GLOBETROTTER

This whole business

Ron Dennis deserves to go on holiday. Come to think of it, most of the F1 circus will benefit from a few days of rest, so that they can return in Turkey in a fresher frame of mind with perhaps a little more perspective on what has been happening in recent months. It may not change Ferrari's determination to try and convince the world that McLaren are cheats; it may not change McLaren's conviction that Ferrari will do absolutely anything necessary to win; it may not alter the distaste that exists between the leading characters in this drama, but hopefully it will make them all think a little more and thus avoid knocking down the walls of the house in which they all have to live.

Sport is an odd world in that rivals on the field must also be able to work together off the field in order to protect the best interests of the sport. It is a contradiction that comes up whenever there is a serious dispute inside F1. What is key in avoiding this is to have a governing body that is always seen to be scrupulously fair and objective. The FIA is allowed to make mistakes - nobody is perfect - but it must be very careful not to be seen to always support one team. The federation is often viewed as being too close to Ferrari and against McLaren. FIA President Max Mosley does not get on with Dennis and likes to take pot shots at him in press conferences. The impression is not helped by the fact that the World Motor Sport Council features an FIA Deputy-President who used to be Ferrari's sporting director and remains on the Ferrari board; an Italian delegate who for 10 years enjoyed the right to put the Ferrari name on the watches he was producing; and Ferrari's F1 boss Jean Todt. This is not to suggest any impropriety, as both Todt and Marco Piccinini (the FIA Deputy President) stood down for the recent Stepneygate meeting, it is simply to point out that perceptions are vitally important given the complex relationships between the players.

The recent decision of the World Council not to punish McLaren over Stepneygate seemed a solid decision. Allowing a Ferrari appeal was similarly a fair thing to do, even if there is no obvious reason why an appeal would create a different result. This was what the federation is there to do.

Then came Hungary.

The details of why McLaren was punished in Hungary are still far too vague but it is necessary to get into detail to see why this is important.

During the first qualifying runs Lewis Hamilton took pole position by 0.352s. A big margin. It was clear that pole was going to be fought out between the two McLarens. Kimi Raikkonen, the only Ferrari in the session, was way behind. According to the F1 timing (hrs, mins, secs), Alonso's McLaren arrived at the team pit at 14:57.46. This meant that there were just over two and a quarter minutes remaining for Fernando to get to the start-finish line and start his final flying lap. He was told that he would be held for 20secs after the tyres had been changed, in order to have a clear run. This would allow the team to estimate where all the remaining cars would be in the final minutes of the session.

The tyres took six seconds and the lollipop then went up at 14.58.12 (on schedule). Alonso did not depart until 14.58.22 (10secs later). This meant that there was one minute and 38 secs remaining in the session.

Working on the times set by Fernando, who finished his pole lap at 15.01.18, one can calculate that a fast warm-up lap from the pit garage to the start-finish line was 1m38s. Hamilton needed six seconds to have his tyres changed and so he departed the pit at 14.58.28 and thus did not have enough time to get to the start-finish line in time.

When the session ended both men went straight to the Media Centre where Fernando said that during the final pit stop "we didn't lose anything" and added that: "I am always monitoring the pit stop by the radio and they do the calculations. They find the gaps and I just drive the car. I am always ready to go. As soon as they put on the tyres I go where I have to go."

The problem was that in this case, he did not go.

The stewards said that Alonso explained his delay as having been caused because "he was enquiring as to whether the correct set of tyres had been fitted to the car" and it was ascertained that it was impossible to have done this prior to that "because the countdown was being given to him".

The stewards rejected this argument.

When one does the sums, without the delay caused by Alonso, there seems to be nothing wrong with what McLaren did.

If Alonso had gone when the lollipop went up at 14.58.12, Hamilton would have arrived, spent six seconds changing his tyres and would have been on his way at 14.58.18, there being no time left by then to worry about track position. That would have meant that he had 1m42s left to do what Alonso had done in 1m38s. In other words he would most likely have made it to the start-finish line and been able to start his last lap. He would even have had a few seconds in hand.

The McLaren statement following the team's penalty, said that Alonso's 20-sec hold did not impede Lewis. The figures bear this out. The team did confirm that Alonso had expressed "concerns" about the tyres, and said that this "undoubtedly contributed to the delay in Fernando's ultimate departure". To explain is not to condone and McLaren is hardly going to criticise its own driver in a press statement, particularly at a time when it is really trying hard to make Alonso feel at home and convince him that the team is giving both drivers equal opportunities. Lewis Hamilton did not help matters by not slowing to let Alonso pass him at the start of Q3. He said that it was his intention to do that and for whatever reason (perhaps because his car was slower) Fernando could not keep up and indeed had Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari behind him. Hamilton reasoned, logically, that pulling over and allowing Alonso to pass might compromise his own chances if Raikkonen took advantage of that situation and scrambled ahead as well. Inevitably some people in the team were upset about this, not least Alonso and his engineers because they felt they had been disadvantaged, and Ron Dennis, because he felt he had been disobeyed and because he knew that it would upset Alonso.

The question is whether or not the team (or members of the team working independently of the senior team management) then colluded with Alonso to punish Hamilton by depriving him of a chance to go for pole position. The decision presented by the FIA Stewards hints at this but does not offer any detail and thus to some the harshness of the penalty seems exaggerated. Not just in terms of the actual penalty but also in the perceptions it has created. The FIA says that it understands the media frenzy which surrounds the sport, but insists that this will have no effect on sporting decisions made by the stewards.

A break will give everyone the chance to stop and think.

It will also, hopefully, give some of the media the chance to cool their headlines and think a little more about what is being written.

This is the best season for of Formula 1 for many a year and there are many in the F1 circus who find it painful that all the positive things are being buried beneath the bad feeling that the Stepneygate Affair and now the Hungarian pitlane adventure have generated.

McLaren's troubles in Hungary may not seem related to Stepneygate but it is all part of the same struggle, at least in the mind of McLaren boss Ron Dennis. He sees himself as the last bastion of old-fashioned sportsmanship in an increasingly vicious commercial world.

The reason that he is supported so passionately by those who know him well is that they know that he is honest and they share his view that the sport must be fair.

If not, there is no point in being involved.

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