Flavio Briatore, two names: Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan. What do you think about them?
"Filthy. A shameful behavior. They're going to be kicked out of Formula 1".
The face of guarantorism.
"The engineers in our world earn huge sums of money, millions of euro. They had a lot of luck to be in the right place at the right time. There can be no room for the corrupt".
Another word: McLaren. And what do you think about it?
"That when you read the spy story report, the evidence that emerged, there were certain advantages. They have to be punished".
So, the second round in Paris is well welcomed.
"It's sacrosanct. In F1, we need certain rules to prevent further cases of espionage. And you have to be careful about setting dangerous precedents".
The FIA acknowledged the exchange of information between the two technicians, but failed to demonstrate the advantage on the part of the English team.
"I'm not a judge, but it seems puzzling to me. If McLaren knew how to spread the weight on the car, to better manage the new Bridgestone tyres, this is a huge benefit. If it is proven, other than acquittal, they deserve the exclusion of the World Championship. I didn't get this help, nor did Honda. We were also moving from Michelin to Bridgestone, look how far back we are in the standings".
However, last year they forced them to remove the mass damper.
"It was precisely McLaren who talked about transparency. If last season I risked losing the World Championship, I have to thank them too. McLaren hasn't been transparent? They need to be punished".
Dennis calls himself pure.
"Nice definition, that doesn't sound good to me. In F1, a team manager has a duty to know what is happening inside the team. It would not have been possible for us to receive confidential information without the technicians informing the managers. Why do we believe in fairy tales?".
Ron Dennis also argues that spying should be encouraged.
"Are we kidding? What do we do, do we dress like executioners and pay people on a team to tell you what's illegal? The FIA is our guarantor. They must enforce the rules. And they need to be clear".
In short, McLaren needs a punishment.
"An exemplary punishment. So that a mechanic, before he passes any classified information, will think about it twenty-seven times. And a team will think through it before they use it".
Next year, there will be the unique control unit. And McLaren will be the team to manufacture it.
"Meanwhile, it doesn't work, the throttle stays open, the cars on the grid don't get away, it costs an arm and a leg. And then to optimize it, I would have to give McLaren information about my car. Dennis is wrong. I don't trust him".
In this climate of tension and accusations, the first day of free practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix takes place on Friday, 3 August 2007, on the Hungaroring circuit. And someone feels like saying:
"Finally on track".
Hoping that the turmoil of engines will cancel the aftermath of the spy story between McLaren and Ferrari. It will not be like that. Fernando Alonso sets the best time and leaves everyone behind. At the end of the day, both sessions have seen the McLaren-Mercedes of Fernando Alonso at the top of the timesheet. In the morning, the best driver had been Robert Kubica with his BMW, ahead of both Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raïkkönen, and Fernando Alonso himself. In the afternoon session, the Spanish driver was the only one to go under the limit of 1'21"0, setting a time of 1'20"919. Behind him there is the Renault of Heikki Kovalainen in constant progress. It goes wrong for Fernando Alonso's teammate, Lewis Hamilton. The leader of the World Championship finished the afternoon practice with the car in the middle of the gravel after a spin. He will still stay in third position. Both Ferraris are far away. Kimi Raïkkönen and Felipe Massa, in fact, only set the sixth and seventh best time. The Williams-Toyota of Nico Rosberg and the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld are also ahead of them. Perhaps there was a problem of balance on both F2007s, which with a pace definitely more slow compared to McLaren do not manage to well unleash all the power, also having problems with the tyres, especially the Supersoft tyres. Kimi Raïkkönen explains:
"Despite that, today is only Friday and there is no need to dramatize in view of qualifying and the race".
Also because, as Felipe Massa affirms:
"We're definitely competitive".
On Saturday, 4 August 2007, in the first qualifying session, Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time with 1’19”570, which was the quickest time recorded in the weekend so far, being the only lap under 1’20”0. Hamilton and the rest of the front-runners led the way and, as the session ended, Jenson Button, the 2006 winner, had put his Honda teammate Rubens Barrichello into the relegation zone. However, Button was soon beaten by Liuzzi. Joining the two Hondas were Takuma Sato, Sebastian Vettel, Adrian Sutil and Sakon Yamamoto. In the second session, Jarno Trulli of Toyota led the pace early, but Hamilton and his teammate Alonso set the best times. Massa and Kubica struggled in 11th and 12th places, but Kubica's team put on new tyres and reached the top 10. Massa had worse luck; the Ferrari team were not prepared for him to need a second run in Q2, and he was released into the pit-lane without being refuelled. His pit crew had to run down the pit-lane and pull him back to his pit to be refuelled, by which time his tyres had lost temperature so when he finally made it out, the lack of grip meant he was unable to improve his time. Joining Massa among the eliminated drivers were David Coulthard in 11th, Heikki Kovalainen in 12th, Alexander Wurz of Williams-Toyota in 13th, 15th was Anthony Davidson, and 16th was Vitantonio Liuzzi.
Hamilton led out of the pit-lane at the beginning of Q3, followed by teammate Alonso. Hamilton set the quickest lap time the first time around, but was soon beaten by Nick Heidfeld. Around the 9-minute mark, Trulli was the first into the pits to change tyres. Alonso was next into the pits; at the time, he was ninth. All the others followed suit, and meaningful times were soon put in. Hamilton again impressed the crowd with another time below 1’20”0. Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen, the only remaining Ferrari driver, Nick Heidfeld, Kubica, and Trulli filed in behind. With around 2:30 remaining, Alonso again pitted for fresh tyres, along with almost every other driver. The McLaren crew held Alonso for around 20 seconds after the tyres were fitted, in a stated attempt to give him a clear track (however, this reasoning was later rejected by the stewards as most other cars on the track had also pitted). At the time, Hamilton was stacked up behind, waiting for Alonso to leave. But when Alonso was released, he remained stationary for a further 10 seconds, even though the pit crew were gesturing for him to leave. Hamilton then pulled in for his final set of tyres, but the delay meant there was insufficient time for him to get back to the start-finish line before the chequered flag and the end of qualifying. Alonso started his flying lap with less than 2 seconds of the session remaining while Hamilton missed out by around 5 seconds. Alonso's final lap was good enough to claim pole and push Hamilton down to second. TV pictures showed Ron Dennis angrily throwing his headphones down as Alonso pulled out of the pits; and after the session was over, he was seen having a serious conversation with Alonso's trainer. He refused to comment on the pit-lane delay, although he later explained that Hamilton had ignored team orders to let Alonso past at the beginning of the fuel burn phase, which had put the cars out of sequence for their stops. Behind the McLarens of Alonso and Hamilton, the third place went to Heidfeld, which surprised many Ferrari and BMW fans. Räikkönen was in fourth, fifth was Rosberg. Sixth place was taken by Ralf Schumacher from Germany, seventh was the second BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica. Giancarlo Fisichella set the eighth fastest time, with Trulli and Webber rounding out the top ten. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton shares the front row, but it is the Spaniard who has the best position.
The pole position of the World Champion, however, is stained by a maneuver, at the limits of misconduct, into the pits: a move, two minutes from the end of the window, that blocks the teammate, effectively preventing him to complete his last attempt. An episode examined by the FIA stewards, which convenes Ron Dennis, the team principal at McLaren. In the end, after four hours of meeting, they decide on a nonsuit: nothing irregular. The Spaniard remains in pole position. At least for the moment, the spy story is of secondary importance. The Ferrari drivers are struggling: Kimi Raïkkönen is fourth at more than 0.7 seconds away, behind the surprising Nick Heidfeld, while Felipe Massa, also because of a misunderstanding with the pits, does not reach the final phase of qualifying either and will start from the seventh row. Thus, the practice sessions especially live off the episode which takes place in the McLaren-Mercedes pits, in Q3. Fernando Alonso, stationary in the pit-lane to change his tyres in view of his last attempt, hesitates for a few seconds on whether or not to put on the tyres with Soft compound: the mechanics raises the green light sign but he does not leave and takes his time. His teammate is queuing, waiting to execute the same maneuver and has the provisional pole position. At that moment, there are around two minutes left before the end of the session and both drivers have to complete a lap from a standing start before being able to do their last attempt: the possibility to do that last, decisive and storming lap is played on a tightrope of tenths of a second, since that one minute and twenty seconds are needed to do a flying lap and that both McLarens have to first do another lap starting from the pits. The wait of Fernando Alonso goes on for about twenty seconds, then the Spaniard leaves just on time to finish a launch lap without taking the checkered flag. An operation that is not a success for Lewis Hamilton and, like that, the English driver cannot respond to the final lap of Fernando Alonso, which turns out to be the winning one. At the McLaren pits, a member of Lewis Hamilton's team almost rips the headset off of Ron Dennis, who is not very happy either. During the press conference, after a handshake that was not particularly reassuring, only half-sentences were expressed by the two parties concerned. Fernando Alonso says:
"Hold back Hamilton? Only strategy. I waited to get the OK to leave. Yes, the pit sop lasted longer, but it happens. The exit sequence is decided according to traffic and I was already late after the first pit stop because of a tyre blanket that got stuck in the body. But there is nothing strange: some pit stops last 10 seconds, other 20, other 45 seconds. The technicians decide when we have to go again".
But someone tells Alonso about Fabrizio Borra's behavior while standing on the pit wall, he made hand signals. But Fabrizio Borra says in turn, somewhat embarrassed when asked about the matter and Ron Dennis' abrupt ways towards him:
"If someone understands anything about F1 they know it's impossible for a physical therapist to talk to a driver on the radio. Dennis just wanted me to help him calm down Fernando, who was probably a little tense, while he would worry about calming Hamilton down".
But if McLaren's team principal was clearly disappointed to keep Lewis Hamilton calm, it must have been tough given what happened behind closed doors in the Stewards' Office. In front of the media, Lewis tried hard not to find out more, but rather to avoid fueling the controversy:
"There's not a lot to say, everyone saw what happened. Frankly, I don't understand why I was held back. But I'll definitely ask for explanations".
What has really happened? Well, Fernando Alonso has noticed that the mechanics have instead prepared the soft for Lewis, that is, the same compound that was intended for him. For this reason, the Spanish driver, despite Ron Dennis screaming the green light on the radio, continued asking his technicians why they have put on the harder tyres on his car.
On Ferrari's side, however, people think about an afternoon that is anything but exciting. Kimi Räikkönen says:
"The car performed well in the final lap but it was simply not fast enough. I think that it will be hard to beat both McLarens tomorrow. Perhaps we've driven with more fuel than the others, but it seems that both McLarens are really strong on this circuit. However, I'm not worried about BMW because I think that we'll be faster in the race. Because of the past experience, I know that McLaren has always performed well in Monaco and in Budapest and I knew that it would be difficult to beat them. But, during the race, we'll have to be stronger compared to qualifying, so let's wait and see what will happen tomorrow, even if I don't think there will be huge surprises".
Raïkkönen, on the other hand, states he is confident of being able to overtake the BMW of Nick Heidfeld. Felipe Massa, however, explains that there has been a misunderstanding which caused his forced return into the pits, which forced him to be deprived of a final attempt in the second series of practice.
"There has been a communication problem via radio. They turned on the car but I had no fuel, so I had to go back turning off the single-seater. At that point, the tyres were cold and I didn't manage to do a great lap to re-enter in the top ten. It will be difficult to start from the back on this track which is one of the most difficult ones, but we have to look up and improve to bring the car into the points".
After all, everything is seen at the pits of the Maranello team at the end of the second qualifying session. Everything and more. Tyres inverted in the agitation, someone who makes the car of the Brazilian driver leave again but forgets to load the fuel in, panic at the direction, car stuck on the pit-lane, engine off, mechanics running to bring it back to push, new green light but with the tyres now cold. Result: qualifying end there for Felipe Massa and he will start the race from P14. A black Saturday for Ferrari, in the wrong place and especially at the wrong time. It has always been known that the Hungarian Grand Prix is decided by the pole position. But there is more. With that uproar which unleashed between the two most important teams, with the war shaking all over Bernie Ecclestone's glittering empire, this was precisely the opportunity to show themselves as being strong and good on the track, and to counter with facts the words of the rivals who always remember how the cars with a Mercedes engine race fast and do not stop.
"Problems of communication between the driver and his team".
That is the official explanation of the Ferrari control room, after a handful of seconds, and all we need is to look at the faces to realize that the tension is at boiling point. When things are finished, Jean Todt slips with the look of a sphinx and passes from the pits to the motorhome without blinking. He says nothing about what they have combined around the car of Felipe Massa, what counts is above all the fourth place of the Finnish driver, who finished at 0.763 seconds of Fernando Alonso, overtaken also by Nick Heidfeld and therefore forced to start from the less comfortable side. At a later time, Jean Todt explains:
"Kimi could aspire to the third place, he narrowly missed the goal. During the race, everything can happen, but we have to be realistic and say that we've got an uphill race ahead, especially with Felipe".
Wounded and with a great desire for revenge. A rage that has grown in recent weeks taking a toll on the nervous balances of the entire team. Felipe Massa adds:
"An unfortunate situation, I did a mistake at the last corner in the second half. I came back into the pits, I had the hard tyres on, they changed them and then they gave me the green light. But they hadn't loaded the fuel in. I had to turn off the engine and they pushed me back. I could have still made it up but I went again with the tyres that were now cold. I start far away from Alonso, now it's important to study the right strategy to try to climb up and get points".
Beyond the internal problems, McLaren-Mercedes appeared to be significantly superior to the competition. As was the case in Monte-Carlo, and as Kimi Raïkkönen's statements leak out, Maranello's cars suffer on the circuits with many narrow corners, probably because of the long wheelbase: the Ferrari is the car with the greatest distance between the axle of the front and rear wheels, the McLaren is the opposite, and the short wheelbase gives agility and drivability on the narrow corners. The most optimistic, however, had blamed that failure on a delay in the development of the car, compared to the English rivals, a deficit that was then closed in the following weeks. Now the problem seems to resurface, even if it is emphasized that not everything is lost at the Ferrari pit and we are appealing to the possible, different amount of fuel, and the usual better performance of Maranello's cars on the race pace, compared to the flying lap. Mario Almondo, the Technical Director, says:
"We don't know which strategy our rivals will use. We'll see what happens tomorrow, the race is another story".
The warm day of Fernando Alonso ends at 8:45 p.m.. The Spaniard leaves the paddock smiling. But, the case on what happened in qualifying only gets sorted out at 11:00 p.m.. The judges did not like his endless stop at the pits before the last attempt, those 45 seconds spent changing the tyres, but above all swearing with the mechanics and engineers, that lost time that betrayed his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, forced to wait in the queue, while the stopwatch ran mercilessly. The judges did not like Fernando Alonso's behavior, they think of a smart, cynical and good driver who calculates everything, who accomplishes the feat with the Hard tyres and prevents his colleague with the Soft to slap him back, and they grilled him for two hours, showing him the footage, listening to the radio communications with the pit, trying to understand if in that attitude there is any evil. Alonso is not alone, Dennis, the team principal of McLaren, increasingly concerned about the war between his two drivers, is also with him and there is Hamilton, who from the beginning appeared furious, to the point that uncontrolled rumors indicate him as the instigator of the inquiry. In the end, everything leads nowhere. Alonso will start ahead of everyone.
But what cannot be erased is the chronicle of a Saturday with open nerves, low blows, where the poison, perhaps subtle, but also evident, at least for a day managed to overshadow the other story, the spy story of Stepney and Coughan, the furious battle between McLaren and Ferrari. Everything happens in the last round, the third one, the one that matters, that determines the pole position. Had Lewis Hamilton been smart a few minutes earlier, staying on track for an extra lap and taking away from his car 2 kilos and 100 grams of fuel? That is when Fernando Alonso returns him the favor in the last pit stop. The disagreement is animated by the most disparate rumors. Alonso's rudeness was endorsed by Dennis. Why? The boss had reprimanded Hamilton:
"You didn't have to stay on the track one more lap, like that Fernando loses out".
And the young Lewis, in return, had replied:
"Go fricking swivel".
No, it was Alonso's physiotherapist, Fabrizio Borra, who spelt out the time to the Spaniard.
"Now you can leave, Hamilton is screwed".
Borra replied saying that they are all mad:
"Alonso can't even see me from the car".
There, Fernando Alonso did everything. He saw the used Hard tyres for him, the new Soft for Lewis Hamilton and yelled at the engineers:
"What are you up to?".
Clever. The sign is already raised, there is the green light, he lost five other seconds. Then, he went across the finish line before the checkered flag. Lewis Hamilton did not. He swore.
"Nonsense, ask the team why I didn't do my last attempt".
The judges thought of that. Keeping the grid nevertheless. And, like that, we are back to speaking about the spy story.
"Ferrari has the right to exercise their rights".
Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat, left Turin to make it known that, in the war with McLaren, Ferrari does not go alone but with the full support of the board of directors of the group to which it belongs. The first manager of Fiat is not a frequent visitor to the circuits of F1.
"I'm only a fan".
His appearance at the Ferrari pits has a clear political value, as is the pronouncement of these words a few steps from Ron Dennis' headquarters.
"If the behaviors that Ferrari has found are true, these are unacceptable behaviors, they are very unfortunate things that must never happen and if they happen they must be punished. The system has to work, there are rules and they need to be respected. At Ferrari, they did what they had to, they insisted on their rights".
Mister Dennis, everyone is after McLaren. You are the manager of the team, how do you feel?
"Firstly, I would like to express a wish: I would like to make peace with Ferrari. Enough with the lawyers, let's get at a table and end the story there".
First, you write out heavy letters of accusation and then you invite them to shake hands?
"The letters were due to a lot of incorrect news that I had read in the newspapers. I did not like the press campaign from Italy, I called it mystifying because I do not believe that McLaren's image deserves to be this damaged. We are innocent, until 3 July 2007, we knew nothing about the exchange of information between Stepney and Coughlan. It is not right that due to two employees, we have to restore the relations between the two teams".
But you have never fired Coughlan.
"I suspended him, I couldn't do more. He has shown me a medical certificate, which prevents me from starting the dismissal procedure. As soon as I'll be able to, I'll do it".
In the meantime, he renewed his contract until 2009.
"Let us be clear: he had a contract from 2002 until 2007, at the beginning of 2006 we extended it until 2009. Not sure now".
You attack the press and Ferrari. But, Flavio Briatore also made specific accusations against you.
"He says that I had advantages on the tyres, that thanks to the Ferrari information we knew how to distribute the weight on the car. It's false. Those Bridestone tyres are completely new compared to last year. They gave us data, we put them in the computer. We were quick to understand, the best ones. Is it our fault?".
Many Italians are shocked by one of your statements: Stepney's tip about the illegality of Ferrari is healthy, certain spies should be encouraged, keeping the whistleblowers anonymous. You have been misunderstood, haven't you?
"No. That e-mail on their floor helped us, it reported an irregularity. I'm sorry if anyone disagrees, but I think so".
There is one thing above all that has made Ferrari and Todt mad. You signed a mutual trust agreement in June and said nothing about Stepney's relationship with Coughlan.
"That understanding arose after Australia, and it precisely stemmed from the floor affair. I knew about Stepney's e-mail, but I didn't think it was appropriate to tell him; I preferred not to see any more tension. The agreement was intended to leave the past in the past. And to start from scratch".
However, Ferrari cannot wait to face you in court in Paris.
"We'll appeal, even if I think it's absurd, and you'll see that the FIA will give us reason again. It's true that Stepney was sending information to Coughlan, but we haven't benefit at all".
But when you told Coughlan to ask Stepney to stop, wasn't a phone call enough? Why did you allow him to meet the Ferrari man in Barcelona?
"It was him who affirmed that he had to tell him in person. Do you want to know the truth? Stepney and him want to go to Honda. And I know that there are also offers at two other teams. It's a sad story, an explanation is needed. If only Todt would not always refuse to meet me".
Coup de theatre. The umpteenth one. Giancarlo Fisichella, just like Fernando Alonso, is relegated on the starting grid. The Italian driver is given a penalty with the loss of five positions on the starting grid and goes from the eighth place achieved in qualifying to the thirteenth. Giancarlo Fisichella has been punished for having impeded the Spyker driver, Sakon Yamamoto, over the course of the official practice. The decision of penalizing Fisichella is made known on Sunday morning by the FIA. During the night, however, the same sanction is imposed on the World Champion, Fernando Alonso, who is relegated from the pole to the sixth position for having impeded his teammate Lewis Hamilton at the end of qualifying with an extended stop at the pits. According to the opinion of the Federation, the behavior of Alonso has prevented the British driver to do his last flying lap which could have allowed him to improve his time. Alonso will thus be starting from the sixth position on the grid while Hamilton will be in pole position at the start of the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix. On Sunday, 5 August 2007, Lewis Hamilton keeps the first position at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix, followed by Kimi Raïkkönen, then Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg. Fernando Alonso is seventh but he makes a mistake ending wide in the last corner of the first lap and is overtaken by Mark Webber. Later, the Spaniard overtakes the Australian at the first corner of the third lap and Robert Kubica, one lap later at the same point, moving up to the sixth place, but his comeback stops when he arrives behind Ralf Schumacher. In the meantime, Felipe Massa loses a couple of positions over the course of the first lap and his race is totally compromised. Over the course of the first laps, Lewis Hamilton manages to go quicker than his rivals. But later, Kimi Raïkkönen manages to equal his times with a brighter Ferrari than what the practice had shown. Nick Heidfeld, Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso stop at the pits over the course of lap 17 to do their first refueling, later followed by Kimi Raïkkönen, who loads in less fuel than Lewis Hamilton. Taking advantage of the lightness of his car, the Finn gets closer to the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton, but the configuration of the cars and of the track makes the overtakes nearly impossible. The positions are thus determined by the strategies. After having done his stop, Robert Kubica moves up to the fifth place. But, like Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg, the Polish driver aims at doing a three-stop strategy. Kimi Raïkkönen does his second stop over the course of lap 46, four laps before Lewis Hamilton, who keeps the lead.
Fernando Alonso, who dropped at the seventh place after his first refueling, loads in a lot of fuel and can finally overtake Ralf Schumacher to then moves up to the fourth place after the third stop done by Robert Kubica and Nico Rosberg. The final part of the race is animated by the close battles between Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen and between Nick Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso, but they do not change positions. Lewis Hamilton wins the Hungarian Grand Prix, followed by Kimi Räikkönen and Nick Heidfeld. Fernando Alonso is fourth, followed by Robert Kubica, Ralf Schumacher, Nico Rosberg and Heikki Kovalainen. Boredom after the storm. The race is monotonous. It is known in Budapest that who starts first wins the race. Lewis Hamilton leads in the first corner and crosses the finish line first, after an easy race, in which he has always managed, despite some problems with the steering, to put down the ambitions of overtake of Kimi Räikkönen, good at overtaking Nick Heidfeld, but then forced to race in second position until the end. This is the Hungarian Grand Prix, with its tortuous track, there is little to do, not even a single overtake in the whole race, apart from a few sparks in the first lap. Right, but why does Hamilton start first? It won't have escaped the night owls. Those who go to sleep late on Saturday night will know very well that at midnight, after an endless trial by the race stewards and an even longer period to issue the sentence and put it in writing, Fernando Alonso was punished, relegated from the pole position to the sixth position, found guilty for extending his stop into the pits, a move that prevented Hamilton from shooting his last cartridges in qualifying, while the Spaniard lashed his leg and took away the best time from him in extremis. It had happened in the early afternoon, but the FIA is never in a hurry when it comes to judging. Alonso had left the circuit just before 9:00 p.m. convinced of having half a victory in his pocket, he woke up with the nightmare of an impossible comeback. With the strategy and a perfect race behavior, the Spaniard managed to limit the damage, he finished in fourth place, overtaking Nico Rosberg and Ralf Schumacher who had started in front of him, keeping behind Robert Kubica, at one point very threatening with his BMW and fifth at the finish, the Renault of Heikki Kovalainen and the Red Bull Racing of Mark Webber, but to overtake Nick Heidfeld, who finished on the lowest step of the podium, there was not even need to talk about it. Fernando Alonso marked him on sight, put pressure on him, finished within 1.5 seconds of the German, tried to make him do a mistake, but in the end, beating his fists on the wheel, he had to be content with his place. He dreamed of a different race, the five points dampened his anger a little, while over there the shadow of Lewis Hamilton, perhaps mistakenly, began to think he had got his hands on the World Championship. And Ferrari? Kimi Räikkönen did his job. Felipe Massa did not. The qualifying of the Finn had been difficult, the race was brighter, so much so that he has the fastest lap of the race. On another track, he could have also mock Hamilton. For Massa, however, the best definition has not been attained. Grotesque Saturday, horrible Sunday. Fourteenth at the start, thirteenth at the finish line. The Super Aguri of Takuma Satō that kept him behind during half of the race. His World Championship (he swears it) is not finished. But it takes more.
"It was not a great weekend, but we did our race and the drivers have both raced very well. I'm happy with the result".
Perfect synthesis in a few words, in perfect Ron Dennis style: the team principal of McLaren-Mercedes comments on the Hungarian Grand Prix dominated by Lewis Hamilton like that. Fernando Alonso echoes him:
"Fourth place was the maximum that could be done today. I was hoping for the podium and we've came close. Finishing in third or fourth place makes a little difference for the points in the standings, so risking for one extra point was not worth it, it's good like that".
A kind of contagious resignation because that is more or less what Kimi Räikkönen thinks too:
"I couldn't do anything other than hoping for Hamilton to make a mistake. He did not make any and we've finished just like we had started".
Kimi actually has to settle for the second place in the Hungarian Grand Prix.
"At the start, I overtook Heidfeld and I started being at Hamilton's heels. On that track, however, there is no opportunity to overtake. A mistake by Lewis would have come in handy but it didn't come".
The statements of the dominant Lewis Hamilton are of a completely different tone:
"It was a weekend full of emotions for the whole team but we managed to achieve a great step forward in the standings. We came to Budapest with a great package and we managed to stay ahead of Ferrari who had a great pace. In the second stint, I had a steering problem but I don't know what it was. I was able to manage the situation with Kimi who was behind me for a long time. I did a great race and it's good to be on the top step of the podium".
However, the steering problem did not affect the British driver's race:
"I don't know what happened to the steering we'll have to study the matter, however the tyres were well, although after the first pit stop I had some problems at first, then you put the traffic on top of that and Kimi got closer. I had to manage the situation and keep the distance, with the soft tyres he was faster than me but I managed to push to the maximum and keep him behind. With all that has happened over the weekend, it would have been easy to lose our focus but we took all the positive energy and we managed to do our work well. Great car but complex race".
However, it is a race to forget for Massa:
"It was horrible. I didn't have immediately a great start, the first breaking went quite well but then, I immediately lost ground and I didn't manage to improve anymore. The car was very heavy, it was impossible to overtake, I tried to get closer but then I was losing grip".
However, Felipe is convinced that everything is not lost.
"I still believe in the world championship and it will be like that until the last one. This weekend is to be forgotten, but let's see what will happen. I have to keep my head high and try to arrive in Turkey to win. I know that I have a great car and I have what it takes to do it. I'll try".
Lewis Hamilton rejoices and asks forgiveness. He clenches his fists on the podium, but then rests them on his temples, in an attempt not to let loose dangerous words when answering questions. Lewis Hamilton's Sunday is a strange one. The Sunday of the triumph, the third of his career, of the breakaway in the World Championship, seven more points than Fernando Alonso, 20 points away from Kimi Räikkönen, 21 from Felipe Massa, but also the Sunday of the final rip with his teammate, that Fernando Alonso who no longer speaks to him, and of the first heavy discord with Ron Dennis, the man to whom he had asked, when he was a kid, to be able to arrive one day in Formula 1, the manager to whom he had given body and soul. Perhaps Lewis Hamilton, the first rookie who risks winning the World Championship title immediately, never a word out of place, never a backstory to be ashamed of, has done it this time. All right, he won, taking full advantage of the pole position he had gained by his deposition before the judges. But imagine the astonishment of Ron Dennis (let's not talk about Fernando Alonso's), when the stewards asked him his version of what had happened in that pit and he told an opposite truth to that provided by his boss, his teammate and the engineer in charge of Fernando Alonso's car.
Well done, Lewis, that is the way it is done, wrote the English press. But Dennis does not see it like that. Not only because in that way McLaren lost 15 points in the World Constructors' Championship standings (Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso's positions in Hungary will not be counted, the English team has announced an appeal against the decision, but has not yet submitted it and may give it up), but because certain situations should be resolved privately. Ron Dennis affirms:
"We're not for the free race. I've built a team on the philosophy of parity between drivers. Unlike other teams, which perhaps don't like this way of thinking, don't have two drivers at the same level and two fast cars, I believe in these things. I know that it is difficult to manage a situation of this kind but we've always managed to do so. During this weekend, Hamilton made a mistake, what we're going to do about him, we keep it to ourselves, but something will happen. Right now, we're too stressed out, this last month has been very hard, I want to calmly evaluate".
Yet Hamilton asked the team forgiveness.
"I'm sorry but this is how sport works and I have to think about myself. This morning, however, I greeted everyone, I was forgiven and all of them except one wished me luck".
That one is not difficult to guess, Fernando Alonso, at least for a while, will not speak to him. But begging for forgiveness is perhaps not enough, if the day before you told Ron Dennis to go fucking swivel and if you have been hitting the counter for a few weeks, because the 750.000 euro a year is no longer enough for you. Ron Dennis continues:
"We have a long contract with our drivers and we intend to respect it. I hope they feel the same way".
According to the English press, Lewis Hamilton would have received a huge offer (35.000,000 euro per season) by Ferrari. But Jean Todt says:
"They're only stupid speculation".
Meanwhile, however, Lewis Hamilton has taken some of his candor off.
"A weekend won't be enough, a little discord, to ruin my friendship with Dennis".
And Fernando Alonso says:
"I don't see why I should talk to Hamilton, in fact, if it were for me we won't talk to each other anymore".
On the track where he discovered the drunkenness of the victory, in the now distant 2003 during his first year with Briatore, Fernando Alonso comes to terms with the bitter reality of those who have to live under the same roof with their principal rival. The irreplaceable break with Lewis Hamilton was consummated on Saturday while, on the edge of the seconds, the two drivers of McLaren played what remained of their unlikely coexistence, going hunting for the pole. A violent rip that could have repercussions on the future of Fernando Alonso at McLaren. What mood did you race this Grand Prix with?
"I've came to terms with a very difficult situation. It was like playing a football match when they give you a penalty against you for no reason. It's not the most sympathetic thing. I brought a fourth place home which is not that bad for the way things were put together".
What kind of situation emerged at McLaren?
"A difficult, very difficult one. There's too much nervousness in the team".
You got three years on the contract, how is it going to go?
"I don't know, I really don't".
With Hamilton, the break is therefore clean.
"Until Saturday, there was mutual respect, from now on the respect is over".
Serious things have happened...
"Not just in a race, but in life I'd never been harmed by a mate. What Hamilton did, I’ve never seen that before".
"He disobeyed Dennis, and he'll have to talk to him about that".
But how did things turn out in that last qualifying pit stop?
"Lewis had to come in before me, so we'd show up at the last attempt with the same fuel quantity and the same weight. Instead, he stayed out on the track, so he showed up at the pits, where he had four new soft tyres prepared for him, much lighter than me. Lewis disobeyed".
And Fernando Alonso?
"I'm just trying to do my job and move on".
Then, the FIA inspectors investigated his behavior.
"Four of us went there, me, Ron Dennis, my team engineer and Lewis. There were three equal versions and one completely different, on that pit stop: Hamilton's version. They took his as being the true one".
Were you surprised?
"Strange things happened last year too, but in the end I think that the right person won. After all, every man ends up occupying the post he deserves".
The problem is the outcome of this race, your pole canceled, that fourth place and the ten points collected by your teammate.
"It's not a pleasant situation. I was here to get to the podium, at the end I got very close. That fourth place is simply a lost opportunity. I was the fastest in qualifying, today the car was doing pretty good".
Does this race change the prospects for the World Championship?
"No. The World Championship is always in my hands, if I don't win it that means that I wasn't the best. But one thing is sure. I'll give the maximum and I have a lot more experience this year than last year. Until the very last corner in Brazil anything can happen and I'll never back out".
Do you think that it is now a matter between you and Hamilton, do you think that Ferrari is out?
"No, they're still in it, given how the things change from one Grand Prix to another. Hamilton and Räikkönen didn't perform well at the Nürburgring, here however they've both done pretty well".
Ron Dennis continues:
"Their problem is that they're young, too exuberant, too instinctive. Other than, luckily for us, tremendously talented".
Fast, ambitious and successful. But with the Budapest weekend, the culmination of so many previous episodes, they have perhaps reached a point of no return. Enemies, Fernando Alonso against Lewis Hamilton, no longer just in a commercial, where Mercedes enhances their fighting spirit, at all levels, wherever, on the track, stopped into the pits, in the technical meetings, perhaps even in the hotel. The breaking point at McLaren's house has now been abundantly overcome. Ron Dennis, used to refereeing the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, is sorry, but one of them is too much and at the end of the season he will remove the nuisance, resulting in a snowball effect on the entire Formula 1 market. A possible departure of Lewis Hamilton is not to be underestimated, given that a possible future World Champion cannot afford to earn 750.000 euro net per season the British demands millions of euros and that he begins to receive very attractive offers. But Fernando Alonso is more likely to leave, provided that he manages to free himself from the very rich three-year contract. The Spaniard is not the type to use too many words:
"Either Hamilton or I".
He said on Sunday morning, before positioning himself on the third row, the uncomfortable position in which the judges had relegated him.
"Either I or him".
He repeated after the race, taming the ultimatum with poisoned phrases for his teammate:
"Is he ready to apologize? It will be difficult for him as I won't ever speak to him again. Rather apologize to Dennis, since that he disobeyed an order for the first time. That's his problems, as long as the World Championship goes to the one that deserves it, which means myself. It's still in my hands, I will bring it to my house".
Threatening and bragging, not random attitudes. Because while on the one hand the message has to be peremptory, on the other hand there is an essential condition, that of becoming World Champion, the only possible way out to free himself from the contract with Ron Dennis. Saying that he is uncomfortable is not enough. Fernando Alonso earns a well 30.000.000 euro a year, but he has above all an army of sponsors, riches that McLaren does not want to give up. They would need something huge in exchange. Of course, the scenario could completely change if the Court of Appeal punished McLaren heavily in Paris, in which case Alonso could have the means for the termination. But in the meantime, the Spaniard can only hope for another team to buy him at a hefty price. It will not be Ferrari (at least until Jean Todt remains in Maranello) and, at least officially, the BMW is out as well. Toyota would have the money but not the car. All that remains is Renault, which recently drew up a 50.000.000 euro plan for Formula 1. But is Flavio Briatore, who met his manager in Budapest (the two, however, speak to each other at all the circuits, their relations have remained excellent), willing to take him back for crazy numbers? Ron Dennis, however, tries to hold on. In the meantime, Kimi Räikkönen's bruised face on the podium is the photograph of how Ferrari came home from Hungary. That second place behind Lewis Hamilton who did not make a single mistake does not console, on the contrary it only triggers bitterness and reflections marked by regret. The list of lost opportunities, of what could be done and had adverse outcome instead, is long. Jean Todt says:
"Our reward is a meagre one. When you've won so many times, you can understand".
So it happened, and it is a pretty depressing scenario, because frankly, too many things have not worked, and a few things have been seen beyond the foreseeable, in a team that has made, for example, the very high reliability of their strategies and the work of their pit crews a very prestigious motive.
"We have all the elements, team, car, drivers, but we have not always been able to put them together in the best way. If we don't manage to do that, we don't win the championships".
A clarification, that of Todt, which is the admission of the delicacy of the moment, and makes think of a Ferrari that has lost something serious on the road, and now that it is a question of playing the decisive cards, discovers or fears not to make it. Hence the dark moods, the dissatisfaction, starting with Kimi Räikkönen, not to mention Felipe Massa, who speaks of his afternoon with ruthless frankness:
"A horrible race".
What happened on Saturday was frustrating and ultimately decisive on the outcome of this Grand Prix, when the Finn got so close to whatever the gap was, in the fast lap, with the rivals of McLaren.
"Today, I should have scored points over the three direct rivals for the title, I couldn't do it so I can't be happy. Here you can't overtake, if you start behind you can only hope that the drivers ahead make a mistake. That didn't happen and thus we finished just like we started: in reality, my race was finished at the first corner".
If this is the spirit, it must not have been pleasant for the Finn to ring laps without believing in a possible overtake.
"We had all the problems in qualifying. In reality, there has never been an actual opportunity to overtake Hamilton".
The impression is that in the motorhomes of the red team, there is a feeling that it is not only a circumscribed matter. The Finn concludes:
"There are still six Grand Prix to go, we have a mountain of points up for grabs, the World Championship is still open, we can fight, starting with Istanbul, where the situation should surely be better".
And, of course, the good Felipe Massa, who in Hungary, apart from the errors in series on Saturday, was not helped by the chosen strategy, looks at Turkey:
"I was too heavy, with too much fuel, like that my hopes of coming back stopped behind Wurz. I felt bad knowing that I had a car that could race with the first ones, get to the podium, and I couldn't manage to overtake him".
And there, a mistake was added to an error. Tragic qualifying, but also unhappy race choices. It is really sad to see Felipe Massa's car struggling in the rear with the slowest cars, incapable of any reaction. Jean Todt claims:
"The bitterness comes from seeing how competitive Kimi's car was in the race, the proof that it is decisive to start ahead. Now, we have to try to always bring our two drivers on the podium".
Ron Dennis made a move.
"Let's make peace".
Jean Todt, the Ferrari team principal, does not even think about it. Proposal rejected. With disdain.
"I wish he'd done it four months ago, maybe telling me about Stepney and Coughlan, their information exchanges. We would have avoided a lot of damage to our image. Now, it's too easy. I don't even think about it".
Easy, Jean Todt thinks: first he hides from us that there is a spy inside our team, he uses his e-mails to appeal against us, he accuses us of having won in Australia with an illegal car, he sends letters of fire (the letter is addressed to Judge Macaluso, but it is as if the recipient was Maranello) and then he invites us to sit around a table, as if nothing had happened.
"Instead, we're going to Paris, to face the verdict of the International Court of Appeal. At the moment, there are judges working on the case, it would seem to me that any comment on the affair is inappropriate. Moreover, our thoughts on the first ruling have already been made clear, defining it as shameful in an official note. There's no need to add more".
And yet, Ron Dennis insists. In Hungary, too, between episodes of its internal war, with two drivers now hating each other, he once again invited Ferrari to calm down.
"I understand that they continue aggressively not to believe it, but that is the way it is, as I describe it, I am sure that the FIA Court of Appeal will agree with us. Ferrari would like a clarification".
But Jean Todt, with the full support of Ferrari (Montezemolo was the first to say that this story did not end with the verdict in Paris) and the whole group (Marchionne, the chief executive of Fiat, was in Budapest on Saturday), is going on his way. In Hungary, he used a metaphor that referred to his former career as a Rally co-driver to describe the fall in image experienced by Ron Dennis during this period.
"I've the experience of the desert. How much you lose, you always have to go back to where you lost your way. If you go in the wrong direction, you don’t find yourself anymore".
It is like saying that Dennis had better step back from the start. Now, it is hard to hope that everything will be wiped out. Obviously, Flavio Briatore would want that.
"This weekend, all we talked about was this bad story, the Budapest race went almost unnoticed".
Apart from the punishment suffered by Fernando Alonso and the fierce struggle with his teammate, Lewis Hamilton. But now the battle off the track is launched. Ferrari demands justice, they no longer trust McLaren and Ron Dennis. The dream of gathering even more overwhelming evidence continues. Paris, in September, will say if they can be crowned.