Alonso row led to McLaren's downfall

McLaren boss Ron Dennis has defended Fernando Alonso against suggestions the Formula One champion should be fired for his role in a spying scandal that cost the team a title and $100 million

Alonso row led to McLaren's downfall

Revealing how a row with the Spaniard on the morning of last month's Hungarian Grand Prix triggered a phone call that led to the loss of all McLaren's 2007 constructors' points and a record fine, Dennis made clear on Saturday he had only one aim.

"My job is to win the world championship. My job isn't for people to love and hug me," he told British reporters at the Belgian Grand Prix after being asked directly why he had not fired his driver.

"If I have difficult relationships with people, I have difficult relationships with them. You don't take your guns out and shoot people every which way.

"It's not a love-in. I want to have positive relationships with my drivers but it's difficult sometimes."

While Dennis would not go into details of their meeting in Budapest, he said Alonso had mentioned e-mails in his possession that could incriminate the team in an investigation into leaked Ferrari data.

British newspaper reports on Saturday accused the 26-year-old of demanding at the meeting that the team either make him their number one driver or let him go, and threatening to go to the governing FIA.

The Guardian quoted Alonso's manager Luis Garcia denying the reports as "complete rubbish".

The Spaniard, reported to be seeking a return to Renault, had been stripped of pole position and demoted five places the day before for impeding 22-year-old British rookie teammate Lewis Hamilton in qualifying.

Alonso's relationship with the team had already turned sour by then over their refusal to favour him over championship-leading Hamilton.

"Fernando arrived, pretty upset by many things. I'm not going to give you the detail," said Dennis.

"In a conversation that took place he said 'I have something in my e-mail system which is from one of your engineers'.

"(McLaren chief executive) Martin (Whitmarsh) and I looked at each other and Martin said 'Fernando should inform the FIA'.

"When Fernando left, I phoned the FIA. I told them what happened and put the phone down.

"Half an hour later, Fernando's manager came back and said 'look I'm sorry, he was angry blah blah blah' and retracted everything," said Dennis.

The Briton said he again rang the FIA and after the race Alonso came to his office and apologised for what had happened.

At the end of the month, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) wrote to the McLaren drivers asking them to hand over any information they had about Ferrari technical information obtained from now-suspended chief designer Mike Coughlan.

The FIA on Friday published e-mails from the team's test driver Pedro de la Rosa and Alonso, evidence presented at a hearing in Paris that imposed the sanctions on McLaren.

Dennis likened the Hungary incident to a domestic row when one partner says something that they did not mean and then regretted.

"That is the benefit I am giving to Fernando," he said. "My objective is to win races. I believe that if someone says things, and subsequently retracts them and apologises, I move on."

Dennis also dismissed a suggestion that Alonso's behaviour towards him had been the most extreme he had experienced from a driver in 40 years in the sport.

"It's the most extreme thing that you know about," he said. "I could tell you some things...I would like you to understand the nature of competitive animals. They know no limit."

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