SOMEDAY” — in F1 or otherwise.

    Does he have the ability? Perhaps, if it doesn’t require the rather human-resource nature of a “team boss” … but … would he ever “start over” that way — NOW?

    I don’t know — that’s YOUR job to figure out here, lol, as I’m not an F1 expert.

    My original question stands, then — where, on earth, would he go?

  12. carlos said on 26th February 2008, 13:40

    According to Marca, McLaren will do an official announcement about Ron Dennis leaving the management of the team in very few days, before of the beginning of the season in Australia.

  13. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th February 2008, 13:45

    Thanks for the spot, Carlos. The German press reckoned back in January that Mercedes were going to take over and edge Dennis aside…

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