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    Here's what really happened during 'Pitlanegate'

    Very good analysis of what the current situation in the McLaren team and what happened in Hungary from ITV's Mark Hughes:

    The McLaren qualifying incident in Hungary and the subsequent fall-out has, for the moment at least, replaced the spy saga as Formula 1's controversy du jour.

    In his latest feature for, expert analyst Mark Hughes examines what happened in Q3 in detail, and draws the wider lessons about the role of teams versus drivers in F1 and McLaren boss Ron Dennis' micromanagement.

    McLaren's strongest season in years has ironically become Ron Dennis' annus horribilis.

    Although the team holds a convincing lead in the constructors' championship and its drivers sit 1-2 in their championship, 'Stepneygate', the espionage story, and now 'Pitlanegate' - where during the Hungarian GP weekend Fernando Alonso appeared to deliberately prevent team-mate Lewis Hamilton from leaving the pits in time for a final lap of qualifying - threaten to overwhelm everything.

    Here's what really happened during 'Pitlanegate'.

    Ever since the different fuel strategies of the two cars played its part in causing turmoil between McLaren's drivers and the team at Monaco, a policy of equal fuelling has been adopted.

    This was supposed to be the solution to tensions arising from two deeply competitive drivers fighting each other for the world championship, both hyper-sensitive to any perceived disadvantage against the other.

    But to make it truly equal requires very specific choreographing during the fuel burn-off phase of final qualifying.

    So that each driver completes the maximum number of burn-off laps in the time available before they bolt on their sets of new tyres and go for it, the car behind has to lap slower than the car in front in order to build up the necessary gap required when they stop, so the first car can be serviced and sent on its way before the second one arrives.

    This is necessary so that they are not running too close to each other when they are doing their qualifying runs, as this would disadvantage the guy behind because of the aerodynamic turbulence of the guy in front.

    But the guy running the burn-off laps slower will use less fuel because he can do his target lap time by running fewer revs. So to keep things equal, the team take this into consideration.

    The guy running ahead in the burn-off is given enough extra fuel so that by the time they come to do their qualifying runs they weigh the same - or as near as it's possible to make it.

    At Hungary it was Alonso's turn to be the guy in front and so he was fuelled slightly heavier. But it was the slightly lighter car of Hamilton that got down to the end of the pit lane first.

    Hamilton was reminded he should move aside for Alonso once out on the track. But he chose not to do so.

    Starting with a lighter fuel load and running a fast pace, he was guaranteed to have a lighter car by the time they each did their qualifying laps.

    It was a bit disingenuous, against what he'd been asked to do by the team, and he'd tricked himself an advantage. He was fighting this guy for the world championship and the team would just have to lump it.

    Alonso, of course, was furious. Instantly realising he'd been had, he instead switched his focus not to pole position - which now seemed unwinnable - but to trying to beat Hamilton on race strategy instead. He deliberately did his fuel burn laps very slowly and economically.

    Having started slightly heavier and now having used less fuel too, he would maybe be able to save enough to run an extra lap up to the first pit stops. This might be enough to overcome the advantage of the pole that Lewis looked likely to get.

    Because the originally intended order at the end of the burn-off had been Alonso-Hamilton, Alonso's pre-assigned tyres had been stacked ahead of Hamilton's - and so Alonso was brought in a lap earlier than planned so that the tyres didn't need to be moved around.

    With Hamilton continuing to do his original allocation of laps, this put Alonso ahead of Hamilton in the pits. At the first stop there was a delay, bringing Hamilton closer than ideal to Alonso.

    They each then did their first flat-out Q3 qualifying laps and each returned for their final tyre change. Alonso was held for 20 seconds as the team found him the ideal gap in the traffic. The lollipop was lifted and Alonso was free to go.

    But, seeing Hamilton stacked behind him in his mirrors, he realised a golden opportunity for revenge had fallen into his lap.

    He knew how long he needed for an out-lap to arrive at the start/finish line to begin his flying lap just before the session ended and he knew how many seconds of the session were left because he has a display showing that on his steering wheel.

    So he waited an extra 10s, just long enough to ensure he'd still get there in time but Lewis wouldn't.

    And that is it. Two hyper-competitive drivers fighting tooth and nail for the championship in the same team. The discord isn't really surprising. We've seen as much at this team before in the Senna/Prost era, we saw it at Williams during the Mansell/Piquet days.

    But this is slightly different in that the major bust-ups are not between the drivers directly, but between each driver and Dennis. Each feels grievances against him.

    Alonso has not even been on speaking terms with him for some time now, often chooses even not to acknowledge him - and is said to be threatening to walk out short of his three-year contract.

    Hamilton, meanwhile, feeling in the heat of the moment that his delay had been orchestrated by the team as 'punishment' for disobeying orders, had a very intense bust-up with Dennis.

    At its root is control. Dennis' previous driver Kimi Raikkonen has referred to him as a control freak, someone who needs to exert control over everything and everyone around him.

    Raikkonen dealt with it by simply not engaging, by fulfilling his obligations at the track but in no way assuming its values in his general conduct, particularly once away from the circuit.

    He has repeatedly made a point of saying how much more relaxed an environment he finds Ferrari.

    Of Dennis' current drivers, neither Alonso nor Hamilton share Raikkonen's proclivity for wild party antics away from the track. Both have a close circle of friends and their lifestyles don't appear to have the same potential for embarrassment to McLaren-Mercedes and its sponsors.

    Yet still Dennis has managed to alienate them. Through over-control. Through trying to impose too rigidly the values of the team onto the drivers, by trying to treat them as employees.

    Drivers of this calibre, who have the warrior mentality and unyielding nature necessary to make true champions, will not be treated as employees. They are that only on paper.

    In reality they are the stars of the show, the guys whose special talent differentiates them from most of the others. The public does not want to see them as expressions of a corporate set of values.

    As part of this lone matador persona Alonso joined McLaren under the impression that the focus of the team would be around his winning the title.

    The reality is that under Dennis' control that would happen only if the other guy wasn't at the same level. If he was, then Dennis would ensure equality - by force of control.

    Maybe Dennis believed - like most others - that with the rookie Hamilton alongside it wouldn't be an issue.

    But Hamilton's stunning performances have made any promise - implicit or imagined on Alonso's behalf - impossible for Dennis to keep. Alonso has of course reacted to this situation angrily.

    One might have thought that Hamilton, who largely owes his career to Dennis' backing of him since he was 13, would more readily be prepared to accept control over him.

    But that's to misunderstand the mental make-up of a top-line competitor. In there, in the zone, there is only desire.

    At some stage he was always going to have to make the brutal transition from protégé to hard-edged racer fighting his own corner against the very hand that fed him if necessary.

    He's not in the car to feel grateful, he's there to win.

    Formula 1 should not be portrayed as a team sport. It's about the gladiators who go out there wheel-to-wheel, fighting at 200mph. It's not about team structures and philosophies and core brands and values. They are internal matters - housekeeping.

    The drivers should be the stars of the show, should be allowed to compete as hard against team-mates as against drivers from rival teams.

    David Coulthard has suggested each driver on a team has his own pit crew, his own pit box - and if they want to stop on the same lap, they should be able to - with the crews from the same team racing each other just as surely as their drivers.

    And the team owners should stand back and let it happen - concentrate on providing each of their drivers with the best possible cars and then let them make their own arrangements.

    But that would require relinquishing a degree of control. And Ron Dennis appears to be incapable of doing that.

    Re: Here's what really happened during 'Pitlanegate'

    Good points - not sure about not being a team sport - whenever a driver doesn't need to fix his own car, change his own wheels or fuel his car himself a team is required. Depending on the speed of "this team" a driver can be a few seconds behind or a few seconds ahead. Not to mention that a "team" in the world of F1 means the guys work in R & D as well as the guys in the pit......

    Ultimately, if the above is true, Hamilton was looking out for himself more than his team and let's face it without a team I don't think he would be racing - I am sure every "team" would sign him up in a flash though.

    Re: Here's what really happened during 'Pitlanegate'

    Interesting! Thanks!

    Re: Here's what really happened during 'Pitlanegate'

    Porky Tokyo said:
    Good points - not sure about not being a team sport - whenever a driver doesn't need to fix his own car, change his own wheels or fuel his car himself a team is required. Depending on the speed of "this team" a driver can be a few seconds behind or a few seconds ahead. Not to mention that a "team" in the world of F1 means the guys work in R & D as well as the guys in the pit......

    Ultimately, if the above is true, Hamilton was looking out for himself more than his team and let's face it without a team I don't think he would be racing - I am sure every "team" would sign him up in a flash though.

    I think Alonso did the right thing by not letting him get away with it.

    Re: Here's what really happened during 'Pitlanegate'

    Thanks Temm, very informative

    Re: Here's what really happened during 'Pitlanegate'

    Very interesting read, thanks temm!

    Re: Here's what really happened during 'Pitlanegate'

    Thanks, just discovered this topic. Looking forward to more competition on the track.

    Ron Dennis once commented personally that he is pedantic. Wether the above comment is given with a shade of irony or not, there seems to be quite some truth in it.

    Re: Here's what really happened during 'Pitlanegate'

    very interesting read, thanks temm



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