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Lewis Hamilton

F1's biggest scandals: Hamilton and Alonso's smash hit

The year 2007 seemed to be a promising one for McLaren, but - partly due to the rivalry between drivers Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso - it all went wrong. It all started during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Article
To news overview © McLaren

McLaren's driver line-up in 2007 was finger-licking good. Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and super talent Lewis Hamilton, who debuted in Formula 1 that year. The season initially went very well, with five wins and 16 podium finishes until the Hungarian Grand Prix, which was the 11th race weekend of the season.

In qualifying for the Hungarian GP, things seemed to be going well for the British squad again, but then the team spirit suddenly went overboard. Both drivers had reached Q3 with ease, but at the end of the third and decisive qualifying session, everyone was surprised.

Both drivers came into the pits for a last time, to get a fresh set of tyres in order to fire up the pace and make a final bid for pole position. Alonso was the first to arrive at the McLaren garage. His tyres were changed with no problems and the Spaniard could continue his journey, but he did not.

As the clock ticked down, he stood still in the pit box, while Hamilton waited behind him and grew impatient. After more than 10 seconds, Alonso departed. With just enough time left on the clock to make a final push for pole, Hamilton was left bewildered and saw his qualifying fail - he could not complete a final lap.

The situation was widely condemned and team principal Ron Dennis was furious at Alonso's engineer, but the 'feud' between the two sides of the team actually began earlier, as Marc Priestley, one of McLaren's engineers at the time, told us. It was Hamilton who had instigated the scandalous display.

"At McLaren we had a fair and open system during qualifying. There was an alternation between the two drivers. One race weekend one driver would be first out on the track and the other driver would be second. In those days, that could give a driver a big advantage.

"In Hungary that weekend, it was Alonso's turn to go out first. However, Lewis flouted that rule during qualifying in Hungary, with the help of his engineers. Everyone on the other side of the garage was confused and angry, but there was no time to be angry. Alonso drove out and closed in behind Hamilton.

"On the radio there were loud shouts, but on Lewis' side of the garage they acted as if they didn't know. It caused a lot of controversy at the time, although some thought it was just a mistake, but apparently it wasn't. Hamilton ignored all the radio calls he received to let Alonso pass and just drove on. The Brit did not even listen to the team boss."

So not much later the situation described earlier occurred. Alonso took revenge, and how. Priestley says: "Alonso came in for a pit stop. The pit stop was perfect. We left it for a few seconds to have the perfect timing for his last qualifying lap. We counted down, 3, 2, 1, but then nothing happened.

"'Fernando go now!' the engineers shouted in his ear, as Hamilton had joined the queue behind him. He stayed put, though. Everyone in the garage looked at each other, no one understood. Lewis was behind him, revving his engine, like he was an angry street racer at a traffic light. It was only after a few seconds that I realised Alonso was doing it on purpose...

"After standing still for 10 seconds too long, Alonso finally drove away. After a quick pit stop, Hamilton pulled away but ran out of time to set a lap. Alonso crossed the line and started his final qualifying lap with one second left on the clock.

"I was disgusted by the behaviour of both drivers. From Lewis not following the plan, to Alonso taking revenge. On that day I lost a lot of respect for them, but at the same time I was also impressed by Alonso, who knew down to the second when to leave the pits to get across the line and at the same time make sure Hamilton didn't."

It was the beginning of a disastrous end to the season for McLaren. Both sides of the garage were competing with each other, totally focused on the other, rather than working together to win the constructors' title. "The fact that we didn't win the title that year can all be traced back to that qualifying session in Hungary," said Priestley.

Alonso was given a five-place grid penalty after qualifying for holding up Hamilton. The Briton eventually won the grand prix, but the following races were downhill for the team. McLaren missed out on the title with Alonso and Hamilton, with the accolade eventually going to Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen. In 2007, the British team were also disqualified because of the 'Spygate' scandal. Alonso left McLaren after one year and returned to Renault, while Hamilton won his first world title in 2008.

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