Fernando Alonso criticises McLaren again

2008 F1 season

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:

2-1-5-3-1-7-2-7-2-1-4-3-1-3-Crash-2-3

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?

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57 comments on Fernando Alonso criticises McLaren again

  1. michael counsell said on 6th August 2008, 18:03

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

  2. Brendan said on 6th August 2008, 18:41

    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

  3. Polak said on 6th August 2008, 18:42

    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.

  4. Alex said on 6th August 2008, 19:16

    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”.

  5. Architrion said on 6th August 2008, 19:28

    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.

  6. Chaz said on 6th August 2008, 20:58

    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

  7. Paige said on 6th August 2008, 23:58

    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.

  8. Toby said on 7th August 2008, 0:49

    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.

  9. 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.

  10. the limit said on 7th August 2008, 3:40

    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!

  11. Paige said on 7th August 2008, 4:43

    Toby,

    I disagree with your premise. Raikkonen had only two non-points finishes all year (Spain, Nurburgring) going into Shanghai, and Alonso had only one (Fuji), the same as Hamilton (Nurb). Raikkonen’s non-points finish at Spain was due to suspension, and his nonpoints finish at Nurb was due to hydraulics. Hamilton had the wheel gun failure in qualifying and the tire puncture on the first lap at Nurb. Alonso just screwed up at Fuji. So in terms of problems and bad finishes, the three drivers were pretty much square. Given this, Hamilton plain outperformed the other two throughout the season heading into Shanghai.

  12. Freeman said on 7th August 2008, 4:59

    Honestly, I was a huge Alonso fan in his winning days. He was the one to de-throne Schumacher in his peak form, and showing much flair and skills on the track.

    But all my respect for Fernando was lost the moment he quit Renault looking for “a new challenge”. Is that how you repay your team after winning 2 titles? So much for building a winning team around you.

    Then at McLaren when he couldn’t cope with being beaten by a rookie, all hell broke loose. Instead of earning the respect from McLaren, he thinks respect is granted with his 2 titles, and that is just wrong. If I were Ron Dennis, having known countless talented drivers, I’d do the same because drivers don’t just drive the car fast, he needs to lead the team, or at least nurture a good working atmosphere.

    And my lost of respect for Fernando doesn’t end even now. Look at how he now publicly critisize Renault when they’re down, and looking for other drives in not-so-discretely manner.

    If he goes to Ferrari, it’s music to my ears. I’ll be looking forward to see Massa consistently beating him, then Fernando throws all his toys around to wreck the Red team. If I am boss of Ferrari, I’d much rather sign Kubica than Fernando.

  13. zeus said on 7th August 2008, 7:22

    Comon guys, Hamilton is my fav driver now, but he has only beaten Alonso once, and that’s not the end of the world for Alonso.

    Do you rate Vilneuve better than Hill or Senna better than Prost just beacuse they beat their teammate once?

    Heidfield beat both Ferrari dirvers Raikkenon and Massa in the same team. I guess Ferrari is kinda dump to not sign Heidfield huh? On the other hand Webber had beaten Heidfield, so with the same equipment Webber could have beaten Raikkenon for the title in 07 right?

    Although Alonso has done nothing spectacular this season, he is still quite young and has a lot of chances to prove he is the better than Hamilton. Let’s wait til the ends of their careers and we will have a clearer picture.

  14. Is there a reason for Alonso to suddenly start taking pot-shots at Big Ron again? Maybe both Ferrari and Honda have refused to take him on in the future and yet again he is blaming McLaren for his ill fortune? Or is he just bored with nothing else to do? (Such as help make the Renault a better car or support his team-mate).
    Of course there are many reasons why certain members in a team get more support than others – you wouldn’t think it unnatural in soccer or cricket would you? So why all this baloney about what happens in a racing team?
    Pay attention to the current BTCC races – and especially the top teams SEAT and Vauxhall – they both have a definite team leader out of 3 cars each, but the other drivers have as much chance of winning races and winning the championship as the leader. Are you all saying that the same thing isn’t happening in GP2 and F1 as well? This isn’t team politics, this is the reality of racing….
    As for the comments about Ron’s style of leadership – I agree its about time we picked up on how the likes of Jean Todt, Flavio Briatore and Frank Williams have treated their drivers in the past (including World Champions).
    Also #42 Freeman – that is what I think about him too, he is in danger of losing it big time at Ferrari, and they will just drop him if he doesn’t say and do the right things.
    And I have to comment on #6 Milos ‘McLaren are great team, they build great cars almost every year, but when was the last time they won any title …’ – ahem! Please check your history books and you will find that there was a whole decade when Mclaren and Willims were thoroughly beating the red cars, with McLaren usually beating Williams! (Apart from the years when they dominated the Indy 500, Can-Am racing and
    Le Mans of course!)

  15. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 7th August 2008, 10:15

    Samuel: “McLaren could enlighten this mess publishing team radio records.” I agree and I think it’s a good example why the teams should be forced to make all of their radio transmissions public.

    S Hughes: “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.” Good point. I don’t thik Kovalainen’s given a single interview this year when he hasn’t been asked about his status at McLaren, yet no-one seems to bother asking Piquet.

    Architron (23) – Can we not resort to name-calling please I don’t want to have to start deleting comments.

    Comment from Marc moved here: Massa loses Hungary win to Kovalainen (2008 Hungarian Grand Prix review

    Pink Peril – “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’d always far rather have drivers like Alonso and Webber speaking their minds.

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