The driver many believed to be the best of the current crop, reverted back to the outspoken driver we saw in the final years at Ferrari, with his open criticism of his team during the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix. His radio communications left no one in any doubt as to where the Spaniard places the blame for his car’s lack of performance.
“I am getting passed down the straight like a GP2,” said Fernando, “this is embarrassing, very embarrassing.”
Alonso caused further furore when speaking to the media following the race he refused to confirm whether he would be at McLaren-Honda in 2016.
“I don’t know,” he said, “there are still five races to go now. We need to improve the situation to make sure we are competitive and we are on top of our problems”.
Both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso have refrained from criticising the McLaren Honda team this year despite the car/engine combos’ pathetic performance and results.
Jenson made his feelings clear in Singapore over car to pit radio when he mocked the long-winded instructions being given to him by replying, “And rub your tummy and pat your head?”
Button was even more vocal over the botched pit stop in Singapore: “At last we’ve got a break with safety cars – well actually we got a break last time [we pitted], we just ballsed it up.”
So all is not well in Woking.
Following the 2015 Suzuka race, Ron Dennis was questioned by Sky F1’s Martin Brundle.
First up was the implication made by Alonso that he may not be at McLaren next year. Dennis had this to say about that.
“I didn’t hear that and I cannot make any comment. I don’t know what he means by that comment.
“I spoke to him earlier today. He has a contract, he understands the contract and I am surprised.”
When questioned on Alonso’s radio communications during the race, Dennis was protective of his No. 1 driver
“I think he vented his frustration. I don’t think he needed to make the comments, it wasn’t particularly constructive. We are here in Japan, Suzuka, Honda’s home track, we had the president of the Honda motor company, we had the head of R&D, chief executive of Honda motors – the three most senior people who are totally committed to winning a world championship and their curve is much steeper than they anticipated, but their aspirations and commitment has not diminished. We are strong partners, we will take the pain as a learning curve, it is the only way to win a world championship. If you are not with a number one engine you will not win a world championship.”
Martin Brundle then asked, “Do they need a hurry up like that? Will that be a motivator or damage beyond repair?
“I think that is an embarrassment”, said Dennis. “But I don’t want to make any more of it. The drivers get relatively minimal interface with the management of Honda. They get interface with the technical people. Maybe this is to make sure the message is heard by everybody. I do not condone it, but I am not going to criticise our drivers. I will sort it behind closed doors.”
McLaren have clearly again blown the PR opportunity to present a stable ship and their drivers confirmed for 2016 – given the speculation over Jenson Button’s future. Dennis shared his thoughts.
“The problem is when you are uncompetitive everyone has an opinion and the opinions come thick and fast from every direction. I wish they would just keep them to themselves.
“At the end of the day we have Fernando contracted for three years and Jenson contracted for two. We have three young drivers at various stages of their careers, all doing incredibly well and we know where we are going and what we are doing.
“So I am not going to make comment about our drivers. We did have an option to terminate Jenson’s contract, but I told him earlier in the week that wasn’t going to happen. And I think he was pleased, and maybe I should have told him a bit sooner.
“But I don’t make all the decisions at McLaren and I wanted to check with the shareholders what their feelings were and once I had a consensus on that…”
It appears as though, like it or not, Jenson Button will be driving for McLaren Honda next year, as Dennis reveals.
“The contract is completely intact and is going to be unchanged and I have spoken to Jenson about it and he is happy. So I don’t want to, I never discuss contract matters if I can help it, and even acknowledging that it was an option is more than I would normally do. But the drivers are all contracted and that is the end of it.”
Jenson Button has been clearly advocating he will leave F1 at the end of this season, but Dennis sees a reason for this attitude and perception.
“I could have, I probably should have..[told Jensons earlier]. In any relationship, if you feel that the other party is not particularly comfortable and you are doubting that other party’s commitment, that is not a good way forward. If that doubt is removed things change. Do you want me? Do you care? Do you believe in me? That is the kind of sentiment I believe was in Jenson’s thinking.”
After much prevarication, Ron Dennis was backed into a corner and when asked whether Button and Alonso would be his driver pairing for 2016, he replied: “Yes. What more do you want?”
So the McLaren driver line up for 2016 is apparently settled, but the huge financial hole in their sponsorship programme means activities at the WTC on their F1 project spend on F1 cannot remain at the current level indefinitely.
Further, the moratorium on the drivers publicly criticising the team, appears to be well and truly over.