Ron Dennis, the McLaren chairman, prides himself on what he sees as his team's well honed sense of sportsmanship and fair play. He believes that he behaved with well moderated common sense when it came to instructing both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso to slow down in the closing stages of Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix.

Dennis can be an aggressively over-confident individual, who doesn't shy from speaking his mind, but most F1 insiders agree that an FIA investigation into his team's behaviour seems a little ironic as McLaren have always been committed to allowing their drivers to race each other into the ground without fear or favour.

Memorably, at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, he watched as Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost collided and skidded to a halt whilst disputing the lead. They were, he argued, both seasoned GP winners and, if their exuberance occasionally got the better of them, then that was up to them. By contrast, on race day at Monaco, he was trying to calm a potentially explosive contest, not favour one individual over the other.

Dennis stated that Hamilton would have been favourite to win the Monaco GP for the team if the safety car had been deployed as it had been four times over the last five years. He explained that Hamilton and Alonso, the eventual winner, started the 78-lap race on different fuel loads in a bid to cover every strategic possibility in this notoriously unpredictable event.

"If the safety car is deployed then a one-stop refuelling strategy will almost certainly beat a two-stop strategy," said Dennis. "If there is no safety car deployed, then a two-stop strategy is the best. Because of the difficulties involved in passing, Monaco is the only circuit on which it is the issue of the safety car which determines who wins. At the end of the day, McLaren has now won an all-time record 14 out of the 65 races at Monaco. And why? Because McLaren understands better than anybody else what's involved in winning there."

Alonso ran the entire 78-lap race on a two-stop strategy from the outset, with Hamilton originally on a one-stop strategy which meant that he was carrying five laps' more fuel than Alonso in the opening stages of the race.

Once he got to his first refuelling stop and was now comfortably holding second place, the team switched him to a two-stop strategy as this was the fastest option for the balance of the race.

Frank Williams, one of Dennis's most intense rivals over the past couple of decades, agrees that the whole issue of team orders is a little ambiguous.

"If you tell your driver 'we're concerned about the engine wear, so ease up a bit' and his mate nips past at the next corner, are we really guilty of team orders?

"I must say that, as far as Alonso and Hamilton were concerned, the question of their running to team orders never even crossed my mind. I was just surprised, and the relentless pace they were running. They didn't need to be going that fast."

Like Frank, that was the only bit I failed to understand as well.

 

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