2008 F1 season
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.
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.
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.
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?
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