Fernando Alonso criticises McLaren again

2008 F1 seasonPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fernando Alonso has continued his criticism of former team McLaren

Fernando Alonso has continued his criticism of former team McLaren

Fernando Alonso has sparked fresh debate about his controversial season with McLaren last year by making several critical remarks about the team in recent interviews.

I think he’s starting to sound a bit like Niki Lauda and David Coulthard…

Alonso on McLaren

Before the Hungarian Grand Prix Alonso told the press:

Last year again it is true that I had a possibility to fight for the championship and it was okay. I knew that this year it was not possible any more. But if I was racing for McLaren now at this moment maybe I would be in the same position as I am now without the possibility to win.

Alonso seems to be saying that although he was allowed to race Hamilton for the championship last year, he does not believe Heikki Kovalainen is allowed to this year. This is something McLaren have denied since Kovalainen joined the team.

Dennis on equality

When asked about Alonso’s latest remarks, McLaren boss Ron Dennis said:

You can’t see any strings leading to Heikki’s shoulders and he’s an honest guy. He will more than convince anyone who talks to him that this is a team absolutely committed to equality. It always has been, and it always will be.

People will point to the [2008 German] Grand Prix and say it’s absolutely obvious there were team orders in that event because it was clear that Heikki moved over and let Lewis past. The essential fact was that throughout that race Lewis was nearly seven-tenths of a second faster than Heikki and he knew that, he was told that. He was not told to let Lewis past.

But when you are in a team and you know that your teammate has the opportunity of winning the race and you don’t, if you have the right values and values that are not lodged solely and exclusively in your own motives, your own objectives and your own selfishness, then you take a decision. Which is allow the driver past to have a chance of winning the race – which he did.

The exchange of positions between Kovalainen and Hamilton was no different to BMW’s switch between Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica in Canada. And it differed only in execution to how Ferrari got Kimi Raikkonen ahead of Felipe Massa in Brazil last year.

Non-disclosure agreement

Dennis also pointed out there was a non-disclosure clause involved when Alonso’s contract was terminated:

When the contract with Fernando was terminated there were pre-conditions which determined the behaviour of both parties post-termination. We have no intention of breaching that agreement. His opinion is his opinion – I’m not going to voice my opinion about anything that Fernando has done or said.

Personality clash

Both Dennis and Alonso presumably have more to reveal about the events of the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix (discussed at length here last week). But Dennis also had this to say:

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. You could go back through the entire history of McLaren, you could talk to any driver that has driven for McLaren and you will not find anyone – save for one – who will not verify that this team always runs on the basis of equality and always will.

Mechanical equality is one thing but what is different – and what I think Alonso has been trying to explain, not always successfully – is personal preference. And past McLaren drivers other than Alonso have said that Ron Dennis has preferred other drivers over them – such as David Coulthard in his autobiography: “It is what it is”:

Over the forthcoming seasons [after he joined in 1996] I gradually started to sense the tinge of favouritism was actually becoming far more tangible, untl it was clear – to me – that Ron blatantly favoured Mika. That’s not a subjective favouritism, as in he preferred Mika socialism; I am talking about professionally, on the track, in testing, at the headquarters.

Dennis had a clear affection for Hakkinen rooted in the Finnish driver’s near-fatal crash at Adelaide in 1995. And it doesn’t take a great stretch of imagination to see how Dennis would have a particular affection towards Hamilton – his pet project – rather than Alonso.

Nor were Alonso or Coulthard the first drivers to fall out with Ron Dennis. This is Niki Lauda in his autobiography “To hell and back”, on being injured in a crash during practice at Belgium in 1985:

Ron Dennis reacts just the way I would expect him to. As if I had been daydreaming and simply let the car go. There is one consolation – I won’t have to put up with Ron all that much longer.

Firing Alonso

Although Alonso and Dennis have had little of substance to say some new details about what happened at Hungary last year have slipped out. In a recent article for Autocar Alan Henry claimed:

McLaren sources have since revealed that the Spanish driver was almost fired on the spot after deliberately blocking Hamilton during qualifying for the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix.

So why didn’t they fire him? Perhaps there was pressure from the sponsors. Perhaps after Alonso threatened to reveal what he knew about the espionage scandal McLaren thought firing him would look like he’d been dismissed for ratting on them.

Fourths and fifths

The problem is the longer someone waits between something happening and then telling everyone about it, the less reliable their account is likely to be. It seems to be happening already. Asked during a radio interview for Cadena Ser whether he would rather be fourth with Renault or second with McLaren, Alonso said:

Yeah, yeah. I don’t think I would have been second with McLaren. I’m [saying that] based on the last few races of the past season, when I was finishing fourth and fifth.

Which leads to an obvious question: when did all these fourth and fifth place finishes with McLaren happen? Here is his complete finishing record for 2007:


Alonso will presumably continue to take pot-shots at McLaren until his non-disclosure agreement runs out (whenever that may be).

But I still don’t believe he had inferior equipment to Hamilton last year. More likely, just as Dennis preferred Prost to Lauda, and Hakkinen to Coulthard, Alonso probably found Dennis was more interested in his protege Hamilton. That, combined with how close Hamilton was running him on the track, instilled a certain level of paranoia in him.

What do you make of Alonso’s latest remarks?

More on Alonso and McLaren

57 comments on “Fernando Alonso criticises McLaren again”

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  1. Gosh, for once Keith, I have to commend you for a balanced and accurate take on things. Yes, I think both drivers have absolutely equal equipment and chance to win races, but as Ron is a human being, he has his preferences of character. Alonso had his nose put out of joint because he wasn’t the favourite with the boss. Well boo hoo, I think I would have preferred Lewis too, than that sulky prima donna who didn’t like to lose to a rookie. I am now officially a huge LH fan, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t see that Ron probably preferred Lewey as a person and driver to Alonso, but who could blame him? I get the impression that Ron is trying his best to welcome Heikki to the team and treat him the same as Lewis as him and Whitmarsh are continually making positive noises about him. I hope that doesn’t end up impeding the man who has most chance, Lewis, in getting the title this year. And it is probably easier to like Heikki than Alonso anyway.

    The others who have moaned about Ron in the past were probably the ones that Ron didn’t like as much also, but you never hear a complaint about lack of equal equipment.

    If you see the way Briatore treated Kovaleinen last year, and how I bet Nelson Piquet is treated this year as the DEFINITE non-favourite, I find it quite amusing that no-one is calling him for it. It seems on forums and the F1 media that McLaren, Ron Dennis and Lewis are in the firing line all the time for things other teams and drivers do, but other teams and drivers just are not scrutinised and criticised in the same way. Well if that is the result of being the most professional, exciting and brilliant things in F1 today, I suppose it’s worth it.

    But thanks for a good take on the situation. I just wish Alonso would shut his mouth and move away to Outer Mongolia or somewhere similarly distant.

  2. Phil B,

    In my view, champions are those who can win against all odds. I most certainly believe that Lewis is an unbelievably supremely talented driver. One, who by the end of his career, has in him to be remembered as the greatest but…….hes gotta do it first.

    Winning is great. From the front does the job aswell. But its when you win against adversity, when your back is against the ropes, thats what really matters. I’m not saying that Lewis can’t do that, he certainly can. But till now, whenever hes started low down, he hasnt really climbed up too much. Compared to what?? in recent memory: Suzuka 2005

    Seeing Lewis’s three-pit stop drive in Turkey was proof enough that he certainly has it in him to achieve such feats. He did not win there, but that was an amazing exhibition of his talent and character.

    In comparison to Alonso. Well, Fernando is a double world champion. So no comparison for now.

  3. Phil B. Please, calm yourself. Should I call you “troll”?

  4. Samuel, I actually think if it wasn’t for Alonso’s whining, asking for supervisors, shopping his team to the FIA, etc, last year, Lewis would have won the title fair and square. As it was, Kimi was handed it by the poor decisions of the team caused by the Alonso distractions.

    I would love to see Alonso in a Ferrari and to see Lewis crush his sorry ass (that’s if he didn’t go to Outer Mongolia which I would still prefer).

  5. Robert Mckay
    6th August 2008, 16:45

    I think Alonso should change the record and quit whining. It’s a bit embarrassing for a double world champion, to be honest.

  6. Phil, I understand Lewis was 2nd, and Fernando was 3rd. I knew that. But ending with the same points or even with a little difference for me is a draw, or at least I would not say that a driver beat the other “fair and square”.

    What I recall about last year is two drivers very closely matched. I don’t remember Lewis nor Fernando being as much as 1sec faster than the other, while Lewis has been that faster than Heikki this year. Here you are a comparison between them race by race. I don’t recall every race, but it somewhat agrees with what I remember.

    Your point about Lewis not knowing some circuits its valid. But also is that he had some advantages at qualifying, and there were some questionable decissions by the FIA (Hungary could have given up to 7 points for Alonso compared with Hamilton) so I found hard to say that any of the three maximum scorers was much better than any of the other both(I’m not saying that Kimi did not deserve the title).

  7. And Hamilton had raced two years with what Bridgestones says that its a racing tyre, while Fernando was fully smashing those pretty good Michelin tyres.

  8. So apparently, by Ron Dennis’ own admission, Lewis doesn’t have “the right values and values that are not lodged solely and exclusively in your own motives, your own objectives and your own selfishness”, given how he refused to let Alonso get past him during qualifying in Hungary or during the race at Indianapolis, when Alonso was clearly much faster than him.

    As far as his statement that “you could talk to any driver that has driven for McLaren and you will not find anyone – save for one – who will not verify that this team always runs on the basis of equality”, we should ask Montoya, Coulthard or Prost what they think about that. I have a feeling they might not fully agree.

    I can appreciate how McLaren may try to provide similar treatment to both drivers, but the fact of the matter is that perfect equality is simply just not possible. And Ron knows it full well.

  9. Samuel, my use of the phrase ‘fair and square’ was meant to convey that the result was achieved without resorting to nefarious means. In this case I beleive it is appropriate. It was not a comment on the magnitude of the victory.

    With regards to your point about them being closely matched: I actually agree. I did not say that Lewis trounced Alonso, nor demolished him. I simply said that he beat him. The difference was very very small but nonetheless it does exist and it is in Lewis’ favour.

    As to which of the 3 were MUCH better than the others? Well that is to delve into the depths of a semantic argument that I will avoid, we will only end up arguing about how much is much. What is obvious is that Kimi (in different machinery) beat Lewis who in turn (in the same machinery) beat Alonso. What I read from this is that the Lewis/Kimi comparison is the only still unanswered.

    Regardless, I think we can agree that the chances of seeing Lewis and Fernando in the same team again for a re-match are slim to none.

  10. Hasn´t Lewis raced with this TYRES in GP2 and Formula Renault?… C´mon, Archy. In GP2 we have SLICK TYRES, what completely flaw this theory…

    Just look what the drivers have said about the difference of Bridgestone slick tyres to the current tyres on pre tests to 2009 season. The cars seem mucho more drivable and under control in curves than the current ones…

    What could be worst? Adapt a driving style to a different tyre but with the same concept in his manufacturing (Michelin to Bridgestone in Formula 1) or adapt a driving style to a completely different tyre, aerodynamics characteristics (much more instable and nervous!), horse power, tyre, car load, brake power etc?

    I think it is easy to answer…

  11. michael counsell
    6th August 2008, 18:03

    No doubt Alonso enjoyed finishing 4th ahead of Hamilton’s 5th.

  12. Another Alonso comment from the radio interview that makes no sense:

    “…Next year there could be changes, but I’ve never seen a car that’s fighting at the back one year then sweep the field the next”

    2006 McLaren MP4-21: 110 constructor points, 0 wins, 9 podiums.

    2007 McLaren MP4-22: 203-218 theoretical constructor points, 8 wins, 24 podiums.

    And that season had a change to Bridgestones that should have *hurt* McLaren

  13. The thing that bothers me is that this argument is about McLaren not being equal where I think Alonso’s problem was with McLaren being equal. Alonso did not want equality, he wanted to have preferential treatment.

    I don’t see how equality in a team can be achieved when you have two drivers that are evenly matched and spiting hairs every race. Somebody has got to get the better race strategy and Hamilton was the one that Ron liked more. It makes perfect sense, almost all of it. Alonso’s frustration is justified, Ron Denis is justified (it’s his team, he had to pick one), and Hamilton was just doing his “job” . What really added to the heat was the espionage scandal.

    Also it was news to me that there is a rumor that Alonso could have been fired on the spot at Hungary. That would justify his threats towards Ron and McL.

  14. Brendan, Alonso’s comment makes perfect sense in the context of the example you provided.

    In 2006, McLaren ended in third place in the constructor’s championship, scorede points in every race save for Indianapolis and, as you said, earned 9 podium finishes.

    I would argue that, while surely not up to McLaren standards, that kind of performance hardly qualifies as “fighting at the back”.

  15. Becken, I think it’s more difficult to switch from Michelins to Bridgestones than to change between current dry tyres and slick tyres, both of them of the same manufacturer. I’ve read that what makes the difference is how the flank of the tyre is constructed, being a crucial factor of how much twist the tyre can support. Bridgestones can’t support as much twisting as the Michelins. You could see drivers like Webber, Alonso, Kubica and others hard turners struggling through the whole season to make their drivings softer. Hami simply found that the grip limit was closer and blurred.

  16. Ahh well… this whole sad saga makes me think of Juan Pablo Montoya’s sudden exit from McLaren. It seems to me we will never really no what and why and how in many of these cases until autobiographies from all the relevant parties are published… and even still some reading between the lines will no doubt be needed.

    p.s – great article Keith

  17. I think we can all agree that if not for the last two races of last year, Lewis Hamilton would have been the 2007 F1 WDC. He was 14 points ahead of Alonso and 19 points ahead of Raikkonen going into Shanghai, indicating a clear gap in performance and consistency between Lewis and the other two over the entirety of the season up to that point. I think Hamilton was clearly faster than Alonso the whole year, scoring 6 poles to Alonso’s 2. As experts such as Peter Windsor have noted, Hamilton definitely handled the McLaren and the Bridgestone Control tires better than Alonso, who did not do an adequate job of adjusting his driving style to life without the grippy Renault front end and the Michelin Sticky tires.

    Who is the better driver? I personally think that Lewis is naturally quicker and has a preferable driving style, with an “smoothly aggressive” corner entry, linear braking, smooth steering input, and linear throttle application on exit. Alonso is harsh with the car, aggressively entering with a late turn-in and harshly applying braking, shifting, and steering inputs, effectively slinging the car through the corner. Alonso will be faster through the apex, but Hamilton will be faster on exit. I do think both drivers have equal car control skills, both of which having some of the very best that Formula 1 has ever seen, and both are very good in the wet. The advantage that Alonso does have over Hamilton at this point is his skill as a car developer, but this comes with experience and application, and there’s no reason why Hamilton can develop this skill to be on par with Alonso.

  18. Paige – Didn’t Raikkonen, Massa and Alonso have any mechanical issues, crashes etc. that cost them points in the season too? To speculate about the last two races costing Hamilton the championship is pointless (pun intended). Using this reasoning, I could argue that the only reason Hamilton was in front going into China was because of Kimi, Fred and Phil’s problems earlier in the season.

    A point about Alonso’s whining. Does anyone care to remember that he’s not ringing the press to make these statements. He is answering questions put to him by journalists. Sure, he could reply with “I’m not going to answer that”, but then he would just be tarred with the arrogant brush, same as Schumi was. He says these things because he is asked repeatedly about the events in 2007. Understandable from my point of view that he would start making inaccurate answers after being asked for probably the thousandth time. Let’s take this into account please.

  19. You people are never happy ! You complain that Kimi is monosybillic and never says anything interesting, yet complain when Alonso or Webber or DC does !

    I think it’s fair to say that no matter what Alonso says or doesn’t say about McLaren/Ron Dennis/Lewis Hamilton he will be pilloried by the British press.
    And (mostly) so ad hominem.

    And let’s just remember, shall we, who complained FIRST about equality at McLaren? A certain comment at Monaco springs to mind…..
    Funny how that gets forgotten in all of the maelstrom.

  20. I think seeing Kovalainen win in Hungary reminded Alonso of last year, and that that could have been him if he had stayed at McLaren.
    I personally think that he regrets leaving McLaren on the grounds that the car was so good last year, and pretty handy this year, for a team that is far from its best. For one moment, I don’t believe he misses Ron Dennis or Lewis Hamilton, but he misses the car and the ability to challenge for race wins.
    Kovalainen benefitted hugely from last year’s episode with Alonso, and the relationship he has with McLaren is starting to bear fruit.
    From the outside, McLaren look far more relaxed than they have for years, probably since the days of Mika Hakkinen. There is a balance there, an understanding.
    If Alonso could have done what Raikkonen did, and leave McLaren for Ferrari last year, he would have been as happy as a pig in his own slop. He would have the car he desired, and the opportunity to ‘suck it’ to Ron Dennis and his protege.
    That is not going to happen in a Renault or a Honda, not for a while atleast.
    If I was Alonso, I would try to remind people about the positives and not the negatives. Last year is history, it doesn’t matter anymore, not if he wants to be a three time world champion it doesn’t!

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