Ron Dennis on how the Hamilton-Alonso row compared to Senna and Prost

2009 F1 season

McLaren boss Ron Dennis gave the annual Watkins lecture at Autosport International yesterday. He was interviewed at length by veteran commentator Murray Walker for around an hour.

One of the most interesting moments came when he discussed how he managed the rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in 2007, and how it compared to the the infamous Ayrton Senna-Alain Prost battle of 1988-1989. Here’s what he had to say.

Every single driver that has driven for McLaren – including the most controversial drivers – I have striven and pretty much succeeded in all cases that they have become my friends. I think that when you spend so much time with these people and you ask so much of each other if you don’t have friendship you don’t have the base.

Now, what balances off friendship is of course the competitiveness that these individuals have. So that’s constantly in conflict. So how do you be come a really good friend and handle the inevitable ‘I want the best, I want this, look after me, favour me’? That’s difficult.

So, coming back to your question, they have all become friends. Even the drivers who left under a cloud, those clouds tend to disappear over a period of time and friendship is re-kindled.

Asked “If Fernando [Alonso] comes walking down the corridor now you’re going to say, ‘hello Fernando, nice to see you again’?” Dennis replied:

Yes I would.

You understand why people do things and where they’re from and it’s important. Would I be able to eliminate in my mind the negativity that he caused to everyone, no, of course not. But I mean that’s… you’ve got to be the bigger person.

Latetr Walker asked him: “You had two particularly difficult driver relationships: Senna and Prost, and Hamilton and Alonso. You had four brilliant drivers on your hands, any of them could have won races, but how did you cope with their competitiveness?”

Dennis’s answer gave insight into how he tries to operate a system of equality at McLaren:

It’s obviously not easy. You’re dealing with extremely competitive individuals, very different personalities and, on both those occasions, very different cultural backgrounds. And, actually, very different educational backgrounds. The make-up of those particular men was very different.

With Ayrton he totaly lived for Formula 1 and its values. He did share, however, one thing with Alain in that they were both absolute heroes in their countries. They wre the pinnacle not only of their particular sport but also in their countries at that particular time they were the most prominent sporting personalities. They had phenomenal amounts written about them and very clearly, as was the case with Fernando and Lewis, what was written about them varied significantly in their respective countries. So they get built up, they get lots written about them, they get a lot of people talking to them and then they have to find, in their own mind, reasons for not succeeding.

It’s very important for a Grand Prix driver that they understand and, hopefully, believe in themself. And to understand themself they have to totally believe themself. Which means that it’s extremely difficult for them to come to terms with something not being the car or the team’s fault. So when they fail, as they inevitably will because it’s the nature of the sport, all drivers tend to look for some reason for that failure.

If you are as committed as McLaren is to equality you demonstrate equality on a constant basis. For example with Alain he was always very concerned that Ayrton would be favoured by Honda as regards to the engine. So the race engines would be lined up, engine numbers would be written on pieces of paper, put in a hat and they would draw for their engine choice. It was simplistic but the easiest way to ensure that there was no bias on engines.

Once you eliminate these things you end up with human problems. The human problems ultimately come down to “he did this” – just like school kids – “he did that, teacher, I did that, teacher.” And then you have to arbitrate.

And in the end I am tough and the harder you push on me the tougher I get. I make it abundantly clear how it’s going to be and if a driver – and it has happened, not between those four drivers – comes to a point where he can’t accept it then there is no place for him at McLaren.

ITV’s write-up of the lecture contains more of what Dennis had to say.

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38 comments on Ron Dennis on how the Hamilton-Alonso row compared to Senna and Prost

  1. Terry Fabulous said on 10th January 2009, 23:51

    Bravo Ron!
    The man (whom I don’t really like that much) should be lauded for striving to get the best two drivers in his cars at all times.

    This is the man who put Lauda next to Prost, Coulhard next to Hakkinen, Raikkonen next to Montoya. I would far rather this attitude then Michael and Co Driver (Yes YOU Jean Todt, I know you read F1Fanatic!)

  2. Faisal said on 10th January 2009, 23:59

    yes Terry.

    But guess who won 7 championships…

  3. Patrickl said on 11th January 2009, 0:06

    Always nice to get these behind the scenes looks. Although he doesn’t realy say anything new though.

  4. Jonesracing82 said on 11th January 2009, 0:35

    he did win 7 titles, but his teammate with the best record is Nelson Piquet, and h was past his best when they were together!
    Senna, for example beat Prost in the SAME car!
    Schu always (IMH) had 2nd rate team mates!

  5. Who do you think the parting comment is about? Mansell? Montoya?

  6. Jonesracing82 said on 11th January 2009, 4:55

    possibly both

  7. Rod it could be Coulthard aswell, it just took McLaren a long time to realise he wasn’t up to the job.

  8. Arthur954 said on 11th January 2009, 10:45

    Well spoken by Mr.Dennis. You have to respect someone that has the courage to bring the best drivers together in the same team at the same time.
    It is a pity what happened with Alonso : I think a great part of the problem was that Fernando was badly influenced by his entourage (I am not very impressed by them )and the Spanish press, specially the shaved head guy that presents the races on TV.The Spanish press and TV where out there to stir trouble and create conflict, from the beginning, in the belief that they would get more readers and viewers to pay attention.It would infuriate me to see the bald TV guy trying to make Fernando say something nasty, and Fernando would fall for the trap! Please Fernando stay away fron those people for the rest of your career, the only thing they know about is old maid vicious gossip. There is a level of gentleman interaction between people that the tabloid press is not aware of.
    If it was only between Fernado and Ron, it might have been sorted out correctly. McLaren is a historical team and Alonso had the opportunity of being part of history – it is so unfortunate what happened.

  9. melonfarmer said on 11th January 2009, 11:11

    Rod, since Project 4 took over there haven’t been that many drivers.

    The 3 into 2 situation with Montoya could have been handled better, but it needed Kimi to declare his Ferrari option.

    Mansell was a strange one; parking a healthy car (as per Spain ’95) does nothing for reputations (Damon parked in Japan 99 and Marco Andretti parked 2 or 3 times in 2007) and I can only believe the opinion that Mercedes Benz and Marlboro were more keen to see Mansell in the car than Ron was – politics choosing drivers is not a good idea (cf. some of Helmut Marco’s Red Bull selections).

  10. Richard said on 11th January 2009, 11:48

    I think its a shame that alonso didn’t stay on, as we saw between senna and prost it brought the very best of the two drivers, i would have loved to see hamilton and alonso really push each other over say three years, it would have been spectacular.

  11. Jonesracing82 said on 11th January 2009, 12:07

    i think Alonso would have been ’08 champ had he stayed at Macca!
    he makes less errors than Hamo and no1 else stepped up error free for the season in a top car!

    • The Limit said on 11th January 2009, 18:14

      I agree. Fernando Alonso would have been without doubt in the running for last years championship had he stayed at McLaren, but by the end of 2007 the damage inflicted on the ‘relationship’ was just too great.
      Personally, I think the failure of the McLaren/Alonso relationship hurt McLaren far greater than most would realise. Had they not have been excluded from the 2007 constructors championship, they may well have won it, due to the performances overall of both Alonso and Hamilton.
      Now I am getting into choppy waters, as obviously McLaren had in their possession stolen Ferrari papers, but the drivers were doing the business on the circuit.
      For all of the posturing and accusations in 2007, Alonso came within a point of Kimi Raikkonen at the Brazilian Grands Prix, everybit as close as Hamilton did.
      At the beginning of the 2008 season, around the Bahrain race, Hamilton started to show signs of the pressure getting to him. The pressure of being the bookies tip to win the title, just as Alonso had been in 2007.
      I am going to be mighty interested to see how Hamilton reacts in 2009, as the defending champion, in Kimi’s shoes.
      It is often easy to criticise Ron Dennis. The episodes with Montoya and Alonso are just to recent examples. However, the way he runs McLaren is so radically different from the likes of Ferrari, inwhich he is not afraid to take serious risks in choosing high profile drivers.
      I can remember the flak he took in 2002 for choosing Kimi Raikkonen as Hakkinen’s replacement, and how everybody thought that Raikkonen was too inexperienced for the role. They were wrong, Dennis was right.

  12. Robert McKay said on 11th January 2009, 13:49

    I don’t think the comment was aimed at DC. I tend to agree Montoya was probably the intended recipient of it, but who knows for sure?

  13. It wouldn’t surprise me if Michael Andretti in 1993 was another person to whom the comment applied, even Ron wasn’t thinking about him at the time he made that comment.

  14. “If you are as committed as McLaren is to equality”

    Equalty?, Lmao. Hamilton is the #1 driver and Heiki his helper. With ferrari there are 2 eaqual drivers, they get each a chance. With McLaren, where they say the are threathing them equal, they have 1 driver and 1 helper.

  15. Too Good said on 11th January 2009, 15:58

    Keith – McLaren & Ethos :-? :ROFL:

    I had immense respect for Ron and McLaren till 2005, Given the way the team wrapped up 2006 campaign in winter of 2005 on back of signing FA, tells a lot about the team in general and Ron in Particular. Imagine a front running team turns up for first race of season with incorrectly mapped engine (and then they force the driver to use it next race as well) I can understand a minardi not able to give driver a car for Free Practice, but only track time their driver could get was Qualifier onwards doesn’t tell great about Ethos of the team :)

    Ron comparing Prost-Senna and LH-Alonso is like comparing apples to oranges, in latter case given that one driver was his “Pet project” clearly is case of conflicting interests. I guess best response Ron Should have had above is No comments next question

    • one driver was his “Pet project” clearly is case of conflicting interests

      Very much true, and thats why Hamilton had an easy 2007 season. Just copy the data and setup from Alonso and go with it.
      Sit back and relax on friday, let Alonso do the hard work.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th January 2009, 20:58

      Remember Hamilton had never raced at quite a few of those tracks until 2007.

      As for using Alonso’s setup data, so what? It’s not illegal or anything. It’s rather flawed to say that Hamilton did a poor job because he used Alonso’s setups…and then beat him with them.

      I think this idea that he ‘nicked Alonso’s setups’ owes more to computer games than reality. In the real world setup decisions often come down to personal handling preference rather than the hunt for a ‘perfect setup’.

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