Never say never, indeed. At the nadir of their bitter separation seven years ago Fernando Alonso and Ron Dennis could barely spit in each other’s direction, let alone pass the time of day. Now they are the answer to each other’s prayers, a world-class team in need of a world-beater at the wheel. Welcome home, Fernando.
The pair first found love behind the garages at Interlagos in the immediacy of Alonso’s maiden world championship win of 2005. While Alonso’s manager and Renault team principal Flavio Briatore was popping corks in the pit lane his counterpart at McLaren was making a pass at his leading man. As he had so many times down the years, Dennis made it stick.
Alonso had already signed the divorce papers before the launch of the 2006 Renault car in Monaco, much of which passed with Alonso explaining how the move would not harm his title defences. That is not how it appeared before the penultimate race in Japan, after Michael Schumacher’s victory in China narrowed the championship deficit sufficiently to trip Alonso’s political switch.
For the first time an F1 audience glimpsed Alonso’s inner prima donna. Team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella and the Renault hierarchy felt the full force of the Spaniard’s bottom lip. To paraphrase: “If we [in other words he] are going to win this championship then I’m going to need more help than you gave me in China.”
Alonso might have said this in the motorhome but he chose not to address his team directly but via the medium of the press. The agenda – his agenda – was set.
As things turned out, Schumacher blew an engine in Japan, taking himself to the back of the grid at the season’s denouement in Brazil. Alonso duly retained his title, but not before demonstrating his willingness to challenge the team leadership by whatever means necessary in the cause of his own interests.
He was miffed over a pit-stop gaffe in China that sent him back out on fresh rubber at the front but not the back. He rapidly fell back behind Fisichella and Schumacher. Though Fisi eventually let him through, the perceived damage was done.
His debut season at McLaren was not three races old and Dennis already had his arm around Alonso’s shoulder in the Bahrain paddock. It was apparent that the unfettered attendance of rookie supernova Lewis Hamilton was unwelcome. By the fifth race in Monaco it was obvious that the driver dynamics had detonated beyond Dennis’s control.
If he had tried to reign in Hamilton, the kid wasn’t listening. His “I’m no No 2 driver” speech to the post-race conference sent a thousand volts through the Monte Carlo paddock. Dennis maintained that the principle of equality at the heart of his team would not be compromised. Hamilton said thank you very much, recording a maiden win at the next race in Canada and followed it up with another, back-to-back, at Indianapolis.
You can imagine how the fireworks going off in Alonso’s head might not have been celebratory. Rational thought was utterly beyond him by Budapest, where he fatefully parked his motor in the pit lane, denying Hamilton a final flying lap. The resulting grid penalty was neither here nor there.
The post-qualifying press conference in the McLaren motorhome was radioactive. Never has a pear been demolished with such venom as that by Alonso, who must have imagined he had the heads of Dennis and Hamilton in his hands.
By now a parallel torpedo was on its way with the FIA’s name on it. The dossier of Ferrari technical blueprints illegally in the possession of some McLaren staff was deemed to be of insufficient menace until Alonso let slip that he was included in an email trail that proved the information was more widespread than McLaren acknowledged.
He probably regrets threatening to release that information but by then he had only vengeance in his heart. He arrived at McLaren a double world champion hired to lead the team to a first championship of the new millennium. He felt let down not so much by Hamilton as by the McLaren leadership that failed to spell out where hegemony rested.
Had Dennis handled the situation better the third title he so craves would already be Alonso’s. Had Alonso handled Hamilton’s fire with greater maturity he might have avoided five fruitless years at Maranello, during which time Sebastien Vettel stole the future he had imagined for himself.
Alonso’s need meets McLaren’s desperation at a point in history that might well prove serendipitous to both. Honda have a chunk of money to throw at man and machine. It has proved irresistible in the past; why not this time?Reuse content