Formula 1
Formula 1
29 Aug
-
01 Sep
Event finished
05 Sep
-
08 Sep
Event finished
19 Sep
-
22 Sep
Event finished
26 Sep
-
29 Sep
Event finished
10 Oct
-
13 Oct
Event finished
Motorsport Blog
Topic

Motorsport Blog

The unlikeliest marriage: Notes from behind the scenes of a day at McLaren

shares
comments
The unlikeliest marriage: Notes from behind the scenes of a day at McLaren
Dec 11, 2014, 6:19 PM

Today at McLaren was one of those unmissable occasions for getting up close, seeing the whites of the protagonists' eyes and listening to the subtl...

Today at McLaren was one of those unmissable occasions for getting up close, seeing the whites of the protagonists' eyes and listening to the subtleties of their words in the press conference and afterwards in the smaller groups. The key players were accessible and their availability lasted a couple of hours. We got a chance to see the new chemistry in action.

This reconciliation between Alonso and Ron Dennis is truly a surprise to anyone who covered the 2007 season up close at McLaren and has worked with Alonso since. So is it real and can it work? And how does Jenson Button feel about his last few months and his role?

Neither Alonso nor Dennis dodged the obvious issue about their previously troubled relationship. I was impressed with the honesty of many of the answers today. For example, I asked Alonso and Dennis a question about Dennis' failure to properly back Alonso's title challenge in 2007, which resulted in Kimi Raikkonen stealing the title for Ferrari. If McLaren had backed the two time champion Alonso, rather than given the rookie Lewis Hamilton a shot, Alonso would have comfortably closed the title out. I wanted to know whether they had put in place any arrangements this time in Alonso's favour to avoid a repeat.

Dennis replied that he realises that he is sometimes his own worst enemy, that he can be an unbalanced individual and that he had learned from the 2007 experience to be more "inclusive" in his decision making process. He pointed a finger at Hamilton for his "immaturity" at the time, accusing him of playing a part in "sparking" the process, which escalated into the breakdown of the Alonso/Dennis relationship. "It got away from me and I look back on my contribution to that with...regret. But sometimes you can't change what's happened. I could have done things better," said Dennis.

"So I don't anticipate any issues between Fernando and I. We want to be happy because the opposite is rubbish. We will have our radar on and will avoid anything that could damage our relationship."

Alonso also spoke of the difference in him between the 25 year old who fell out with Dennis and the 33 year old of today. He also spoke of the importance of being honest and learning from the past. He said that he has matured, the Honda dynamic makes things different for him and Button is a very different commodity to Hamilton.

So do we buy this reconciliation? Or do we think it is window-dressing?

McLaren

At the time in 2007, I remember being in the small group of media in the McLaren motorhome to whom Dennis said, "Competitive animals know no limits", about Alonso. He said it at a time when Alonso was on the verge of destroying his team, but he said it with admiration for the ruthlessness of the man. I don't think he's ever lost that respect and he wants it now, to lead McLaren and Honda back to the top. Certainly that is what Honda has bought into; they wanted the ruthless Samurai at any price.

"We share this obsession with winning. Fernando never gives up and I never give up," said Dennis. "It's how you channel the energy, constructively or negatively. I have a completely different approach to life now."

The point to make from what we saw today is that it shows reconciliation is possible. If we look outside the F1 bubble for a moment and consider the extraordinary reconciliations between people, which have been possible in South Africa and Northern Ireland for example, people in shattered communities putting past troubles and conflicts behind them, then the problems of a couple of prickly over-competitive sporty types should be possible to reconcile. That brings us to where we are today.

JA

The wider question is, will it last? The risk is that the project doesn't find competitiveness within two seasons and then disappointment will set the tone. The big question mark is that Honda powerplant and how long it takes to be class leading. Friends inside the race team say that the 2015 chassis is already a good step faster in the simulator than the 2014 one and there are still three months of development time to Melbourne.

It's unlikely that, if the team finds itself winning in 2016/17, Dennis will make the same mistake again of not backing his best driver at the right moment to take the title.

JA

Alonso walked in to the hall today like a Number 1, with Button strolling in behind. Alonso was invited to the stage first of the drivers and he spoke first. His name and quotes appeared first in the team press release, he even went as far as to say that he had given his "opinion" to the team to hire Button, stopping short of saying any more about his rights. In Button he has a team mate who doesn't get emotional about not winning. That's important for Alonso. On paper you would say he will beat Button in points and results over a season. But you admire Button for giving himself that challenge, as he did with Hamilton from 2010 to 2012.

Beyond that, the other point of note is that it's not clear what Dennis' position with the team will be as 2015 goes on, as he is supposed to be taking a controlling interest in McLaren but has yet to find the €300 million he needs to seal the deal. He has 30 days according to reliable sources. What happens if he does not succeed? Presumably the other shareholders have the right to buy him out. They also need a title sponsor and more blue chip names on the car. Now with the drivers sorted they can push on.

It has clearly been a tough period for Dennis, who has a battle on his hands with shareholders and has had to come to terms with the past and with been slated for "dithering" over the Button/Magnussen decision. He really hated that. Asked in a BBC interview later about whether he thought it had been a PR disaster the last few weeks he bridled, "I'm extremely decisive," he said defensively.

It has always been the case that when he feels uncomfortable or a bit out-of-control, he seeks to impose himself more on a situation and it was noticeable today that he was in this mode. He talked a lot in the press conference, got it under his control, took questions first, before others had a chance to speak, even took one question that had been posed to the Honda man Arai.

He said more than he wanted to at times. At one point Dennis said, "Look at poor old, sad Kevin," which raised a sardonic laugh from the audience.

Today provided a good story, gives the media and fans something new and different to get excited about and on that level is a shot in the arm for the sport. There has been a lot of unnecessary negativity swirling around F1 this season, much of it put out there intentionally and it's good to end the year on a positive note. Two world champions in Honda powered McLarens is an exciting prospect.
Next article
Dennis welcomes Alonso back and talks of "unfinished business"

Previous article

Dennis welcomes Alonso back and talks of "unfinished business"

Next article

McLaren confirms test role for Vandoorne

McLaren confirms test role for Vandoorne
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Teams McLaren Shop Now