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Squabbling in the Team

  • Story Highlights
  • Relations strained between McLaren's drivers
  • McLaren has a history of bickering team-mates
  • Inter-team rivalry is good for the sport
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by James Snodgrass for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- In the commercials for the Spanish bank Santander, they are back-slapping pals, but the gritted teeth and petulant stares of Fernando Alonso, and the blank-faced disingenuousness of Lewis Hamiton in the press conference after Hungary's Grand Prix, point to a bitter and simmering feud which threatens to tear apart the McLaren team.

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso hide their enmity behind smiles after Hungary's qualifying session

It all became apparent in qualifying. Alonso -- qualifying in first place -- allegedly blocked Hamilton from taking a final qualifying lap that might jeopardize the Spaniard's position, by dawdling in the pit. The FIA, the sports governing body, ruled that it was against the spirit of the competition and decreed that Hamilton take pole, Alonso be knocked down to sixth place on the grid, and that McLaren score no constructor points for the race, regardless of the outcome.

But all was not as it seemed. Alonso's actions were not those of a peevish brat determined to secure the world championship by whatever means necessary. He was acting in retaliation for an earlier incident when Hamilton had ignored a radio request to let his team-mate past.

Suddenly Hamilton the superstar-from-nowhere who had seemed mild-mannered, anodyne even, revealed himself as a steely and ambitious competitor.

McLaren has since released a press statement intended to diffuse speculation about the team's split, stating that the team-mates were to take a team-building holiday together to clear the air before the Turkish Grand Prix.

"For the record, Fernando and I are fiercely competitive and respectful of each other. We are both ambitious drivers who want to win. However, we are not drivers at war, as has been widely reported," said Hamilton.

"Although we did not speak on Sunday we have spoken since the weekend and continue to have a professional working relationship. In fact, Fernando and I plan to meet up over the holiday period.

"As an individual in my first year in Formula 1 I have done my utmost to conduct myself in a professional and open manner."

There had been frenzied speculation about the future of the sport's hottest couple, with many commentators believing that Alonso was so frustrated with the team that he would not stay for 2008 with or without Hamilton. It is thought that Alonso expected to get preferential treatment -- as a two-time world champion partnering a rookie -- but he didn't count on McLaren's reputation for treating both its drivers equally.

Team-mates are often portrayed by teams and sponsors as buddies but history shows that they very rarely are. In fact in the rare cases where team-mates have formed a bond -- like that between Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins at Ferrari in the 1950s -- gentlemanly behavior had gotten in the way of ruthless competitiveness.

And it's not as if McLaren hasn't seen rivalry in its ranks before. Last year's hot-headed combination of Kimi Raikkonen and Juan-Pablo Montoya led to Montoya walking out mid-season, to be replaced by Pedro de la Rosa. But the most famous McLaren twosome was that of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.

Prost had been at McLaren since 1984 and the Frenchman scored two world championships for the team. Then in 1988 Ayrton Senna arrived from Lotus. The Brazilian won the world championship in his first season with McLaren.

Prost felt usurped by Senna and, despite winning the following year's world championship, jumped ship to Ferrari where he would find himself in yet another bitter partnership -- perhaps the bitterest in F1 history -- this time with Britain's Nigel Mansell.

Inter-team rivalry is probably the number one reason why drivers move from one team to another. It hastened Emerson Fittipaldi's move from Lotus to McLaren in 1973; team orders saw Ronnie Peterson take the Italian Grand Prix from his clutches. And in 1993 Nigel Mansell didn't just leave a team (Williams) to avoid being partnered with his nemesis, Prost, he left the sport -- to drive the CART championship in the United States (a championship he won on his first attempt).

And in a sport that -- to paraphrase Frank Williams -- is only actually a sport for two hours on a Sunday afternoon, the rest of the time it's commerce, a little bit of rivalry keeps it from being a fast moving parade of sponsors' logos. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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