Dennis: ‘Alonso underestimated Hamilton’

2007 F1 season

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, 2007

Ron Dennis has given his explanation for the the fierce rivalry that broke out between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton when the pair were team mates at McLaren three years ago.

Speaking with Bernie Ecclestone in an interview for F1.com Dennis said:

It was very simple – Alonso didn’t expect Hamilton to be that competitive in his first year.

He told me at the beginning that it was my decision to sign a rookie like Hamilton, but that it could cost me the constructors’ championship.

Fernando was calculating everything, but not that Lewis would challenge him. That affected him massively.
Ron Dennis

He added his relationship with the two drivers had been more “fatherly” compared to what had gone before with drivers like Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost:

When I started as a team owner I was younger than my driver, Graham Hill, so he showed me the ropes.

With Lauda, Senna and Prost I had a sort of comradely relationship – it was again age related.

With Hamilton and Alonso it was more of a fatherly tie. Prost and Senna were completely different in their backgrounds and character. They eyed each other suspiciously and didn’t trust each other. I let their track rivalry happen.
Ron Dennis

Dennis also denied it was difficult for him to give up control of his team last year after two decades in charge and described new team principal Martin Whitmarsh as “the perfect successor”.

Read more: F1 2007 season review: Hamilton vs Alonso

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61 comments on Dennis: ‘Alonso underestimated Hamilton’

  1. AlonsoWDC said on 7th July 2010, 9:48

    I have nothing to add here, I’m sure this article will gather more than a few replies, I think it’s unremarkable.

    I would like to point out that I just now (last week) found out about this F1.com interview series with Bernie. A lot of interesting moments.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 7th July 2010, 16:11

      For one thing, this must be the first time Ron Dennis actually admitted and reacted to having managed Senna and Prost wrongly, even though he still seems reluctant to admit he was not managing the Alonso/Hamilton relation the best way he could have for the interest of the team.

      Also Ron confirms that even Withmarsh was a bit supprised to find himself as the team principal at that presentation.

      A pretty interesting inverview, better than some of the others on the official F1 site.

      • David BR said on 8th July 2010, 14:37

        Don’t think he admitted managing Senna and Prost wrongly, did he? Just said he let them get on with it.

  2. MarkC said on 7th July 2010, 9:51

    …and by all accounts Ron didn’t help smooth over the cracks compounding a volatile situation!
    For me its interesting that he “…let their track rivalry happen.” seems he did the same with Lewis and Fred.

  3. Dorian said on 7th July 2010, 9:57

    I know I’m gonna get slammed for saying this but I’ve always thought the 2007 ‘saga’ was Dennis’ fault to the greater extent. I’m not saying Alonso was innocent and Hamilton certainly wasn’t innocent either but I believe it went from ‘simmer’ to ‘boil’ (to quote young Mr Hill) due to Dennis’ total mismanagement of the situation.

    I know 90% of people on this site are going to crucify me for saying that as they probably believe it was ALL Alonso……

    I’ve just never believed that to be the case.

    • Todfod said on 7th July 2010, 10:10

      Completely agree with you. It wasn’t all Alonso. Hamilton was disobeying team instructions as well, and Ron just didn’t handle the situation as well as he could.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 7th July 2010, 16:16

        I agree as well. Sure Alonso was taken aback by this wonderrookie Hamilton, and is still not completely over it. Hamilton wanted too much to win (i think his father was pushing here as well) instead of giving Alonso more room to be the dominant guy and learn from him.
        But Ron could and should have acted differently to avoid it boiling over.

        Both drivers have admitted they made mistakes that year recently. I think Ron is not yet ready to say the same for himself (how long did it take with Senna/Prost?)

    • sato113 (@sato113) said on 7th July 2010, 11:21

      yeah I agree with you to an extent. we must also remember that Alonso is hard to manage when upset. he’s very passionate and emotional.

      • Bren said on 7th July 2010, 11:27

        as is lewis. look at the times he has shouted down the team on the radio this year. much more than any other driver.

        • disjunto said on 7th July 2010, 11:50

          Hamilton seems to be emotional in the moment, Alonso seems to be emotional for the week after the moment ;)

          • sato113 (@sato113) said on 7th July 2010, 21:29

            couldn’t have put it better myself. he’s still upset about 2007 probably and that was 3 years ago!

          • iceman said on 7th July 2010, 23:25

            disjunto……good one !!

          • Jean said on 9th July 2010, 7:26

            I think Alonslow will be happier beating Hamilton to a close fought WDC more than he will enjoy winning another WDC itself , that’s how much he wants his revenge on Hamilton. btw both great drivers , which we all know , and that’s also why they clashed so spectacularly at a team with the best car in that year.

        • CapeFear said on 7th July 2010, 13:18

          That’s simply because Lewis shouts without much profanity, they never air moaning with swear words anymore.

        • PJA said on 7th July 2010, 13:48

          We may have heard Hamilton shout down the team radio more than any other driver but we don’t hear every transmission for every driver.

          They are more likely to broadcast clips featuring the top drivers or those at the front of the race as there will be more interest in those clips.

          Also they have to decide if it is suitable to broadcast, as has already been mentioned some will contain swear words, or may not be in English.

          I can’t really recall drivers really shouting down the radio, they have to speak louder than usual because an F1 car is a noisy place, and of course sometimes the drivers are upset when they are speaking to their team.

          • Bertie said on 9th July 2010, 14:59

            Digressing a little, I don’t understand why they don’t use the microphones (or whatever they are called) that attached to your throat and just amplify your voice box like the army use. It would mean you wouldn’t have to shout over the engine.

    • BBQ2 said on 7th July 2010, 12:45

      Well, Dorian if you employ someone and he tells you it would be your fault if you did not win the main prize because you employed a rookie and if this rookie turns out to be a challenge for this employee, would you still help him out? I guess not.

      BTW, this really confirmed what we were all guessing all these years that Alonso was taken unaware by LH ;-)

      The spy-saga, team order disobedience at Hungary, the Spa and Brazil blocking by Alonso were just the result of that aftershock.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 7th July 2010, 16:19

        As a pretty experienced manager and team leader (self praise!) i certainly would support the experienced guy i pay a lot to excell and make me win and listen to his ideas, while guiding the Rookie to use his talents as best as he can as well without giving him everything he wants.

    • miguelF1O (@) said on 7th July 2010, 17:43

      i agree entirely with you ron dennis made his choices consequently proved mistakes mclaren really wanted an british champ sure ham as the material to be a wch but please mclaren pulled some strings and tricks and are damaging the sports image dont know if they are guilty or not but everyone things so

    • PT (@pt) said on 10th July 2010, 15:52

      I’m totally with you. It’s also true that it was Hamilton who first complained at Monaco that Alonso was being favored. He began publicly whining first, not Alonso.

  4. tactical said on 7th July 2010, 10:18

    Yeah Dennis, yeah. Whatever…

    A new quote of real truth to be used endlessly in british forums for the coming years.

    Of course Alonso should’ve been surprised at the first moment with Hamilton speed. Anyone, not only Alonso would have thought the same. What followed after was a completely different story…

    But events are favouring Dennis (Alonso being passionate again after facing another ‘correct’ decission now from stewards, it doesn’t matter he’s right or not, truth is not important nowadays) and he has chosen, surprise, to ‘release’ this info right now.

    Yeah Dennis. Smart again…

    Cheers.

    • Dianna said on 7th July 2010, 23:03

      Not smart~~ the phrase is political F1 deceipt!!
      Alonso is such a passionate upper class snob,but I like him:)

  5. Lesly said on 7th July 2010, 11:21

    I believe Ron over you armchair experts. he’s been in the game for longer than most and knows a thing or two about drivers rivalry

    • Bren said on 7th July 2010, 11:32

      yeah he openly admits he was lewis father figure. he tries to claim being a father figure to fernando yet it was said at the time he didnt speak to fernando after august of 07 (so a bad father then)

      so despite him openly saying he is a father figure to lewis. people will still claim the team wasnt in favour of lewis lol.

      i dont blame lewis for that the oppisite in fact. he was smart to take advantage of the situation and to stir it in such away that alonso had to leave. it was that brilliant tactics that allowed him to battle for title in 08 without a challenging team mate. which he won cos he lost no points from the otherside of the garage.

      • KNF said on 7th July 2010, 12:58

        Now I wonder how Ron approached his relationship with DC and JPM, he also had a falling out with Kimi in 2006 after that brief love-in in 2005…

      • Phil said on 7th July 2010, 19:05

        The team did not favour either driver, they were on equal terms. They might have favoured Gonzo if he had`nt put his foot in his mouth at the start. And he engineered his exit from McLaren all by himself.

  6. Aetost said on 7th July 2010, 11:32

    Half of Mclaren’s legacy (for my generation at least) is 2 red&white cars crashing into each other… Having 2 top drivers competing for championship supremacy in your team is always a good thing. You may lose the odd title, but the publicity is always huge. The fact that people are still discussing the Senna/Prost affair is proof.

  7. antonyob said on 7th July 2010, 11:34

    yes quite Lesly!

    Personally ive always admired Mclaren and teams like Williams who let their drivers get on with it and the consequences be damned. Letting drivers race is fundamental to those teams and Alonso certainly underestimated that.

    Alonso lost any credibility a long time ago with his actions, a great driver, a poor human being. But you have to say Senna had some of these traits also and Prost, just maybe in an age when less was known about what really went on.

    • Gagan said on 8th July 2010, 4:35

      “HUman Being”. Why do we all use this phrase here ? Grow up guys. Drivers arent saints. They are here to win and when they dont, they are allowed to voice their disappointment/feelings. THe only wrong thing Alonso did was unnderestimating Hamilton. And all other things he did was TIT FOR TAT. I respect Ham for his talent and Alo for his determination and bluntness

  8. Eric said on 7th July 2010, 12:51

    best thing that ever happened was Alonso going to Ferrari, lets see how many times he can beat Hamilton now.

    as for Ron Dennis, if it wasn’t for Ron and another couple of friends we would not even have a Formula 1 team called McLaren.

    • Todfod said on 7th July 2010, 13:02

      As an Alonso fan, I wish I could agree with your statement, but I just cannot.

      McLaren and Alonso would have been an unbeatable combination. The best development engineers coupled with a great developer/driver such as Alonso would see them murder the competition.

      Ferrari just doesn’t seem to have the competency and innovative thought that they had at the beginning of the decade.

      • BBQ2 said on 7th July 2010, 13:15

        By innovation you mean the discover of the wheel cover?….. ;-)

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 7th July 2010, 16:23

          And all those things developed in the background and silently banned like flexible rear wings, amazing gearbox and engine features, who knows what kind of suspension things and intensive cooperation with Bridgestone to get the tyres to suit them. Not to forget interesting tactical use of the rulebook as well as the technical part.

          Not a big fan of them, but i do acknowledge they were pretty good at the time

      • Dianna said on 8th July 2010, 14:24

        Yes Tod,for once I agree with you.BUT!! you would choke rather than say why Ferrari have lost the competency and innovative thoughts to quote you above!!
        The reason is,to make it easier on you,a certain driver left them,his initials are MSC.Now don’t choke over your tea!!!!

    • Phil said on 7th July 2010, 19:10

      I don`t get that, its a bit like saying without Enzo & Co there would be no Ferrari

      • dragon said on 9th July 2010, 11:37

        can’t reply, i’m choking on my tea

        *gasps* Alonso…will…

        *splutters* …win…

        the WDC

        ;)

  9. Ned Flanders (@ned-flanders) said on 7th July 2010, 13:14

    I know that Ron Dennis isn’t exactly the most likable of F1 figures- I’m not a huge fan myself even though McLaren are my favourite team- but that doesn’t mean that he’s wrong.

    Of course Alonso didn’t expect Hamilton to be so quick in his debut season? Who did?! Of course that rattled Alonso- no double World Champion is going to be happy being beaten by a rookie.

    Like he says, it’s quite simple

  10. antonyob said on 7th July 2010, 13:16

    perhaps hes past his best? no one says “alonso is worth half a second” anymore. Its tough on track now, before it was just beat Michael, now its beat Lewis, Jenson, Vettel, Webber, Kubica. All drivers capable of beating MS in his prime and all very capable of beating Alonso

    • Todfod said on 7th July 2010, 14:04

      I agree with Lewis, Jenson, Vettel and Kubica beating Schumacher at his prime, but I could only see Hamilton out of that list capable of beating Alonso… and maybe Kubica.

  11. Greetings,

    This is further evidence that Ron Dennis is a nice man as well as being successful. finn
    His nice guy image was previously displayed with the original flying finn, Mika Hakkinen.
    Mika nearly died in 1 of Rons cars. Ron stood by Mika, for all those years. Mika delivered Ron 2 WDC`s and constructors titles. It took Mika years, and years to finally deliver a win. Mika nearly died after an incident, and with the help of the Mclaren team Mika delivered in 1998, then AGAIN in 1999. I miss the flying finn in action. His replacement .
    Kimi, was not an equal. Just a stand in.
    Big up

  12. Malcom said on 7th July 2010, 18:07

    After Lewis beat Fernando at Bahrain, the storm clouds were starting to gather. The following race was the Spanish GP, and hoping for an edge, Fernando persuaded Mclaren to exclude Lewis from any scheduled test sessions for the up-coming Spanish GP at Catalunya. That exclusion didn’t help Fernando, because he still lost to Lewis.

  13. DaveW said on 7th July 2010, 18:56

    It is a shame that the drama of 2007 has caused people to forget Alonso’s incredible performances that year, e.g., Nurburgring. He had an amazing year, but people still talk more of his feats with the lousy Renaults the next two years. I’m sure he lays this injury at Hamilton’s feet as well.

  14. sumedh said on 7th July 2010, 19:10

    I think Ron Dennis has got hit wrong here.

    In my opinion, Alonso over-estimated the support he was going to get from the Mclaren team. The equal driver policy was perhaps the biggest shock he had. I guess he was surprised that he wasn’t the number 1 driver on a team in spite of being the only World Champion on the other grid. And so was I. Ron Dennis should have given Alonso no.1 status in his first year atleast.

    I do not doubt Hamilton’s talents at all. He is definitely better than Alonso in terms of raw skills. But a year of being an apprentice to Alonso would have done him a world of good. For starters, he would not have gone win-less for 6 races in 2010.

    • judo chop said on 7th July 2010, 19:51

      Are you serious? Why be an “apprentice” to anyone when you can challenge for the title? Drivers don’t owe each other nowt unless it’s a Schumacher/Barrichello situation. Rookies are not obliged to play second fiddle to veterans nor veterans play mentor to rookies. Prost didn’t get preferential treatment over Senna despite already being an established champion so why should Alonso expect preferential treatment that Prost, Lauda, Hakkinen and even Senna didn’t get. If Alonso hadn’t started whingeing he might already have been a 4 x world champion.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 7th July 2010, 20:13

      The equal driver policy was perhaps the biggest shock he had.

      If it was it shouldn’t have been – they’d been practising it for decades before he arrived.

      • sumedh said on 8th July 2010, 2:04

        You should also appreciate the background from which Alonso was coming from.

        2-time World Champion, just defeated the great Michael Schumacher in equal machinery in a tensely fought year. Coming from a team like Renault where he was Flavio’s golden boy and number 1 driver of the team every weekend, he was a pampered driver.

        In 2007, he was the only Drivers’ Champion on the grid. And he was paired against a rookie. Not just Alonso, but any other driver would have expected to be automatically no. 1 in such a team. Any other team would have automatically made Alonso their number 1 driver. But Alonso was in the one team that didn’t!!

        I feel Alonso’s expectations of the Mclaren team (although pretty high and bordering on the unreasonable) were what any driver’s would be if he were in Alonso’s shoes.

        And you would have thought that perhaps Ron Dennis had learnt some driver management skills himself after he made the same mistake 20 years back. He himself let the Senna-Prost rivalry simmer within the team. Ron did not lose either the constructors or drivers title then, but he did end up lose the driver’s title this year.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 8th July 2010, 12:13

          The Briatore point is interesting. Singapore ’08 certainly showed the lengths he was prepared to go to keep Alonso happy. But if Alonso’s expectations of McLaren were unrealistic because he was used to that unusual degree of preferential treatment, it’s hardly McLaren’s fault.

          • P. Rippon said on 8th July 2010, 12:46

            Agreed Keith but from Alonso’s perspective with Hamilton being trumpeted in the press as Ron’s aprentice and the shock of his speed from the first practice session together,he just could not accept that things were equal. Hence the initial suspicion and eventual bitterness and blowup. Who knows -maybe before Alonso signed Ron talked to him about “coaching Lewis”!!

  15. Phil said on 7th July 2010, 19:16

    Im sure he does, but what exactly did Hamilton do wrong ? Being born ? Being quick ? Alonso needs to get over it and accept that he caused the disaster that was 2007, nobody else.

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