Ron Dennis, Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 2007

Alonso was wrongly blamed over ‘Spygate’ scandal – de la Rosa

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Fernando Alonso was wrongly blamed within McLaren for revealing information to the FIA which led to the team being fined $100 million in 2007, his former team mate believes.

Pedro de la Rosa, who was McLaren’s test driver in 2007, has shed new light on the ‘Spygate’ case which also led to McLaren’s exclusion from that year’s championship.

De la Rosa described how relations between McLaren and the two-times champion Alonso had become strained as his team mate Lewis Hamilton, then in his first year in Formula 1, proved a strong rival.

McLaren fell under suspicions of gaining access to a dossier of information about rivals Ferrari, including details such as their car’s weight distribution. An FIA hearing in July that year initially cleared McLaren, but a second hearing was convened after new information came to light, which some in McLaren believed was provided by Alonso after a confrontation between him and team principal Ron Dennis during the Hungarian Grand Prix.

“That situation was like a divorce inside the team,” De la Rosa told the official F1 website. “The relationship was not good before, but that was like the complete divorce.

“The fact the FIA knew about it raised many questions over who had passed this information to the FIA. And everyone seemed to blame Fernando for something that we didn’t know and we have zero evidence that he did.

Relations between the McLaren drivers broke down in Hungary
“But the FIA knew, it could be from Ferrari, it could be from any anyone because there was many people in the team that knew about the weight distribution of Ferrari or whatever. So it was it was unfair in the way that Fernando was blamed for something that I don’t think he did. So it was the it was the divorce point, because he was looked at someone that had damaged McLaren.”

Among the evidence revealed by the FIA after McLaren’s penalty was announced was extracts from a series of emails involving De la Rosa and Alonso in which they discussed the information McLaren’s Mike Coughlan had obtained from Ferrari’s Nigel Stepney. Explaining its decision, the FIA World Motor Sport Council noted at the time one email dated March 25th 2007 in which “Mr De la Rosa states that tests had been carried out on a flexible rear wing which Mr De la Rosa says is ‘a copy of the system we think Ferrari uses'”.

However de la Rosa insisted the information McLaren obtained was no more than what is typically exchanged between teams. “Still I wake up some nights with a cold sweat because I still don’t understand why we were fined 100 million,” he said.

“There was this theory that we were engineering a copy department of Ferrari or that we were engineering a way into Ferrari or trying to get information from Ferrari. There was nothing of that.

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“We were a racing team that as with any other competitor, we tried to find information from them, which everyone does in Formula 1. The information we had about Ferrari was the typical information you share [at] a coffee machine, just speaking with engineers: Do you know what weight distribution Ferrari has, these type of questions that obviously someone in the team had the information because of a friendship at Ferrari and we shared this information.

De la Rosa with Alonso in 2007
“Did we change anything of our development, of our testing program? Nothing. Nothing changed. We didn’t use that information.”

McLaren’s possession of the Ferrari dossier originally came to light after Coughlan’s wife took it to be duplicated at a photocopying shop in Woking, neat McLaren’s base.

“People have to understand that that information that was passed, I never saw it,” said De la Rosa. “It was never in the team. It was Mike’s wife that did the photocopies. Why did you think she did it? Because Mike didn’t know what to do with the information. He was not taking it seriously.

“So I was surprised that – OK, we did something wrong, yes, of course – I’m not trying to say we did everything right. But was it 100 million worth? My God, I mean, I thought we got thrashed by that type of penalty. We lost all the points in the world in the constructors’ championship. Eventually we lost the championship in the drivers as well. So I think we paid a big penalty, a big price for something that in many teams I’ve been in Formula 1 because I’ve been in many teams, there’s always information flying around from other teams, other competitive teams.”

Alonso’s association with the Spygate episode had ramifications later in his F1 career. Three years ago Toto Wolff, team principal of Mercedes who were McLaren’s engine supplier in 2007, indicated Alonso would not be considered for a drive with the team because of his “history with Mercedes”.

De la Rosa doubts Spygate cost Alonso a chance to drive for the team which has dominated the last six seasons of F1. “I think that we all make many mistakes,” he said. “At the end of the day, Fernando, he’s a critical guy, he says things to the face when he doesn’t how people are working or doing things, and I think he got a lot of the blame for actually something that was not… I mean, let’s be honest, the guy didn’t do anything wrong.

“He was blamed for the this spy scandal, Spygate, then he shouldn’t have been. And I think that the during the years, everyone has realised that Fernando was just caught in the middle of the fight like I was as well and many, many people. But there was other fights going on at the high levels that we were not aware of actually at that point.”

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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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53 comments on “Alonso was wrongly blamed over ‘Spygate’ scandal – de la Rosa”

  1. Much like the accusations directed at Alonso, not based on fact, but DLR’s personal opinion.

    That being said, I’d trust DLR’s take on the matter more than most, plus the fact that Alonso went back to McLaren, albeit a different McLaren – but that surely speaks more volume than anything else?

    It is also true that Alonso is often seen as a toxic addition to a team…

    1. except for the people that worked with him.

      Rob Semedley
      Pat Symonds
      Stefano Domenicali
      Jarno Trulli
      Felipe Massa
      And the list goes on

      Where as alot of the people that are negative about it have never worked with him. I have no doubt he is hard work but so he should be!

      1. well DLR seems a fan of the man but does give us evidence of some wrong-goings at Ferrari, too. Alonso is pretty toxic, no doubt.

  2. Still not entirely over this topic despite it being a thing of the distant past rather than a recent-past case.

  3. Ron Dennis can shed more light on this topic.
    His present whereabouts: Mr R Dennis, Espionage Dept, 2nd floor, Ministry of Defence, Whitehall, London

    1. SIS is based south of the river and are not under MoD control.

      1. True, but the mailing address remains Whitehall and they are only contactable through MoD…

        1. Nah, SIS are part of the Foreign Office, MI5 is Home Office and the military don’t do spies.

          SIS, MI5 and GCHQ have websites where they tell you exactly what they do.

          (Opps, I might get shot for this)

          1. MoD has: Defence Intelligence (DI).

            btw: The name MI6 (meaning Military Intelligence, Section 6)

  4. Nando ‘the GOAT’, could not cope with being out-perfoprmed by a rookie.

    1. No. He couldn’t cope with being lured to McLaren from Renault with the promise of #1 status (why wouldn’t he be, he was 2x defending WDC?), then have those promises revoked when Dennis’ protege Hamilton was brought on and immediately given access to Alonso’s testing and setup data. Imagine being offered a job and being told you’d get some extra perks, just sign on the dotted line. Then find out a bit later that the boss hired a buddy and gave him all the perks instead.

      Through the first 10 races of 2007, Alonso finished ahead of Hamilton five times. So equal.
      For the last seven races, Alonso finished ahead of Hamilton another five times.

      Hamilton had more wins, which put him on equal points and gave him the tie-breaker in the WDC standings. But finishing behind Alonso 10 times from 17 races isn’t something I’d consider “out-performing”.

      1. They both had 4 wins apiece. What ultimately cost Alonso was that he was struggling to extract the maximum out of the Bridgestones in qualifying. He only got 2 poles the whole season, but did considerably better in races. If you look at Alonso’s onboards from 2006 to 2007, it seems like it’s a completely different driver with a completely different driving style. I don’t think we saw the best of Alonso in 2007, but it’s up to the drivers to adapt to the equipment they’re given, so I won’t use it as an excuse for 2007, but I do think prime Alonso was much better than 2007 Alonso. But same goes for Hamilton, probably more so.

        1. What ultimately cost Alonso was crashing in Japan, and poor driving in Canada. Alonso made more mistakes than Hamilton did, plane and simple.

        2. That year drivers did quali with the amount of fuel they’d use during the first stint and Alosnso always did his quali with more fuel than Hamilton according to him. You can’t extract that much more out of your tyres if your car is heavier than your teammate’s…

      2. ancker, why is it abnormal for Hamilton to have been given access to Alonso’s testing and set up data when, at the same time, Alonso had access to Hamilton’s testing and set up data? Alonso shared set up data with his team mates at Renault and at Ferrari even when those teams gave him No.1 status, so why should McLaren have been different?

        Even in teams where you had a strict hierarchy between drivers, the drivers normally shared set up data with each other because it normally benefited both drivers, and the team as a whole, by being able to cross compare that data. In acting in an exclusionary way and refusing to share data, you’d basically want Alonso to adopt an approach which would potentially actually be counterproductive for his own performance.

        Bio, did Alonso always have the heavier fuel load? There were several races where Alonso pitted first for fuel (Australia, Malaysia, Monaco and Spain, for example), which would suggest Alonso was on the slightly lower fuel load in those races – indeed, we know that, in Monaco for example, Hamilton had a much higher fuel load (five or six laps more than Alonso).

      3. Outperforming? Well it shouldn’t be ignored that Hamilton, as a rookie, led Alonso in the championship standings virtually all year long. From race 6 in Canada all the way to Brazil Alonso trailed Hamilton and he needed a miracle in China and Brazil for him not to lose the Championship to Hamilton, which he absolutely should have done, in all reality.

        Alonso only led Hamilton in the championship in the first two races. After that they tied in Bahrain, Hamilton led Alonso in Spain, they tied again in Monaco and then Hamilton took control of the championship in Canada, which was the first race weekend that Hamilton was given equal fuel to Alonso. Before that Alonso did have the preferential treatment that you wish he had all year, with Ron Dennis admitting it in both the Australian and Monaco Grand Prix and that’s not to mention the fact that Alonso asked Ron Dennis not to include Hamilton in an important test at Barcelona so Dennis granted his wishes because Alonso was treated as a #1 at that time. Also, the fact that you wish Hamilton was made into a subjugated #2 driver, rather than Alonso having to actually fight his teammate says it all really doesn’t it.

        The head to head metric falls in Hamilton’s favour when we include misfortune and Alonso’s early preferential treatment in the team. Hamilton should have beaten Alonso in Australia, after overtaking Alonso at the start, but Dennis short fueled his first stop to ensure Alonso got ahead of him. Dennis admitted favouring Alonso in Monaco but its hard to say that Hamilton would have beaten him without that, although he was going to get pole before being impeded by Mark Webber in q3, despite his heavier fuel load than Alonso, so that’s worth mentioning. Turkey Hamilton was dominating Alonso before he got a puncture and in China Hamilton was obliterating Alonso before McLaren’s infamous call to leave him out tyres down to the canvas, rather than pit him for fresh rubber, which ultimately helped Alonso reduce his 20s deficit to Hamilton to nothing in 2 laps before Hamilton beached it in the gravel. For Brazil Alonso then needed Hamilton to have a completely bizarre gearbox shut of for 40 odd seconds for him not to lose the title to his rookie teammate.

        Another embarrassing metric for Alonso is that Hamilton thumped him 6-2 for pole positions

        Then of course Alonso ran away from his 3 year contract like a coward only for Hamilton to become the McLaren world champion that Alonso failed to be and Alonso never recovered to win another championship after 2006. Hamilton, quite frankly, destroyed Alonso’s career.

      4. Great post Ancker!

        Could not had said it better myself. Never mind some of Hamilton´s fans, what they write does not have any more meaning if they do in or not.

        Hamilton is a great driver, there´s no doubt about that. But what you said is true, but some people does not care for that, they just want to argue. Either because they are fans of Hamilton and feel the need to say that he was better than Alonso, or the ones that just want to argue for the sake of arguing.

        There´s nothing wrong with being a fan of Hamilton, he´s a great driver. You don´t Win 6 WDC otherwise. And Alonso is certainly a great one too, but he got screwed by Ron Dennis without a single doubt, just like Alain Prost once got too back in the day btw.

        That is what Anckers post is about, and I agree with him on that point.

  5. Regardless whether Alonso was involved or not, his behaviour throughout that year spoke volumes and he has never been able to undo that damage in the eyes of a lot of fans. As for whether the fine was fair, I think most people would agree it was a disgusting abuse of power by the man in charge of the FIA to settle personal grievances.

    1. @slowmo I’ve always felt the fine was fully justified if for no other reason than to show that what McLaren did wouldn’t be tolerated.

      I was saying at the time & I still feel the same now that there is a big difference between teams looking at other teams cars & picking up design ideas & a team having copies of the actual design documents of another teams car.

      Getting ideas based on looking at a car or looking at images/video taken trackside is fine & just a part of F1. But having the actual design documents that gives you all the information on how another teams car works & then using those documents to test parts of the simulator, Use them on your own car (McLaren’s 2008 car was initially found to contain parts that came from the Ferrari documents) & also protest aspects of the other teams car based on what you find in those documents (Ferrari’s floor for instance) is something very different which shouldn’t be part of F1 & shouldn’t be tolerated.

      1. The fine is completely out of proportion to every other fine ever given in the sport and that’s just wrong. Not only that but they were also penalized all their constructors points and then there is the further penalty of what that would mean to championship position and future sponsorship and prize money for the year. It was a ridiculous sum of money and the team to my knowledge to this day, still uphold the documents were not viewed by personnel and any design similarities was most likely due to convergence through regulation stability.

        You can be sure of one thing, had Ferrari been caught, they would not have received a fine of that size if at all.

        1. You can’t stole the whole project of your main competitor and get away scot free, for a lot less people got a life ban from other sports…

          1. Bio, except that there were in fact multiple cases of industrial espionage going on at exactly the same time which attracted no penalties at all from the FIA.

            After all, back in 2007, Ferrari was just finishing a successful lawsuit against two former employees who had defected to Toyota in 2003 – Iaccone and Santini – who had been convicted of industrial espionage after being found guilty of taking technical drawings and other information from Ferrari to Toyota.

            It is worth noting they were not the only ones implicated in that scandal, as Ferrari did launch legal action against Ove Andersson, Gustav Brunner and Rene Hilhorst, who had been the vice-chairman, chief designer and head of aerodynamics of Toyota at the time. The case was officially dropped by the prosecutors, but the implication is that Ferrari cut a deal with Toyota – all of those figures were fired by Toyota, suggesting that Toyota agreed to fire them in return for Ferrari dropping the case.

            It is worth noting that, back in 2004, a lot of designers commented that the TF104 bore a suspiciously close resemblance to Ferrari’s 2003 car – to the point that some did suspect that there probably had been a lot more copying of information than Toyota ever admitted to (as there seemed to have been a private agreement between Ferrari and Toyota).

            However, even though Ferrari had just won a legal case against Toyota’s former employees for industrial espionage, the FIA never took any action against Toyota over the matter.

            In 2007, Renault were also investigated by the World Motorsport Council after an employee from McLaren brought and showed Renault employees copies of technical drawings, including details of the fuel system and the “J-damper” that McLaren used. Renault did, during the 2007 season, then attempt to use the information given to them by the McLaren employee to get McLaren’s “J-damper” banned, although the FIA rejected their attempt.

            Renault was found guilty of possessing confidential information from McLaren, but the WMSC argued there wasn’t evidence that it had “influenced the championship” and therefore they did not levy any penalty.

            You also have the Spyker-Toro Rosso/Red Bull case in 2007 as well. During that season, Spyker filed a formal complaint to the FIA that Red Bull were breaking the rules on customer cars, claiming that the chassis of the STR2 was the same as that on the Red Bull RB3.

            When Spyker launched their formal protest against Toro Rosso at the Malaysian Grand Prix, part of Spyker’s evidence was a set of blueprints for both the RB3 and the STR2 – with Spyker complaining that the components were exactly the same, with the only difference being the team logo. The stewards deliberately chose not to make a decision, citing an ongoing arbitration case between Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Spyker, but nobody did ever explain what the head of Spyker was doing walking around with a set of blueprints from another team.

            Even within that same year, you had multiple cases of industrial espionage going on – and yet, in the end, the FIA was remarkably lenient to those other parties, with no investigation in two cases and a third seeing Renault being given no penalty because the breach apparently did not “influence the championship”.

        2. @slowmo Out of interest what would you have done?

          1. @stefmeister see the reply above. This is not like it was something that hadn’t happened before. At best a penalty of 10 million, suspension of the person responsible for stealing the plans for 3 years from the sport and a 1 year exclusion fromt

          2. a 1 year exclusion from the championship for McLaren suspended for 3 years pending no future misconduct. Attacking individuals is how you stop espionage. If you stand to lose your livelihood then you’ll think twice about taking documents with you.

      2. The fine was not justified. Max Mosley had axe to grind with the “bloody commoner” or “peasant” called Ron Dennis.
        If the case had gone to court, Mosley would have been admonished for abuse of office and possibly asked to step down.

  6. While we’re at it, let’s also declare Alonso innocent of Singapore 2008, even if everybody is convinced otherwise. Flavio, it’s over to you.

    1. even if everybody is convinced otherwise

      Really? Who?

      There only one explanation that promised a reward big enough to even risk such a scheme and it’s the one that makes the most sense:

      Alonso had a contract clause that allowed him to leave the team if they didn’t produce a race-winning car. So Flavio made him win a race to keep him at Renault. So in the end, it was Alonso himself that got f-ed by the actions of the team.

      1. and everyone says the strategy was silly how could he not know…

        Well the strategy wasn’t silly. It was the same one used by Michael at Monaco 2 years before to good affect. And the same one a few other fast cars near the back used that day. Some had to run out of fuel or get a penalty for pitting when the pit lane was closed because they were on a similar strategy to FA.

        So the strategy was fine. Alonso had 0 to gain out of it

      2. @kuvemar It was worse than that. Renault had threatened to stop funding the team altogether if it had a winless 2008. At least if it had only been Alonso leaving, they could have replaced him with someone else. Can’t really do that when the main backer and provider of equipment ups and leaves without a replacement lined up…

  7. Ron Dennis and Mike Coughlan know exactly what happened and how much use McLaren made of the Ferrari information. Alonso acted like a spoilt brat and Mosley had a chip on his shoulder as a failed driver and F1 team owner, being shown up by a working class man he refers to as a ‘former mechanic’.

    I believe Honda wanted Alonso when McLaren used their engines and paid most of his wages. Honda and Dennis were convinced they were building a winner straight out of the blocks, it wasn’t and the car should have been driven by mid-field drivers until it was competitive. Turned out it was Dennis’ last cockup.

    1. There are also conspiracies that Ross Brawn was partly in the know of where that dossier was headed.
      Truth is a lot of the facts are hidden from us.
      Mclaren had the resources to buy a copier for Couglan either in his office or at his home so some of the storey doesn’t make sense from a logical perspective

      1. It’s believed Stepney and Coughlan had plans to go to another team with the 500 odd pages from Ferrari. At the time, The Times claimed the pair had met with Nick Fry CEO of Honda. Brawn off fishing when all this occurred. He joined Honda at the end of 2007. Mrs Coughlan took the sheets to a copy shop, as they could copy in colour. I didn’t know colour copiers were hard to find in 2007, so something was going on that Coughlan didn’t want to share with McLaren.

        1. Jon Bee, Honda did later issue a formal statement confirming that those two did meet with Fry, although they denied that there was any technical data exchanged between the two.

          The indication is that Honda were being honest about that, as it seems that the two were trying to broker a deal about poaching staff from McLaren to join Honda. The indication is they made an offer to bring four technical staff to Honda, but it seems that Fry turned down their approaches and it probably did not develop further from there.

  8. Ahh Pedro….forever Fernando’s lapdog eh?

    Lets just gloss over the whole Alonso storming in to Ron Dennis and threatening to tell the FIA about the Ferrari dossier if he wasn’t given number one status against the rookie Hamilton! Fair play to Ron Dennis for then going to the FIA himself and admitting it too to avoid being blackmailed.

    1. Which is of course why Ron hired Alonso 7 years later.

    2. Jonathan Parkin
      18th March 2020, 16:05

      But he didn’t need the number one status. If he hadn’t delayed Lewis in the pits at Hungary he could have finished higher in the race. Also he crashed at Fuji. Had he not done both or one of those things he would have been champion

      1. Very true, the crash at fuji was where he lost the title. Webber in Korea in 2010 felt very similar.

      2. I’m not saying he did need the number one status. I’m just saying that trying to paint Alonso as an innocent in the whole spygate saga ia garbage.

  9. The F1 official podcast should not give voice to this cheater. Pedro de la Rosa shouldn’t have a place in F1, but then again neither Pat Symonds, and that one managed to come back to Williams…to replace Mike Coughlan…

  10. how about you @keithcollantine when are you going to star the RaceFans podcast?

    1. @johnmilk That’s not something we’re working on right now but you should see some new video stuff from us very soon. It’ll be on the YouTube channel first:

      1. @keithcollantine that I already knew ;)

  11. A rookie using the 2 time champions setup etc and still managed to beat him. What was wrong with alonso using his own data and setup and beating lewis. Then being able to brag: ” he had my data and settings and i still beat him”… But sadly no. Lewis beat alonso.

    1. No, he didn’t, they drew and when you consider the exceptional start hamilton had, I’m not sure that’s a negative on alonso, although 2007 wasn’t the best alonso ever ofc.

      1. @esploratore

        Fact – Double champ against a rookie. best or not he got schooled

  12. Funny how the usual suspects can’t help talking about Alonso-Hamilton even if the story has nothing to do with that at all..

    1. @ esploratore just google 2007 f1 standings. Kimi 1, lewis 2, alonso 3… Lewis beat alonso.

  13. I really liked the Pedro de la Rosa ‘beyond the grid’ episodes, lot of interesting things in there, about how he feels about being replaced with Hamilton – thought McLaren should have been open w. him end of 2006: no clearly with HAM GP2 champ, he was there for 2007, so be honest – he also says he saw what HAM did on 2nd testing lap, realised he was, like Alonso, beyond his level, and clearly the 2007 driver; his view is probably biased about spygate/Alonso (though he didn’t speak to Alonso for years, until he got Ferrari spot on, what later turned out to be, Alonso’s recommendation), but still interesting and insightful.

    Recommended for listening, nut just for that, the HRT bit/Dennis was great, Irvine lol (wondered: having heard Rosberg abt MSC, did Irvine get his approach to teammate there?); as well as his view of 20-naughties era F1, and it’s drivers.

  14. Alonso “eh, Pedro! ”

    De la rosa “Yes Fernando??”

    Alonso ” how would you like to earn a million euro and appear on the pundit circuit and make headlines while F1 news is slow? ”

    De la Rosa ” Will I be famous again? ”

    Alonso “Yes”

    De la Rosa ” What do I need to do? ”

    Alonso ” Well… “

  15. Hamilton v Alonso
    Regardless of which driver was your favourite, this was ultimately the rivalry we all wanted to see from 2007 onwards, and sadly we saw too little. There were some great fights between them mainly through 2010-13, but ultimately too few for what should have been the great rivalry of the decade. Sad really. Whoever your favourite driver is learn to love their rivals too, without great rivals there is no show! Let’s hope 2020 Hamilton v Verstappen v Leclerc delivers, but I fear it’s gonna be another 2 car Mercedes World Championship. I hope I’m wrong.

  16. we all know it is ferrari’s fault.

  17. I still cant understand why we keep talking about this. I’m so fed up of people dragging this up over and over again. Sure, we may still bring up some controversies between Senna and Prost, Schumacher and everyone that stood in his way in the 90s etc, but this topic keeps rearing its head every couple months.

    Lets get over it man. We get it, Alonso = Bad/sore loser/toxic, Hamilton = Good/prodigal son/best driver ever, Ron = Ron. Fact or fiction, I can’t tell the difference anymore.

    I’d hope that the media stop milking this happened 13 years ago.

    The funny thing is, I dont know why the British media keep playing this, its not as if Alonso went on to win anymore championships and became one of the “greatest driver of all time”. Lewis has wiped the floor with him in every measurable metric. Stats count, opinions don’t. SV is a 4 time world champion, but he appears to have trouble keeping his car on track times…blimey.

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