Ron Dennis has confirmed that the tension between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, which appeared to rear its head again during the recent European Grand Prix, stemmed from the Spaniard not giving his young team-mate due regard in 2007.
Speaking in a candid interview with the official F1 website, the former McLaren team boss confirmed that Alonso had been sceptical about having GP2 Series champion Hamilton lining up alongside him, telling Dennis that it could affect the goal of landing the constructors' championship. Instead, the Spaniard found a motivated, and seriously competitive, rookie threatening not only to take the world title in his first year, but also his place as supposed team leader.
"It was very simple - Alonso didn't expect Hamilton to be that competitive in his first year," Dennis confirmed, "He told me at the beginning that it was my decision to sign a rookie like Hamilton, but that it could cost me the constructors' championship. Fernando was calculating everything, but not that Lewis would challenge him. That affected him massively."
The two drivers ended the season tied for second in the title race, losing out by just a single point to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, but the acrimony that had built up, highlighted by the qualifying contretemps
in Hungary and overshadowed by the 'spygate' affair - which Alonso was revealed to have tried to use to his advantage - saw the Spaniard quit after just a single season at Woking and return to a Renault team that was a shadow of the outfit that had taken him to back-to-back world titles in 2005-06.
Although they claim to have found common ground since that turbulent campaign, Hamilton and Alonso remain somewhat estranged, as highlighted by events at the European GP in Valencia. The weekend began with questions about whether they would ever consider being team-mates again and, while Hamilton insisted that he had no problem with the suggestion, Alonso apparently ruled it out. Then, in the race, the Spaniard was incensed by what he felt was favouritism towards the Briton after Hamilton inadvertently passed the safety car as it left the pits. While Alonso was backed up, his rival was able to make up enough time to negate a belated drive-thru' penalty, with the result that Hamilton finished second and the Ferrari only eighth.
The 2007 affair was just the latest in a line of tricky situations McLaren has found itself in by maintaining a policy of running two front-line drivers and giving them equal machinery, and Dennis admitted that each had to be handled differently.
"That depended on the circumstances," he explained, "They all had very different characters and that is one factor that makes it very difficult to make any judgements. When I started as a team owner, I was younger than my driver, Graham Hill, so he showed me the ropes. With Lauda, Senna and Prost, I had a sort of comradely relationship - again age-related. With Hamilton and Alonso, it was more of a fatherly tie. Prost and Senna were completely different in their backgrounds and character. They eyed each other suspiciously and didn't trust each other. I let their track rivalry happen."
With McLaren currently monitoring a potentially explosive - in others' eyes at least - relationship between Hamilton and fellow British world champion Jenson Button, Dennis reveals that the team already has one eye on the future, praising the system that brought it Hamilton's talent.
"It was a far cry from being luck, it was part of our system," he said of the decision to 'groom' the Briton from his karting days, "For a long time we have supported young talents at McLaren and Lewis was one of them. At the moment, we support a young kart driver with unbelievable talent. He is unknown at the moment, but he will make his way up just as Lewis did."
Ironically, Hamilton arrived at this weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone claiming that, if was approaching the 2007 campaign with the experience he has now, he would 'blitz' his way to the championship, with or without Alonso as team-mate [see story here