As their increasingly close fight for the world championship enters its end game in Japan, with only three races left to run, championship leader Lewis Hamilton said yesterday he does not believe that team-mate Fernando Alonso has been loyal enough to McLaren in a troubled season.
"I think the team have gone out of their way," Hamilton said. "As Fernando has been the world champion coming into the team, especially at the beginning of the season, he is the guy that's supposed to take them to the championship. And they've bent over backwards to make him feel comfortable. Pedro [test driver de la Rosa] and I have done the same, we've been told, 'Try and make Fernando feel welcome in the team'. We've done that, and then you saw what he did to the team."
Hamilton was alluding to the Spaniard's refusal to support McLaren at the FIA World Motor Sport Council hearing in Paris on 13 September, at which they were fined a record £50million and had all their points in the constructors' championship annulled for allegedly bringing the sport into disrepute during the infamous 'Stepneygate' spying scandal.
Though team principal Ron Dennis steadfastly refuses to confirm the allegations, insiders say that Alonso tried to make Dennis favour him over Hamilton in the final part of the season by threatening to expose to the FIA that he and De la Rosa knew about the stolen Ferrari intellectual property that had been passed on to chief designer Mike Coughlan. In the event, Dennis refused to be browbeaten and informed the governing body himself.
Hamilton has watched Alonso erode his points lead to two, through a combination of circumstances. In the Belgian Grand Prix, Alonso shoved him wide on the exit to the first corner, thus ensuring that he finished third to the runaway Ferraris and Hamilton fourth.
Speaking of that incident, Hamilton, who was quickest in the second practice session yesterday, said: "For both of us, we have got to be careful and remember that we are team-mates. I probably will speak to him later in the weekend about this, because I haven't spoken to him since the last race and I have my feelings on what happened there.
"Here is another race, another day, but when we are out there we won't be giving any handouts, that is for sure. We will see. I will be a lot more aware of him around me now. You wait and see. I am driving to keep the car on the track and be fair to everyone, but if that is how aggressive he wants to be then I can be just as aggressive as anyone else.
"I have nothing to lose. He is the one defending the world championship, so really he should have more pressure on him. But in the last two races he has done really well. I don't know if he has unloaded a load of baggage and is not feeling any weight off the team. He seems to be quite happy in the team all of a sudden, or with himself at least." Despite his relationship with Dennis, Hamilton does not believe he will get any more support than Alonso. "No, I wouldn't say that," he said. "I have as much support as anyone. I think with everything that's gone on they feel they want to win it even more. I don't feel it's more me or him."