Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: BlackJack’sBriefs
Editors note: This article was submitted as an OTD however, after reviewing it, it was felt that it warrants to be moved to a feature article.
On 5th August 2007 . . . Lewis Hamilton takes his third win and 10th podium finish of his debut season at the Hungarian Grand Prix. McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso finished second and the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen completed the top three – interesting that the same three drivers are still at the top of the heap along with, of course, newcomer, Vettel.
However there was controversy during qualifying when Alonso deliberately waited in the pit box to prevent Hamilton from changing his tyres and completing his final flying lap in Q3, denying him the chance to take pole position. But Hamilton had the last laugh as Alonso was given a five-place grid penalty, handing pole to the Englishman.
Alonso had remained stationary in the McLaren pit for just long enough to delay his team-mate, and the provisional pole sitter, to prevent Lewis from doing another ‘hot lap’… and Alonso went on to claim pole. McLaren boss, Ron Dennis, asserted the team had got “out of sequence” when Hamilton did not allow Alonso to pass earlier in the qualifying session.
As well as Alonso’s subsequent five-place grid penalty his McLaren team were docked the 15 constructors’ World Championship points they would later earn in the race, the stewards punishing Alonso, ‘for baulking Hamilton,’ and McLaren, ‘for failing to provide an adequate explanation of what happened.’
Alonso now found himself at the centre of an acrimonious dispute with the McLaren team with opinion divided over whether he was the instigator or the victim, depending (allegedly) on whether you were Spanish or British. There were signs early in the season that Alonso was unhappy with rookie Hamilton’s early run of success and he became increasingly vocal with his demands that the team concentrate on backing his title bid, even as Hamilton took the lead in the championship.
Clearly ‘rattled’ by Hamilton’s supreme talent, Fernando began to believe that the team was favouring the English youngster. Though every effort was made to convince everyone that all was rosy, nobody was fooled, and the situation deteriorated. Hungary was thus the beginning of the end, as Fernando began a cold war within the team, apparently never talking to Ron Dennis again.
Meanwhile, the ‘spy-gate’ saga was due to raise it’s ugly head and on the Sunday morning in Hungary, it was later revealed, Fernando had threatened to use incriminating e-mails which showed McLaren’s role in the spying affair should it not give him outright number one status. Not a man to accept blackmail lightly, Dennis went straight to the FIA himself.
The resultant FIA investigation, revealed some McLaren team members, including Alonso, were aware of confidential Ferrari information. This information had been passed to Alonso by McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa who had received it from McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan.
The emails contained text suggesting Alonso was surprised, and doubted its authenticity, but it was clear that Alonso knew about Ferrari’s pit strategies for Australia and Bahrain. In a televised interview Dennis claimed there had been an argument, and that Alonso had said something in the heat of the moment but immediately apologised… and thus Dennis learned about the Ferrari data. Dennis subsequently (and immediately) informed the FIA. It has been suggested that the argument was prompted by the fact that there was no stewards’ investigation regarding the qualifying pitlane incident until Anthony and Lewis Hamilton made a formal complaint on the Saturday evening.
Shortly after the season ended McLaren terminated their contract with Alonso who returned to Renault for 2008… Alonso however was not to be away from controversy for very long. After ‘spygate’ had been dealt with, along came the very ugly ‘crashgate’ when, ironically at the very next Hungarian GP, Renault opted to drop Nelson Piquet from their team…
In retaliation, the Brazilian informed the FIA that some members of the team had felt they needed more than performance to win races and he had been ordered to crash out of the 2008 Singapore GP in order to help win the race for his Spanish teammate…
All the above I have tried to keep objective and uncoloured by my own feelings or favouritisms but… I was in Singapore that week (and incidentally can really recommend attending this night race for anybody who fancies a change) and recall watching the event on TV the morning after (for all the bits missed by being at the circuit). I was very aware that Piquet crashed, deliberate or accidental, at that point in the race, was without question a ‘lucky break’ for Alonso.
Yet, afterwards, when a TV reporter asked Flavio Briatore whether he thought Alonso had benefitted from the crash, Briatore looked flustered and quickly asserted that Alonso would have won anyway and, by answering a slightly different question (that had not been asked) he made himself look as guilty as hell…!
It was thus no surprise to me when the facts came out.
I was surprised though that Alonso was able to maintain such a low profile, claiming he had no knowledge of the ‘plan’… Maybe he knew nothing when the plan was being realised and activated, but it does seem unusual to me that Alonso would have remained ignorant after the event…
Briatore and Pat Symonds were punished by the FIA but, again, Alonso seemed to be let off… It was never proved he was in any way involved but, as far as I am aware, he was never actually asked if he had known about the crime afterwards…?
One of my least favourite commentators, Martin Brundle, created the nickname: ‘Teflonso’.
This year, 2013, at the Hungaroring, Alonso was again involved in controversy when the Ferrari team discovered that they had ‘omitted / forgotten’ to “click the correct button” and switch the DRS from practice mode to race mode allowing Alonso to operate the system illegally. Ferrari have been fined €15,000 by Hungarian GP stewards. Alonso escaped penalty.
His glorious moment was actually a breach of a regulation about “receiving an object” prior to the post-race weighing and scrutineering procedure, and Alonso and Ferrari were summoned to the stewards.
Ultimately, and correctly, the FIA officials let him off without penalty “to be consistent with a previous decision made under similar circumstances“.
Is Fernando Alonso just unlucky…?
At the 2003 European GP, David Coulthard and McLaren managing director Martin Whitmarsh accused Alonso of giving Coulthard a ‘brake test’… when Coulthard was trying to overtake Alonso, who was holding him up. Coulthard had to swerve off the track… and into retirement. The FIA stewards decided that the incident did not warrant any “further judicial action”.
There were several times during the 2006 season when the Spaniard seemed to lose his cool. At the Hungarian GP, he was stupidly involved in another ‘brake test’ with Red Bull Racing test-driver Robert Doornbos during practice, believing the Dutchman had ‘deliberately’ spoiled his previous lap. The stewards decided Alonso’s actions were “unnecessary, unacceptable and dangerous”, and yet merely awarded him a one-second time penalty to be applied to his fastest lap time in each of the qualifying sessions.
During a separate incident from the same race, when Michael Schumacher was asked whether he thought Alonso deliberately slowed down so that Schumacher had to pass him under red flags in practice, Schumacher replied, “You said that, I didn’t.” [Perhaps another case of the pot calling the kettle, black… 😉 ]
In the 2006 Italian GP, after stewards ruled Alonso had potentially blocked Felipe Massa in Saturday qualifying and relegated him five places on the starting grid, Alonso stated “I love the sport, love the fans coming here – a lot of them from Spain but I don’t consider Formula One like a sport any more.” – while Flavio Briatore hinted that the championship was being manipulated – quickly withdrawing his comment lest the authorities impose further punishment. Alonso was perhaps being penalised by the ‘tifosi’ who, later, would do their best to support him, in similar circumstances…
In the 2010 Spanish GP a Safety Car was deployed onto the circuit, but too late to pick up first place Vettel. Hamilton, in second, after first hesitating, also went past. Alonso was thus first to be held behind the safety car, while the rest of the field had enough notice to divert to the pitlane for their first stop. Alonso and Ferrari complained, and Hamilton was awarded a drive-through penalty.
However, it took the stewards twenty minutes to settle on a verdict, and Hamilton suffered no change in position; Alonso complained to his pit, and Ferrari concurred. Afterwards Alonso claimed the race had been ‘manipulated’, which seems rather odd – in Spain…
In the 2010 German GP at Hockenheim, Alonso became involved in a controversy with team-mate Massa, as Ferrari were accused of using team orders during the race. The incident started when the Spaniard made it clear that he thought he was much faster than the Brazilian and should therefore be leading the Ferrari steamroller.
Massa engineer, Rob Smedley, said: ‘Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?’ Massa slowed down and was overtaken by Alonso in what appeared to be team orders, and Ferrari, Massa and Alonso were summoned to the stewards.
The matter was then referred to the FIA World Motor Sport Council and Ferrari were given a $100,000 fine… but the result of the race was left unchanged. What should have been a great moment for the team instead became a source of utter embarrassment, reminiscent of Schumacher’s and Barrichello’s humiliation eight years before… after which the ‘No Team Orders’ rule had been instigated.
At the 2010 British GP, Alonso was given a drive-through penalty for an illegal pass on Kubica when he went around the outside at Brooklands and was forced off the track by Kubica on the exit as the Renault driver legitimately defended his position… but Alonso passed Kubica as he rejoined the track at the next corner.
Stefano Domenicali claimed they had checked with race control whether Alonso had broken the rules and should give the place back but, by the time they received an answer the ailing Kubica had dropped back, and retired shortly afterwards.
Charlie Whiting claimed he had three times suggested Ferrari told their man to relinquish the position before having to issue Alonso a drive-through penalty, which he had then had to serve just after a safety car period, dropping him to the back of the field. Hoist by one’s own petard, one might think…
Alonso was apparently so piqued he ordered his pit-crew not to talk to him for the rest of the race… but later ‘explained’ this was because he could see all his rivals in front of him and had no need of information…
It is perhaps not unusual for teams to accept penalties served to other drivers when it is to their advantage, but to conversely argue the point when it harms their own drivers. In 2008 Hamilton had overtaken Raikkonen in similar circumstances and a similar penalty had allowed Massa’s Ferrari to win…
When asked why Ferrari happily accepted the earlier decision but considered the recent one harsh, Domenicali said they were different scenarios and couldn’t be compared.
Well… Hamilton at least gave back the position briefly while Alonso right away refused to do so, and Ferrari were told on three occasions to give the position back… while McLaren asked the stewards if Hamilton’s slowing down was enough and were told that that was acceptable.
After these two incidents Alonso was strangely bullish… Now trailing his nemesis, Hamilton, by 47 points, he declared,: ‘I am more convinced than before this race that we will win this championship.” Apparently, in the paddock, in the press room and on the message boards, many began to think the Ferrari driver was losing the plot.
And I haven’t even touched on Alonso’s collision with team-mate Massa on the first lap which ruined the latter’s race and about which the normally calm Massa vowed, to ‘talk’ to his team-mate…
“Alonso, Petrov is faster than you! Can you confirm that you understood that message?”
In the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP, Alonso was seen gesticulating furiously at Vitaly Petrov on the slowing down lap in front of TV cameras, and initially it seemed that he was blaming the young Russian for costing him the world crown as he had been unable to find a way past the Renault driver, for over 40 laps(!) while race winner Sebastian Vettel became World Champion.
At the end of the race, in a pointless and cynical move, Fernando gesticulated to Petrov, signalling his frustration, as if he had had a divine right to be allowed past. However, Alonso later denied accusations that he had accused Petrov of denying him the title.
Ferrari had simply made a disastrous strategic call, causing Alonso to emerge in heavy traffic, against which he seemed to make no headway – almost as if he had given up… On this showing alone perhaps Alonso is not quite in the same category as his three main rivals.
For the 2011 and 2012 seasons Fernando seemed to overcome his problems / bad luck / immature petulance – whatever you chose to call it but, this year, 2013, he seems to be drifting back again.
After a lot of nonsense about his new samurai ethic – the ‘way’ of the warrior – bushido – of which (in my opinion) Alonso does not conform to even the most fundamental precepts – ‘honour, loyalty, courage, veracity, and compassion’, which are important, above all else…
I am left to see him, the man, as hypocritical, immature and petulant… though this is partly due to his age and youthful experiences, and is not so different to many of his peers. I don’t wish, nor, I’m sure, do I need, to draw up a list… but this saga seems to suggest either Alonso is naturally manipulative (which is not the same thing as, for example, Schumacher’s ‘control’…), or is easily swayed by others, who perhaps lead him astray.
I have no axe to grind with Alonso, Spain (where I sometimes live), nor Ferrari and, although I am about twice Alonso’s age, I also have no problem with youth. For those who might now be wondering what is my problem… no I don’t have a problem with men either… I am not a retired feminist who believes half the F1 drivers should be female, though I would have no problem if this one day comes about either.
I simply came across this story (of Alonso’s petty, dishonourable and grossly unsportsmanlike behaviour in 2007) and thought it might be suitable as an entry for ‘OTD’ but, whilst researching the story, all this other stuff came pouring out. Just to show my lack of bias maybe I will now have to write similar articles about ‘all the others’… although I much prefer to write stories about people who have achieved something in their lives – without it being at someone else’s expense…