Fernando Alonso and McLaren: Where It Went Wrong in 2007

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistDecember 17, 2014

Fernando Alonso and McLaren: Where It Went Wrong in 2007

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    Handout/Getty Images

    Fernando Alonso's sensational return to McLaren was almost an afterthought at the team's driver announcement last week.

    As the world wondered whether Jenson Button or Kevin Magnussen, the team's 2014 drivers, would partner the two-time Formula One champion next season, McLaren's unveiling of Alonso was effectively regarded as old news.

    It had, indeed, been common knowledge since Ferrari confirmed the Spaniard's departure at last month's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, yet the fact that Alonso even considered a move to the Woking-based team was astonishing in itself.

    The Spaniard's previous spell at the team, in 2007, was a period riddled with tension, suspicion and rivalry, resulting in Alonso's premature exit from McLaren, ending a partnership that had the potential to be great.

    And with his return to the outfit now confirmed, let's relive the flash points that meant his first coming at McLaren was doomed to failure.

Australian GP Start

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    With the MP4-22 setting quick times in pre-season testing, McLaren arrived at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix with a race-winning car at their disposal.

    But so did Ferrari, who claimed pole position at Albert Park with Kimi Raikkonen, as Alonso and Lewis Hamilton were forced to settle for second and fourth on the grid, respectively. 

    The British driver, fresh from winning the 2006 GP2 title, instantly announced his arrival in F1 by passing the reigning world champion around the outside of the first corner.

    Alonso eventually finished a comfortable second to Raikkonen, but Hamilton's feisty start suggested that the Spaniard wouldn't have it all his own way at McLaren.

The Bench Before Bahrain

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    After winning in McLaren colours for the first time in Malaysia, Alonso arrived at the third round of the season, the Bahrain Grand Prix, as the championship leader.

    On the Thursday ahead of the race, the world champion and his new boss, Ron Dennis, were caught chatting on a bench in the Sakhir paddock, creating what would become one of the most iconic images of the 2007 campaign.

    Their discussion seemed amicable enough, but the site of Dennis sandwiched between Alonso and his manager, Luis Garcia Abad, for all to see was almost sinister.

    Alonso's demeanor would take a turn for the worst just days later, limping to fifth place in one of his most disappointing showings for McLaren.

Hamilton Upset with Second at Monaco

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    Following up his underwhelming Bahrain performance with an off-track excursion en route to a disappointing third-place finish at his home race, Alonso got his title challenge back on track with victory in Monaco.

    He took pole and set the fastest lap on his way to the top step of the podium at the principality, but not everyone within the team was pleased with the weekend.

    Hamilton followed his team-mate home as the McLarens, as per the official F1 website, lapped every car bar third-placed Felipe Massa. But the British driver, still searching for his maiden grand prix win, felt he was denied the chance to take the spoils.

    The British driver risked dragging his own outfit into a row over team orders, which were banned at the time, telling BBC Sport's Andrew Benson"I tried to attack him and wanted to win if I could, but I have to accept that I am in my rookie season and he has number one on his car and I have number two. I am the second driver and so I must accept that and respect that for the team."

Misery in Canada

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    Hamilton's frustration in Monaco turned to joy at the following round in Canada, where he claimed his first F1 win.

    The British driver's breakthrough weekend coincided with one of the worst days of Alonso's entire career, which brought the Spaniard back down to Earth with a considerable bump.

    Alonso's problems started when he ran wide at the first corner while trying to pass Hamilton, the pole-sitter, and his afternoon soon tumbled into farce.

    Hindered by braking problems, he left the track on several more occasions and picked up a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for pitting under safety car conditions.

    His afternoon was compounded when, just three laps from the end, Alonso was overtaken by Takuma Sato of the lowly Super Aguri team and left to finish a very distant seventh.

The First Hints of Tension

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    Just days after his Montreal nightmare, Alonso told Cadena Ser radio (h/t GPUpdate.net) that he "wasn't comfortable with everything" from the minute he arrived at McLaren.

    He was, presumably, even more uncomfortable that weekend, when he lived in Hamilton's shadow for the second successive grand prix.

    Unlike in Canada, Alonso was beaten in a straight fight at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the true measure of his discontent was made public for the first time.

    Despite placing his car alongside his rookie team-mate's on the main straight at the halfway stage of the race, the Spaniard couldn't make a move stick and soon made his frustration clear, swerving toward the pit wall and waving his fist in the air as he sailed by.

Alonso Blocks Hamilton in Hungary Qualifying

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    The mid-part of the 2007 season came and went without significant developments in the Alonso-Hamilton rivalry, with the former taking his first win in four races at the European Grand Prix.

    However, inter-team tensions at McLaren reached boiling point in qualifying at the Hungarian Grand Prix, where Hamilton refused to follow the instructions of his team to give Alonso track position during the fuel-burning stage of Q3.

    In retaliation, the world champion remained stationary in his pit box despite the lifting of the lollipop, blocking Hamilton to ensure that the rookie could not complete a final qualifying lap.

    Alonso, of course, did and duly took pole position, but was docked five places for his act of revenge.

Argument with Ron Dennis in Budapest

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    MURAD SEZER/Associated Press

    Alonso could only recover from his post-qualifying penalty to finish fourth in Hungary, as Hamilton claimed his third career win, but the race was a mere sideshow.

    As per BBC Sport's Andrew Benson, Alonso and Dennis were involved in an argument on the morning of the grand prix, during which the Spaniard allegedly told his superior that he had access to emails concerning the "Spygate" scandal and was prepared to share them with the FIA, the sport's governing body.

    Dennis, according to Benson, called Max Mosley, the FIA president, to tell him of Alonso's threat, sparking a chain of events that led to his team receiving a record fine of $100m.

McLaren Punished as Alonso Gets Punchy at Spa

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    In the week that McLaren were fined and excluded from the constructors' championship by the FIA, the on-track action recommenced at Spa-Francorchamps.

    Having been destabilised by the sheer strength of their penalty, the team would have been forgiven for wanting a quiet race, but the start of the Belgian Grand Prix ensured it would be anything but.

    On the exit of the La Source hairpin on the opening lap, Alonso veered across the track toward Hamilton's car, forcing the youngster to take avoiding action by running off the circuit.

    Hamilton found enough traction on the run-off area to nip ahead of Alonso on the approach to Eau Rouge, but the Spaniard muscled the youngster out of the way.

    By this time, the relationship between Dennis and his star driver was at the point of no return, with the McLaren boss quoted by BBC Sport as telling an FIA hearing: "We're not on speaking terms. The relationship between Fernando and I is extremely cold—that is an understatement. He does not speak to anyone much. He is a remarkable recluse for a driver."

Alonso Crashes out of Japanese GP

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    Alonso had yet another one of those days in the Japanese Grand Prix, making mistakes and suffering from bad luck as Hamilton made it all look so easy.

    In torrential conditions at Fuji Speedway, the world champion started second but struggled for pace, falling to eighth and making contact with some kid called Sebastian Vettel.

    Although he recovered to fourth by Lap 42, the Spaniard's race ended when he aquaplaned under braking for Turn 5 and hit the wall, with the violent impact tearing the rear off his car.

    His team-mate, in stark contrast, walked on water, taking a comfortable win and extending his points advantage over Alonso to 12 points with just two races remaining. 

The Bitter End

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    Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

    Two podium finishes in the final two races were not enough for Alonso to secure his third consecutive crown, with the Spaniard tied on 109 points with Hamilton, just one point behind new world champion Raikkonen.

    Less than a fortnight after the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix, the two-time world champion's departure from McLaren was announced, with Alonso returning to his former home, Renault, for the 2008 and '09 campaigns.

    Despite going on to race for Ferrari between 2010 and 2014, he could still not get title No. 3 over the line, narrowly missing out to Vettel on two occasions.

    Almost throughout his time at Renault and Ferrari, the prospect of a return to McLaren was never thought to be on the radar.

    But as Alonso himself told Sky Sports' William Esler at last week's announcement: "I think this comeback will put things in place and I feel the unfinished business we left in 2007 we will finish now."


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