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Lewis Hamilton

Why McLaren mechanics tried to avoid working with Hamilton

An ex-McLaren employee explains why most of the team's mechanics were going out of their way to avoid working with Lewis Hamilton during his rookie year.

Hamilton Canada 2007
Article
To news overview © Mark McArdle

Former McLaren man Marc Priestley says he and his fellow mechanics were falling over themselves not to work on Lewis Hamilton's car during the Briton's rookie F1 season in 2007.

An all-new driver line-up for McLaren that year saw reigning GP2 champion Hamilton graduate to F1 to join the team to partner Fernando Alonso, who had won the past two Drivers' Championships with Renault.

According to Priestley, Alonso's presence in the team prompted a scramble among engineers eager to ally themselves with the reigning double World Champion, who was expected to lead McLaren's title push.

"The mechanics and engineers were squabbling amongst themselves, fighting to get onto Fernando's car," said Priestley in the latest edition of his Pitlane Life Lessons podcast.

"People didn't want to be on Lewis Hamilton's car in that very first year because they didn't expect much from him.

"As mechanics and engineers, you want to win that World Championship just as much as the drivers do, and so of course you had the best opportunity of doing that by being on the current World Champion's car, or so we thought.

"Pretty much everyone in the factory had expectations, particularly once we realised we had a quick car, that Fernando was our guy to deliver the big results."

Tensions rise at McLaren as Hamilton challenges Alonso

However, with Hamilton taking to F1 quicker than many anticipated, it was he who led the standings for much of a 2007 season that was pockmarked by controversy and intra-team acrimony.

Unlike Ferrari had done in previous years, McLaren imposed no team orders on their two drivers and allowed them to race each other – a state of affairs that notably drew the ire of Alonso, who felt that Hamilton should have had to defer to his seniority.

Tensions between the two reached boiling point during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, when Alonso attempted to prevent Hamilton from completing his final flying lap, resulting in the Spaniard being demoted to sixth on the grid and McLaren receiving no Constructors' points that weekend.

As the two drivers continued to take points off each other, Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen instead swooped in to take the 2007 Drivers' Championship by a single point from both Hamilton and Alonso.

So sour did the atmosphere turn at McLaren that Alonso elected to walk away from the team after just one year to head back to Renault, leaving Hamilton as the undisputed number one at Woking.

"[Hamilton and Alonso] at times went out of their way to wrestle control of the team over towards them, to wrestle support over to their side of the garage, to almost clamber over the person on the other side to give them a step up. That happened in 2007 on both sides of our garage," said Priestley.

"It happened for a whole host of reasons. McLaren did a very bad job of handling this back then. It was the first time for quite a number of years we had experienced such a dynamic between two drivers.

"It was a very bad job of man-management when it came to both the drivers, but also the teams of people around those drivers, who naturally of course gravitated towards their driver and essentially pulled this great big divide between the centre of the team.

"I would say that was the very reason why we failed to win the World Championship in 2007, a season when we had the car, the drivers, all the right people in the team.

"We had every opportunity to win that World Championship and yet we didn't because as a team we weren't firing on all cylinders, pulling in the same direction.

"We had this giant, gaping split down the middle of our team."

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