When on December 19, 2005 news broke out, that Alonso will leave Renault and move to McLaren at the end of 2006 season, it caught many if not all by surprise. One of the people caught by surprise was for sure Alonso’s team boss, Flavio Briatore, who at that time also happened to be Alonso’s manager. Knowing nothing about his client (who also happened to be his team’s star driver and freshly crowned World Champion) negotiating a deal with Ron Dennis. Briatore kept a brave face despite the sharp stab in his back.
“I was at no time directly or indirectly involved in the conduct of these negotiations, Fernando made a personal decision that his future lies outside the Renault team when his current contract expires at the end of 2006. He contacted and negotiated with McLaren at his own instigation.”
Bernie Ecclestone also had his opinion on the whole matter:
“In this case it was Alonso dealing with Dennis, bypassing Briatore. I know how things have gone, but I can’t reveal the details. Flavio has been left, how can you say it, deceived. On top of that, with Dennis being Briatore’s worst enemy, he spited him by exposing things publicly in order to make it difficult for him. It wasn’t nice, even though stealing drivers among teams is normal. Dennis and Briatore could have written a joint press release and they would have both looked much better. Dennis’s move hasn’t been intelligent.”
If he only knew what meaning the last sentence will get year and a bit later…
This is what Ron Dennis had to say:
“It’s great that our strong belief in the strength and competitiveness of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes package has been further endorsed by the World Champion. We always make it clear that we want to be the best and the only way of achieving this objective is by attracting the best people, the best drivers and the best sponsors. To be able to announce Vodafone as only McLaren’s third title partner in more than 30 years and Fernando’s employment within only a few days is fantastic news for the team, our Partners, Formula One and the fans.”
Only if he knew…
Then came Friday November 24, 2006 and McLaren announced Hamilton as Alonso’s team mate. This is what Hamilton said on that day:
“I have grown up with McLaren and Mercedes and wouldn’t be where I am today without their continued support and guidance. However I’m aware that this will be a challenge and I know that there will be a lot of attention on me. However the team has told me just to relax, do the best I can and enjoy the opportunity. I will work hard to get good results.”
They probably did not think at the time, “the best he can” is winning F1 races, and that he will definitely “enjoy the opportunity” to race, to beat his team mate and fight for the title.
There however was certain Mr. Briatore, who smelled something, he said on January 3, 2007 to Gazzetta dello Sport:
“It will be a tough year for McLaren, I see them having difficulties. They’ve always had fantastic drivers like Raikkonen: they always announce them early to demonstrate they’re changing, but this year the book of excuses has come to its last page.”
No love lost …
Then, 2 months later the 2007 season took off, but also the seeds of the Stepneygate were planted. Here is the brief timeline of events:
March 18, Australian GP, Hamilton shocks everybody with his debut performance, well, everybody who haven’t heard of him prior to 2007 season.
April 16 – Hamilton shares the Championship lead with Alonso and Raikkonen
May 13 – Hamilton takes the Championship lead, and holds it since
May 27 – Hamilton asked to back off and do not challenge Alonso in Monaco. First cracks in the relations inside the team on display.
June 10 – His first race win in Canada.
June 17 – His second win, at US GP, after successfully frustrating Alonso in a faster car
June 22 – Ferrari suspend Stepney
July 3 – Ferrari sack Stepney
July 4 – McLaren suspend Coughlan
July 8 – Allegedly with no data from Alonso, Hamilton sets up his car himself, grabbing pole position but is unable to compete in the race. Press speculates more and more about the relationship between the McLaren drivers.
July 26 – McLaren found guilty of possession of unauthorized Ferrari documents, but escapes any punishment.
August 1 – Mosley refers the Stepneygate to International Court of Appeal
August 5 – Hungary and the pit lane incident … The season definitely turns into a night mare for Ron Dennis, first speculations about Alonso leaving the team appear. McLaren not allowed to score any points. McLaren filed appeal. Dennis and Alonso allegedly haven’t spoken since.
September 5 – Just about a week before the appeal hearing, FIA cancels the appeal hearing and calls up McLaren to appear before the WMSC again, due to new evidence available.
September 7 – It became clear that what caused the sudden change in FIA actions is new evidence that came from the McLaren drivers.
September 13 – The verdict is out …
September 17 – First corner action in Spa between Alonso and Hamilton, not a stuff that team mates usually do … Hamiltons comments after the race were not the words of a diplomat.
September 18 – McLaren dropped the Hungarian points appeal.
Ron Dennis is seeking closure, and nobody can blame him for that. The announcement yesterday, that McLaren is dropping the Hungarian points appeal clearly shows that he has had enough. This is not a small decision. The points they lost there can make USD6,000,000 difference for a team that lost USD100,000,000.
He also accepted that “”Everything in this document (the WMSC Decision in full) that the FIA says is true. True in their content. It happened.” He also hinted that the team may not appeal.
The closure however will not be final, until all the parts are in place:
“Part of our closure will be to take all the controversy out of the team, adding that any variation to any driver contract for next year would be “by mutual agreement”. (Ron Dennis)