Fri, Aug 10, 2007 - Page 23 News List

McLaren Formula One team still in turmoil

BALANCING ACT McLaren have the top drivers, the best car and are running away with the championship, but Ron Dennis is having a tough time keeping the wheels on



It's a good thing for McLaren that Formula One is in its three-week break before the next race in Turkey. The team will need that time to try to correct problems that threaten to send a stellar season spinning out of control.

It has to deal with the aftermath of the trouble it got into for possessing technical information about Ferrari's cars.

Then there is FIA's penalty that cost the team the 15 points in the constructors standings from the Hungarian Grand Prix for violating rules at the race.

And though its two drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, are fighting for the championship, they aren't speaking to each other and have frosty relations with team boss Ron Dennis.

No wonder Dennis said he was weary of the quibbling -- Alonso is hinting he wants to leave the team and Hamilton is giving different accounts of what has caused the problems.

"It has been a very difficult time for the company and for the team. It has been very difficult emotionally," Dennis said to British television. "Both drivers have to take some responsibility for this."

Even the completion of the Hungarian Grand Prix and the major players' departure for holiday didn't stop more developments.

On Wednesday, FIA, motor sports' governing body, announced that Ferrari's case against McLaren will be heard by its International Court of Appeal on Sept. 13.

The dispute started when a 780-page technical dossier on Ferrari cars was found at the home of McLaren's chief designer Mike Coughlan, who has been suspended. Nigel Stepney, the Ferrari mechanic who allegedly supplied the documents in April, was fired.

FIA also said that McLaren, which leads Ferrari 138-119 in the constructors standings, has appealed to receive the 15 points denied it from the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Hamilton won the race and Alonso was fourth, but the team came away with zero points after being penalized for violating rules during qualifying. The drivers weren't penalized and the rookie Hamilton has an 80-73 lead over two-time world champion Alonso in the season standings with six races left.

That qualifying saga brought to light the bickering that had been under wraps.

First, Dennis slammed down his earphones at the end of qualifying after a shouting match with Hamilton over the team radio.

Then Alonso walked briskly away while Dennis was talking to him in the garage just after the qualifying session.

And Alonso and Hamilton looked far apart when seated next to each other during the qualifying news conference as each gave differing views on what happened.

Alonso had recorded the fastest time in Saturday's qualifying session, with his teammate behind him. But Alonso waited in pit lane before his final lap, not allowing Hamilton to come in and therefore miss a chance at a final lap at full speed, improve his time and earn the pole.

"As Fernando said, he was told to stop and wait," Hamilton said. "His wheels were on, his blankets were off and he was told to wait. I imagine that I probably lost half-a-minute, I would say, from my in-lap coming in to waiting behind Fernando. At least 30 seconds, so it definitely needs a good explanation."

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