The year 2007 witnessed one of the greatest rivalries between Formula 1 teammates in recent times. The Hungarian Grand Prix , held at the Hungaroring , became one of the most famous episodes in the rivalry between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.
The problems started in classification, but it is also necessary to remember the particular context in which this test was developed, both internal and external…
Divorce and Spygate
Internally, the tension could be cut with a knife. Not only the one between the current two-time world champion and the rookie, but also the one between the team and its drivers. It caused a dent in the cohesion of the structure, at the time directed by Ron Dennis , and nobody had forgotten what happened in Monaco.
In the Principality, Alonso had dominated the race and held a ten-second lead over Hamilton, but had to slow down towards the end of the race due to overheating of his brake calipers.
Hamilton, who had arrived with the GP2 title under his arm, reduced the distance to Alonso and began to put pressure on the Spaniard. The man from Oviedo was disappointed, since he had to increase his speed and it was a situation that he considered unnecessarily dangerous. From McLaren, Hamilton was asked to reduce his pace so as not to take risks and thus ensure a good result from the structure.
This decision by Ron Dennis was the catalyst for the explosion. Alonso won, followed closely by the Briton and, after the race, the team manager would explain to the two-time champion that he had to order Hamilton to slow down, and then ask Alonso to be the conciliatory character.
This attempt to calm things down did not have the desired effect: Dennis meant that he would take care of the situation and that Alonso would not have to worry about it, but the Spaniard got angry, after understanding that he had only won due to team orders asking Hamilton to stop.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-22, leads ahead of Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-22
But on Hamilton’s side, things weren’t any better either: the rookie was very unhappy about having to slow down and so he let the press know. The sequence of events and the final decision to ban him from attacking bothered him so much that this is what he said after the end of the race: “I have to live with it. I have the number 2 on my car and I am the number 2 driver.”
In public, although the actual situation was the opposite of what Dennis wanted, what emerged was that McLaren seemed to have manipulated the outcome of the race by freezing the positions, denying Hamilton the chance of victory. An interpretation that would not help Alonso, who will rarely speak to Ron Dennis from then on. Six races later came Hungary… in the context of Spygate .
Spygate broke out in late June. Following the discovery of confidential Ferrari documents in the hands of one of McLaren’s managers, Mike Coughlan , those in Woking were suspected of having spied on the Scuderia.
At the end of a first procedure, at the end of July 2007, despite the fact that the FIA acknowledges the possession of confidential documents (a file of more than 700 pages provided by Nigel Stepney , former Ferrari chief mechanic and still a member of the team at the time of the events), did not impose any sanction, due to the absence of evidence of its use by McLaren, although it reserved the right to reopen the investigation if other evidence appeared.
10 seconds of discord
On a sporting level, before the race at the Hungaroring, the situation in the championship was very tight: Hamilton was the world leader with 70 points, ahead of Alonso, who was only two units away, with 68. The two Ferraris , Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen followed with 59 and 52 points respectively. Despite his youth and inexperience, the Briton impressed by stopping the current two-time champion, who did not expect not to have the status of undisputed number one, although there was nothing written in his contract in this regard.
The Hungaroring circuit seemed to have suited the McLarens better than the Ferraris. So, unsurprisingly, during qualifying the battle was on between the two drivers from the Woking outfit and at the start of Q3, Hamilton was leading with a 1m19.781s. It was then that something happened that is still etched in the fans’ retinas: while Alonso was in the pits to change tyres, the team held him in place for about 20 seconds , before the ‘lollipop man’ allowed him to go out again.
But the Spaniard did not accept the invitation immediately and took another ten seconds to get out…while Hamilton, desperate, was waiting his turn, just behind Alonso. The time was so tight that once he came out of the pits, the Brit couldn’t get to the finish line fast enough to complete another lap. Alonso managed it by just two seconds, and took pole position, lowering the time to 1:19.674.
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-22 ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari F2007
International television footage showed a disgruntled Ron Dennis walking out of the pit wall and asking Alonso’s physical trainer to follow him. The atmosphere around this situation was strange, and it was believed that the Spanish had acted freely. However, certain nuances must be dusted off: in his first attempt at Q3, Alonso had to start ahead of Hamilton, but the positions were the opposite. When the Briton was asked to let his teammate through, he refused, saying Raikkonen was too close.
“Depending on the circuit and the fuel in the car, one or the other of our drivers alternatively has a slight advantage because he burns a bit more fuel than his teammate and therefore starts a bit lighter,” he explained. Dennis, referring to a norm of the time. “It fell to Fernando [Alonso] to have that little lead and the time he spent burning off his fuel was correct. It was Lewis [Hamilton] who didn’t reverse positions as agreed and unfortunately had to wait behind Fernando.
Given the controversy, the FIA got down to work on the matter. McLaren had to justify holding Alonso for 20 seconds and the Spaniard had to explain why he had been stopped for an extra 10 seconds. The team explained that they wanted to avoid traffic when they took their driver out, with the Spaniard saying he was worried about the tires on his car during those 10 seconds. None of these explanations convinced the commissioners.
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, and Fernando Alonso, McLaren
And the FIA was especially severe , as can be seen from the conclusion of the decision that was communicated to them that same afternoon: “The explanation given by Alonso as to why, at the expiration of the 20-second period, he remained in his position is not accepted. pit stop for a further 10 seconds. The stewards consider that he unnecessarily hindered another driver, Hamilton, and for this he will be sanctioned with the loss of 5 places on the grid”.
“The explanation given by the team as to why they kept Alonso stationary for 20 seconds after his tire change was completed and thus delayed Hamilton’s own pit stop is not accepted. The team’s actions in the The last few minutes of qualifying are considered detrimental to the interests of the competition and motor sport in general.The penalty that will be applied is that they will have their points (if any) withdrawn in the 2007 Formula One Constructors’ Championship which accumulate the team as a result of his participation in the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix”.
Little blackmail between friends
The next morning, a few hours before the race and in the company of his representative, Luis García Abad , it was a furious Alonso who met with Ron Dennis. The pilot asked him to repair the damage caused by Hamilton the day before. To support his request, the Asturian limited himself to threatening McLaren with revealing compromising emails about the Spygate matter to the FIA, showing that the data provided by Stepney had indeed been used. In 2018, the BBC revealed that Alonso, among other things, would have insisted that McLaren leave Hamilton without fuel in the race, in exchange for his silence.
Ron Dennis then reportedly asked Alonso to be quiet before bringing in Martin Whitmarsh , his right-hand man, asking the Spaniard to repeat the ‘request’ he had just made. Once Alonso and Abad had driven off, Dennis and Whitmarsh discussed what to do next, agreeing to telephone FIA President Max Mosley , but also agreeing not to allow a driver who had just blackmailed them to race.
Over the phone, however, Mosley advised Dennis not to go down that route. Half an hour after the meeting, Abad met with Dennis again. Alonso finally wanted to apologize after losing his temper, and retracted everything he said.
Ron Dennis, Director of McLaren Mercedes, with Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-22 Mercedes
Alonso was relegated to sixth place and could do nothing to prevent Hamilton from leading all 70 laps of a race that ended ahead of a more threatening than dangerous Raikkonen. The Spaniard finished fourth and his distance with Hamilton in the world championship was seven points. After the race, a handshake and an in-person apology ended the blackmail episode.
A month after Hungary, at the end of a second Spygate investigation requested by Mosley following new information that had emerged, access to all McLaren emails brought to light a true espionage operation that led to the imposition of a record fine of 100 million dollars [98 million euros at current exchange rates] to the Woking team, as well as exclusion from the constructors’ championship.
While some may have linked Alonso’s blackmail in Hungary or Dennis’s phone call to Mosley with this second investigation, the former FIA president confirmed that he was “already aware of the emails”, because in fact… Alonso had told his agent Flavio Briatore, who in turn told Bernie Ecclestone, who in turn told Mosley.
Shortly after, Dennis and Alonso met to negotiate the Spaniard’s contractual release at the end of the season.
The rest of the year was a complete defeat for McLaren, who also lost the drivers’ title to Kimi Raikkonen . Despite the breach of contract, McLaren allowed Alonso to fight Hamilton to the bitter end.
On the track, for the Spaniard, the 2007 World Cup would be lost especially in Japan, under the deluge, where Alonso crashed alone and would allow his teammate to sign a brilliant success, which at that time was believed to be decisive.
In the end, the two men finished with 109 points each [although the Briton would appear ahead in the standings thanks to a greater number of second places], one unit behind Raikkonen, who took the title for Ferrari.