Meltdown at McLaren: The whole story of Hungary 2007

2007 F1 season

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The 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix was the turning point of last year’s season.

This was the moment when the fraught relations between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren went into meltdown. Harsh words between Alonso and Ron Dennis brought new evidence to the eyes of the FIA which would lead to McLaren’s expulsion from the constructors’ championship – and Alonso’s departure from the team.

Here’s a look back at how McLaren’s disaster unfolded with each original article from this site from that weekend and more information that has come to light since.

4th August 2007 (Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying)

Hungarian GP 2007 qualifying: Alonso’s tainted triumph – Immediately after qualifying little was known about what had happened at McLaren. But it was plain for all to see that Alonso had blocked his team mate in the pits, preventing him from completing his final run in qualifying.

Dennis collared Alonso’s physiotherapist Fabrizio Borra after qualifying
Video: Alonso blocks Hamilton in pits during qualifying – The video footage of what happened.

Alonso’s qualifying stunt: 21 opinions – While the stewards summoned McLaren and dwelled on the incident debates raged.

Dennis says Alonso not to blame – Finally solid details about what had happened began to emerge. Ron Dennis told the world the problem began with Hamilton failing to let Alonso past earlier in the session. He also said McLaren had held Alonso in the pits intentionally. But did that include the ten seconds where Alonso was stationary after the lollipop had been lifted?

Alonso & McLaren punished by stewards – The stewards didn’t believe McLaren’s explanation about the lollipop. Alonso got a five place grid penalty and McLaren were told they would not score constructors’ championship points that weekend.

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5th August 2007 (Hungarian Grand Prix)

The stewards’ full verdict on McLaren and Alonso – Alonso’s claim he spent the final 10 seconds in conversation with his engineer were met with scepticism.

Another PR disaster for McLaren – Meanwhile two newspapers were claiming they had dialogue of a furious, expletive-ridden exchange between Hamilton and Dennis at the end of qualifying.

Hungarian Grand Prix 2007 review: Hamilton edges out Raikkonen – Hamilton won from pole position while Alonso could only managed fourth from sixth.

6th August 2007

Any sympathy for McLaren? – Thoughts on how McLaren’s efforts to treat their drivers equally had backfired.

British tabloids blame Alonso – Reportage from one section of the British press was predictably one-sided. As far as the tabloids were concerned, Hamilton had done nothing wrong.

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14th September 2007

Ron Dennis revealed evidence against McLaren to FIA – After the verdict against McLaren in the ‘spygate’ case was announced it became clear that the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend had played a significant role.

Alonso and de la Rosa’s emails led to McLaren’s punishment – According to Dennis, Alonso threatened to make the contents of several compromising emails in his possession available to the FIA. Alonso has denied this version of events but not yet offered his side of the story.

4th February 2008

Was Dennis to blame in McLaren’s Hungary row? – A long time after the events a report in The Times claimed to have the real details of what was actually said between Hamilton and Dennis on the radio. It quoted Dennis saying, “That’s what happens when you don’t [expletive] do what you’re told.”

Perhaps this weekend, one year on from the events of 2007, fresh details may come to light to explain this confusing, disputed, and highly controversial episode.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “Meltdown at McLaren: The whole story of Hungary 2007”

  1. Despite what happened before and after it, during the qualifying session itself I think Hamilton and Alonso were both behaving like petty little kids, not professional F1 drivers.

  2. true they were and i think the being the first rookie to win a race and so on got to hamiltons head
    also in germany this weekend kovalinen was told to let hamilton pass by the dennis which i found very wrong ibet you hamilton would not have done the same for kovalinen
    they are using kovalinen in maclaren this year .

  3. sorry for my english its just my typing is all wrong ha ha

  4. After the Hungarian 2007 qualifying, I did have great respect for Ron Dennis. Most people accuse him of being a liar or dishonest, but he came out first on tv to say Alonso was not to blame, and that the problems started when Hamilton, for fear of also having Kimi go past him as well, did not immediately let Alonso stay ahead as they left the pits.
    The FIA just looked for a way to punish the team, because it makes no sense to punish a team and then punish the driver. I believe Alonso was punished because he had been critical of the FIA in the past, and then, we don’t need to guess, why Mclaren were deducted points.

  5. I suppose in future we will aproach the real facts (we still need Alonso´s version) but by today I just can say what I allways said: When Hamilton disobbey his teams orders they punished him by retaining Alonso in the pits and Ron Dennis told Lewis “That’s what happens when you don’t f****** do what you’re told.”.
    This is what Ron, Mc Laren and Alonso said in press conference after the qualifyings, and the ones who paid for all this internal problem were Mc Laren by losing points and Alonso by loosing 5 places in grid and its points, and a World Championship as we saw at the end. Hamilton was not only unpinished, he got the pole and the points.
    I think these are real facts not personal opinions.

  6. Uk – Those are some of the facts, but I think you’re overlooking two crucial other details: Alonso broke a rule, Hamilton didn’t.

  7. Keith, that´s true, Alonso did what his team told to, Hamilton did´nt, but if Mc Laren was the one who told Alonso to stay and was punished for that, why another penalty for Alonso? because that cost him the WC.
    Is it fair to keep your team orders and being punished as Alonso was, and not keeping your team orders as Hamilton did and get advantage for that??

    I´m sure we will approach the truth in future.

  8. Uk – Have you read the post about the stewards’ verdict? They said they didn’t believe McLaren had ordered Alonso to wait the crucial extra ten seconds and, when you read Alonso’s explanation, you would have to be incredibly naive to take it at face value.

    When I said “rule” I meant the rules of Formula 1. Yes, Hamilton disobeyed his team. But in the eyes of the stewards, that counts for nothing.

    Alonso, however, broke the sporting regulations which forbid drivers from deliberately impeding other drivers during qualifying. In the very same session Giancarlo Fisichella impeded Sakon Yamamoto and got exactly the same five place grid penalty as Alonso. The stewards applied the rules as written and they did so consistently and fairly. I don’t see how anyone can have a reasonable objection to Alonso’s penalty.

  9. No offence meant, but hasn’t this been done to death?

  10. i think people have more resentment towards hamilton than is logical. this talk about arrogance and what not is totally off the track. he has the right to get angry at what he deems as unfair towards him. there is no rule that just because alonso was a champion or had been longer at formula one than hamilton, he should sit back and bask in the god’s light.
    in whichever light u try to paint hamilton, hypocrite, showoff, dumb. the fact remains he is good at what he does(racing) and as a bonus he can sell his image(thats why the big hype about him)

    alonso simply could not take the heat from this rookie and instead of focusing on winning tried to sabotage his teammate. it worked in the end but not for him but for kimi and ferrari.

    to the disgruntled fans i guess you are experiencing the same thing (the alonso syndrome) u cannot take the heat. maybe u are alonso fans or ferrari or team india or spyker(dont knw where to go) and u r so up the wall u dont knw where to look to because lewis and mclaren are all over the place.

    when there is need to fight for your right you fight, and when there is no need to fight u smile for the CAMERA.
    Now thats what i call serious entertainment

    i just hope kovalanien can learn something from hamilton because he has got what it takes.

    mclaren for sure….

  11. this post was a general post not entirely related to the above posts.

  12. michael counsell
    30th July 2008, 2:30

    The whole story? No. A story proved false, but no true story was ever supplied to replace it.

    Alonso’s penalty was in line with accidentally holding another driver up, rather than a 151c violation which would have been appropriate if he was guilty of deliberately delaying Hamilton. If Alonso knew how long to reamin stationary the means of communicating this to Alonso would have been known to the FIA.

    Asking to check the tyres at a stupid time is similar to not looking in the mirrors and is not really a big deal hence the 5 place penalty. If he did say it on the radio it would have been recorded. Its not acceptable and its stupid. However if it had been found that Alonso had personally deliberately heldup Hamilton he would have been sent to the back of the gird (see M Schumacher Monaco 2006)

    The 20 second holding thing is the thing that really cost McLaren because it was unecassary and their explantion was flawed. They can’t have told Alonso the full plan over the radio as the FIA have access. Maybe McLaren had an alternative method of communication or the countdown did confuse Alonso enough to not know what tyres he was on (unlikely). Something fishy was going on and things didn’t add up and as a result McLaren lost their constructors points.

    They never got to the bottom of what really happened and you’d be “incredibly naive” to say you know the whole story.

  13. Keith, overall a nice sum up. However, you missed a key point. McLaren ran illegal cars in Hungary. Their new gearbox, which they used in that race, was not crash tested, as is required by FIA for any new part to be fitted to the car. They were even reprimanded for that. I sometimes wonder why were they not charged under that, cos that would have meant clear DQ for both the team and the drivers. May be someone did not want that. Well that’s one theory.

    @ Michael Counasell
    Interesting point you make mate…

  14. Despite overall is a nice sum up, I miss something that is a key point (IMHO) when everybody talk about “Alonso’s Tainted Triumph”:

    In Q3 both drivers made 11 laps, and Alonso was faster even not having a new set of tyres because “wrong pressures”.

    So, when the gentlemen agreement between the drivers (and the team) was that Alonso would have an extra lap, what Alonso did (with the team permission), was avoid L Hamilton to take an UNFAIR advantage, having the extralap that correspond to him.

    At the end, both drivers did the SAME number of laps in Q3, this is something that is available in FIA Stats.

    Anyway, I honestly think that the only person to blame on this is Ron Denis, as manager he was not able to manage properly the confilct at that point and for the rest of the season.

  15. @ Michael Counasell
    I do agree with Sri, a very interesting point. As per 151C, indeed if the stewards thought Alonso guilty of deliberately delaying Hamilton, they should have placed him at the back of the grid. The real story would never come up as I dont think FIA would want it, and Alonso would not say his part of the story as quite rightly, no driver of his potential would want a retirement at 27.

  16. A very difficult situation which none of the main players – Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso or McLaren – emerged with much to be proud of.

    Hungary was one of the tracks in 2007 where one driver (but not both) could have an extra lap in Q3 and, under the arrangements put in place by McLaren, this was Fernando’s turn for the extra lap.

    Hamilton appears to have sparked the situation by refusing to allow Alonso past him at the start of Q3. Lewis failed to honour his part of the deal. Various reasons have been offered for why Hamilton did this – intra-team gamesmanship, concern that Kimi Raikkonen was close enough to pass, concern that Alonso was deliberately going slowly to require Lewis to drop back and lose time, etc. My view is for the former, but I don’t think anyone other than Hamilton really knows.

    Either way, it is clear that there was an intra-team agreement and that, for whatever reason, Lewis broke it. Regardless of how dishonourable this may be, it isn’t against the sporting regulations.

    At the end of the session, Fernando’s car then held Lewis up in the pitlane, despite the lollypop having been lifted to release him, preventing Hamilton from getting in a final low fuel lap. Alonso said he was talking to the team about tyres. McLaren said something else. Neither version really stacked up and it appeared that Fernando’s car remained stationary in retaliation for Lewis’ conduct earlier in the session. Was it McLaren or Alonso who decided to retaliate or both? Ron Dennis was clearly furious with Hamilton, but I suspect it was Fernando who decided to act in the heat of the moment.

    Alonso’s anger appears to have been justified – but his reaction was immature and cost him the points that, at the end of the year, would have given him a third world championship. Moreover, Fernando clearly impeded another car and the sporting regulations provide for a grid place penalty in such situations. One was duly applied and the then reigning world champion has no one to blame for this but himself.

    My view is that the drivers were responsible for their actions in Q3, and that McLaren were taken completely by surprise by it all. To me, Ron Dennis’ comments to Lewis over the radio indicate frustration with Hamilton’s attitude and sympathy with Alonso’s position – but this is not a smoking gun that McLaren engineered the pitlane hold up to punish Hamilton.

    There were other ways that McLaren could have dealt with the situation to avoid punishment and possibly even the spygate affair – e.g. pulling Lewis out of the car before his final run, giving the “extra lap” or preferred strategy privileges to Alonso for the rest of the year, fined Hamilton or withdrawn him from the race, etc. Either way, Ron should have been experienced enough to cool Fernando’s temper during Q3 to ensure that the Spaniard didn’t feel he needed to take revenge on his team mate.

    For what it’s worth, Alonso’s threat to Ron to spill the beans on spygate unless Hamilton was put back in his box, was one made in anger rather than a pre-meditated, cold blooded attempt to sabotage his team. A driver of Fernando’s intelligence, on reflection, would surely have appreciated that he was at as much risk of punishment as McLaren. Had cooler heads prevailed on that day, spygate would probably not have happened. Had Ron managed to better manage Hamilton and/or calm Alonso down more effectively, he would have saved himself several million dollars.

  17. Completely agree with what you have said Tim, Ron should have stepped in and calmed things down when it was beginning to boil over. One would think that after having to handle Prost and Senna for those years that Ron would be better handling driver ego’s than he proved in Hungary last year.

  18. I wish I could have arranged an open hall session with Ron, Alonso and Lewis!
    But anyway.. both the drivers behaved rather immaturely but still in that type of scenario, it has to be a manager’s call and surely Ron should have dealt better!

    May be we will all get to know what exactly hapened when Fernando/Lewis both will retire..

  19. I find it very difficult to beleive that Ron would instruct one of his drivers to hamper the qualification efforts of the other. Particularly not to the detriment of Hamilton. For my money it was probably entirely down to Alonso deciding to pay (with justification) Hamilton back over the extra lap issue.

    One interesting question arises though: If the extra lap issue was malicious on the part of Hamilton was this the first salvo in their battle or did something else spark it off earlier? I wonder if Hamilton would simply decide for no reason, one half way through the season, to stop co-operating with his team-mate….

  20. Hungary 2007 is pretty much where Fernando Alonso’s relationship came to end in any realistic sense, but the real damage had been done at Monaco.
    Alonso, having won Monaco fair and square, had to deal with the suggestion that McLaren had told Hamilton to back off and hold second place. This does not excuse Alonso for what happened at Hungary, but the cracks were emerging following the episode at Monaco.
    Both the British and Spanish media had plenty to say about the alledged McLaren team orders, and for me, it is impossible not to think that this did not cause friction between the two drivers.
    There is alot that we still don’t know, and perhaps never will, about Alonso’s true relationship within McLaren. What we do know is that Alonso’s reputation was forever tarnished by his actions that day, which would cost him points that ‘may’ well have won him the championship.

  21. Team Radio would be the key here. I’ve seen a transcription of Fernando’s team radio published spanish media (see here). Unfortunately I don’t know if it’s the real one and even if it were, since it’s a translation could have been intentionally misinterpreted.

    Said that, if that transcription is true, there was no malice in what Alonso did. He argued with his engineer about his tyres after the lollipop is raised which coud have taken ten seconds easily. Also, I found hard to believe than a F1 racer can think on the go a plan which needs a such precise timing to succeed (a few seconds more and he was out).

    As an Alonso fan I’m tempted to accept this trascription as a true one, leaked to the press by someone at McLaren, but I have to accept that there are no proof about its authenticity. Anyway, if McLaren would disclose these conversations(Fernando’s and Lewis’s ones), everyone could have a more precise idea about what really happened.

  22. According to Alan Henry McLaren considered firing Alonso for blocking Hamilton in the pits: more here

    It leads to the inevitable question, why didn’t they? Perhaps after Alonso threatened to make his emails public they thought firing him would send out the message he’d been fired for exposing the team.

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