At the traditional McLaren Christmas lunch last year, Ron Dennis could hardly have been more optimistic about the season to come. McLaren had landed Fernando Alonso, and joining him in the team was the company's favourite son, Lewis Hamilton.
"For now," said Dennis, "we have to base our opinions of Fernando on other people's experiences - and people who've worked with him eulogise about him. He's a very well-rounded individual, and quite obviously a brilliant racing driver."
McLaren's season could hardly have got away to a better start. In Melbourne, Alonso and Hamilton were second and third, behind Raikkonen's Ferrari, and at Sepang Fernando won, with Lewis second. "There's a new spirit in the team," said Dennis, "that I believe will have been witnessed by anyone who watched us this weekend."
It certainly seemed that way. In parc ferme Alonso and Hamilton embraced each other, and both then hugged their boss. Happy days were here again.
Less than six months on, it's hard to believe all that now. A season which seemed to hold infinite promise has delivered in terms of results - Lewis and Fernando are 1-2 in the world championship standings, after all - but the serenity is long gone.
At Spa last weekend McLaren people were striving to recover from the events in Paris on Thursday. Max Mosley and Jean Todt's bunch said they thought McLaren - stripped of their constructors' points for 2007, and fined a hundred million dollars - had got off lightly, but they were strictly in a minority. Most in the paddock thought the punishment savage.
From the FIA's press release on the judgement of the World Motor Sport Council, I was left with the impression that most of the evidence presented would, in a normal court of law, have been considered 'circumstantial'.
In the paddock Mosley said consideration had been given to stripping the drivers of their points, too, on the grounds that, "There is a suspicion that they had an advantage they should not have had." Surely suspicion is hardly reason enough to convict.
Dennis held a press briefing on Saturday morning, croaking somewhat in a voice that was talked out, and looking weary. That said, he claimed that on Thursday night he had slept better than for months, for at least now the world council's decision was known, and he knew what he had to confront: "I was a passenger until then."
He is a man of extraordinary resilience, Ron, but this year, which started out so well, must have been the most trying of his professional life. One greedy and dishonest employee, in cahoots with another at Ferrari, has cost him a championship and a colossal amount of money - and served also to cast doubts on his team's integrity. If that were not enough, he has problems within the team, too.
It was only last weekend that we heard for the first time that it was Dennis himself who alerted Mosley that there was 'new evidence' in the case against McLaren.
Although Ron said from the start of this grubby affair that his team would cooperate fully with the FIA's investigations, this seemed like altruism gone mad - until we learned of the circumstances under which he himself first became aware of this new evidence. And I confess, having long been something of an Alonso fan, that the story greatly disappointed and disillusioned me.
Turns out it's all Lewis's fault. The kid is just too good, too quick. I reckon that if anyone but he had partnered Alonso this season, Fernando would have walked the 2007 world championship.
As it is, though, he has faced a degree of opposition from his own team-mate that no one - save perhaps Anthony Hamilton - could have imagined, and that has exposed frailties within him that we might otherwise never have seen.
We all knew how good Lewis was, but few of us suspected he would be a match for the world champion in his debut season. As Niki Lauda put it, "Lewis just came in, and began to go quicker than Alonso - and Alonso was already perfect..."
Well, yes, we did think Alonso was close to perfect, but before the season began Jackie Stewart perspicaciously pointed out that life at McLaren for Fernando might not be quite as straightforward as perhaps he imagined.
"Alonso," said JYS, "is a great driver, but he's with a new team - and although his team-mate's a rookie, he is the new boy. He's got to make his mark in the team, because he knows that the McLaren romance with Lewis is a very big one..."
As Lauda said, Alonso was thought 'perfect', but Pat Symonds has said that, in his Renault days, Fernando had only one weakness - a complete inability to accept it when his team-mate was quicker. When that team- mate was Giancarlo Fisichella, it didn't happen very often, of course, but at McLaren Hamilton has frequently had the edge, and in this situation Alonso has struggled.
Interestingly, Rubens Barrichello once told me that was exactly how Michael Schumacher would behave in their Ferrari days together; it amazed him, he said, that so great a driver could be so insecure.
When I mentioned this to Martin Brundle, he surmised that maybe this was a characteristic of all the really great ones - this inability to accept that anyone, in the same car, could be quicker. Ayrton Senna was exactly the same.
Alonso has become increasingly disenchanted with life at McLaren, feeling that, as a double world champion, he should be treated unequivocally as the number one driver. It appears that the events in qualifying at the Hungaroring brought things to a head.
It was there, you will recall, that the McLaren drivers deliberately impeded the efforts of the other to take pole position. Hamilton got in the way of Alonso's 'fuel burning' laps, and Fernando delayed Lewis in the pits, thus depriving him of a final banzai lap.
Although they damaged no one outside their own team, their behaviour for some reason attracted the attention of the FIA stewards - who announced that McLaren would score no constructors' points in this event, and that Alonso would start five places back from what should have been pole position.
At this Fernando was particularly aggrieved, for he felt that Lewis had started the contretemps, yet escaped punishment - and would now start from the pole.
On the Sunday morning, he had an angry debate with Dennis, in the course of which it seems he threatened that if Ron did not tell Lewis to back off (and preferably drop him at the end of the season), he would go to the FIA with 'new evidence'.
It seems unfathomable to me that a driver would threaten to damage the interests of his own team - and even more so that Alonso could possibly have imagined that Dennis would bend the knee. Had he learned nothing about his employer?
Ron immediately told Fernando that if he had new evidence, he should notify the FIA at once - indeed, once the discussion was over, Ron called Max Mosley himself.
Later Alonso's manager told Dennis that his boy was sorry, and wished to retract what he had said, but it was too late for that. Ron knew what he had heard, and at once passed the information on, well knowing that in so doing he was inevitably bringing more trouble to his own door.
By the end of the afternoon, Alonso had apologised to Dennis, and the two had shaken hands, but Ron, who had believed Mike Coughlan the only McLaren man involved in the 'Stepneygate' affair, now had to face the fact that there was a little more to it than that. No wonder he looked grey when he left the circuit that day.
Three races remain in the world championship, and Alonso, but two points behind Hamilton, may well make it a hat-trick of titles. Difficult, though, to see him as a McLaren driver beyond Interlagos, is it not?