Analysis: Alonso a study in calm as he speaks for first time about his accident
McLaren
Fernando Alonso
Posted By: James Allen  |  26 Mar 2015   |  1:45 pm GMT  |  260 comments

It was an impressively calm performance by Fernando Alonso today in the FIA press conference at Sepang; his first time appearing before the media since his accident in testing last month. He remained calm under fairly intense questioning and maintained a story that was consistent with itself throughout.

But the problem was, it wasnt consistent with what’s been said to date by McLaren and its boss Ron Dennis and therein lies a significant problem for him, for the team and for the ongoing relationship between them.

Alonso answered many questions, but raised more questions in the process and most of the members of the press corps in the media centre were left with an even stronger feeling than before, that someone, somewhere in this story has not been telling the truth.

All along there has been a feeling that there is more to this story than meets the eye and that feeling is stronger than ever today after Alonso’s appearance before the media.

Alonso sat in the centre of the front row in the Sepang press conference room, flanked by Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen. He looked tanned, fresh and above all calm. There was no agitation in his gestures, his speech nor in his general movement, unlike many other occasions where he has been stressed. He was clearly determined to keep it all together and not lose his patience and he didn’t even come close for the best part of an hour.

After the initial round of questions to all six drivers present from me in the moderator’s chair, the majority of the questions from the floor were addressed to Alonso. He was asked about what caused the accident, what happened afterwards, when he lost consciousness and what he thought was the reason for the accident.

Fernando Alonso

This was one of those press conferences with a certain tension in the air, but Alonso maintained a relaxed, calm exterior throughout, even when some of the Fleet Street journalists repeatedly pursued a line of questioning about how he could be happy to race this weekend if there was no explanation of the steering problem he was certain had caused him to crash.

Alonso patiently reiterated his answers and stuck to his story, even suggesting that the team had been too impetuous at the time of the accident in communicating details, under pressure to say something. But he flat contradicted their position that the car was not the cause of the accident – which has given rise to theories that he had some kind of seizure or mini-stroke; something a number of people in the F1 paddock still believe could be the case.

Steering was to blame
Alonso insists that there was a problem with the steering when he turned into the long Turn 3 at Barcelona, that something maintained the lock and continued to turn the car towards the inner wall on the right, despite him unwinding the steering wheel. McLaren’s intensive examination of the car has not revealed any problem and they have steadfastly maintained that the car was perfect and not the cause of the accident.

Alonso offered the explanation that perhaps the sensor instrumentation on the McLaren to measure finite details of the steering were not at a high enough standard and that in a few years the technology will exist to measure what he felt but today that is not possible. This will have bridled Dennis, who recently renamed his company “Mclaren Technology Group”, so proud is he of the space age technology McLaren produces in its racing and road cars.

Alonso said that he had been using a different steering rack in view of his different driving style, but for this race would be using the one McLaren had used last season on Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen’s cars.

To satisfy him and to try to kick this controversy into the long grass, the team has said that it has fitted new sensors to the car for this weekend on the steering. But the relationship is obviously quite tense at the moment, with Alonso believed to be unhappy with the way the team has communicated through this period and particularly with its internal report into the accident.

F1 press conference Malaysia 2015

Inconsistencies

There were a few areas where the stories as told by McLaren and Alonso do not tally.

Early on McLaren suggested a “gust of wind” may have blown the car off course, but Alonso discounted that, saying that “a hurricane” would not blow the car off course to that extent at that speed.

Alonso’s manager said that Alonso was not unconscious, McLaren said he was unconscious, while Alonso himself said he maintained consciousness throughout the accident right up to the point where he was given drugs in the medical centre to go on the medical helicopter to Barcelona hospital.

McLaren said that there was nothing wrong with the car, “His car ran wide at the entry to Turn 3 – which is a fast uphill right-hander – allowing it to run onto the Astroturf that lines the outside of the track,” said McLaren the day after the accident.

“A consequent loss of traction caused a degree of instability, spitting it back towards the inside of the circuit, where it regained traction and struck the wall side-on.

“Our findings indicate that the accident was caused by the unpredictably gusty winds at that part of the circuit at that time, and which had affected other drivers similarly (eg, Carlos Sainz Jr).

“We can categorically state that there is no evidence that indicates that Fernando’s car suffered mechanical failure of any kind.”

Alonso said, “In the data there is nothing clear that we can spot, the reason, but we had a steering problem in turn three. It locked to the right and I approached the wall, I braked at the last moment, I downshifted from fifth to third but unfortunately on the data we are still missing something [information].

“I don’t know if you have seen the video but a hurricane will not move the car at that speed,” he added.

Here’s another – Ron Dennis in February: “If you then ask the question why he was in the hospital for three days, it’s because there was a period of unconsciousness. It was relatively short,” he added. “When he came to rest, all we know is that the radio was on and we could hear him breathing. There were no other noises. They say it was seconds.

“He’s not even concussed. I’m not trying to conceal anything. I’m just telling you the facts: he is physically perfect. There is no concussion.”

Alonso today: “Everything was more or less as a normal concussion. So, I had this concussion, went to the hospital. I went to the hospital in good conditions. There is a time that I don’t remember from two o’clock to six o’clock or something like that, but everything again was normal due to the medication that they give you to go into the helicopter and to do some tests in the hospital.

Everything was normal. I didn’t wake up in ’95, I didn’t wake up speaking in Italian or all these things that probably they were out there. I remember the accident and I remember everything that following day.

“Vettel was in front of me before Turn Three but cut the chicane to let me go, exiting the pitlane. After the hit I was kissing the wall for a while and then I switch off the radio first, because it was on, and then I switch off the master switch for the batteries to switch off the ERS system just because I saw the marshals coming and, if not, they cannot touch the car. So, yeah, I was perfectly conscious at the time. I lost consciousness in the ambulance or in the clinic at the circuit but the doctors said this is normal because of the medication that they put you, just for the helicopter transportation.”

Not surprisingly, most journalists present don’t buy it and can sense both some untruths in the air from one or other of the parties and also sense the first signs of fresh wedge between a driver and team, who split up so spectacularly seven years ago.

The “glitch in the steering so tiny that modern sensors aren’t good enough to detect it, so we will never know for sure” stance is the one McLaren are taking at the moment and one suspects that they will try to hold onto that and play the long game.

Both sides will be hoping to get out on track tomorrow and put this episode behind them. It will be interesting to see whether the media will let them.

Fernando Alonso

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1

Sad to see that Alonso is up to his old selfish tricks so soon.

His remarks clearly pitted himself against the team but perhaps it was especially aimed at Ron Dennis.

He is a remarkable talent and certainly one of the best but unfortunately his ego tends to get in the way.

What if he didn’t faint but something else happened and the team has been kind to keep it private? All for him to throw them under the bus.

No disrespect to Magnusson but if this ends ugly again, I actually hope McLaren gives either Hulkenburg or Grosjean a chance. Hulkenburg may be the sensible and consistent option that deserves a chance at a ‘top’ team. Grosjean on the other hand has a lot of natural speed and has shed his recklessness. He is probably the most daring and exciting over-taker to watch.

2

There are so many of you who dislike Alonso. Fair enough….we all have our favourite drivers and we also have some that we don’t like. So many of u scoffed at the poll which showed Alonso to be the most identifiable and marketable driver today. The same fans most likely disregard Alonsos version of events of the accident HE was in. Apparently, there is no way that Fernando could be telling the truth about how the steering felt like prior to the accident. The telemetry, Ron, McLaren, Red Bull etc, don’t lie but fernando seems too? Maybe thats another characteristic of a Latin male? Anyway, the number of anti Alonso posters who jump on every article he’s in and try to prove how average he is, mainly by inventing facts, shows us how popular he is…when so many who don’t like him just can’t help themselves and not only read all the articles but also feel the need to continually post about any negative that occurs to him….someone who generates that kind of interest shows us he’s very employable!! So keep posting so we can all see how fernando keeps bringing us together

3

This whole affair has become very tedious. Looking forward to this article disappearing from the home page.

4

It never ceases to amaze me how the media cooks up these all theories regarding THAT freak crash. Alonso, who knows the actual reason of the crash explained the real cause of that incident and fairly explained how the team and his management team got it wrong. Really looks like the media, particularly the British media, are unrelentingly working on to create a very negative working atmosphere between Alonso and McLaren (leave out Honda!). For god’s sake leave all those theories alone and move on! Is that so difficult?

5

The problem Alonso has is that McLaren have absolutely no evidence that it was a steering rack failure, so the idea that the sensors missed it not cast-iron. Also, given that most of the paddock had got round to the idea that this was unconsciousness and concussion together, it seemed a bit strange that Alonso then claimed absolutely everything was normal and that he was just concussed. I think in that context it’s kind of the role of the media to point out the inconsistencies, even if Alonso’s privacy must not be abused.

For what it’s worth, I think both Alonso and McLaren were a bit confused by the incident. I certainly don’t think it was a mini-stroke in the sense that I would have expected a longer absence in that case. I still think the explanation we’d all come round to (unconsciousness + concussion + temporary memory loss) is the most likely. I think what caused the accident will always remain a mystery. But the mystery of it, combined with the memory issues, unnerved Alonso somewhat and in his press work in Malaysia he has sought to protect himself from that; he doesn’t want to present the idea of a problem or weakness (however temporary), or open himself up to questions about what his feelings were. The discrepancies are on the one hand frustrating but on another understandable.

6

Some drivers (i.e. Alonso in 2007, Piquet Jr in 2009, Hamilton in 2012) are keen to keep damaging information (from outright cheating to simple telemetry data) with them for the time the relationship with the team has deteriorated beyond repair. Maybe Fernando will keep all his cards down for the time being – that would explain he could be calmly playing McLaren’s game even if he knew a different version of the accident.

7
kenneth chapman

if alonso was fully conscious and mobile why was it necessary to erect screens around the car whilst he was either climbing out of the car on his own or was being assisted by the marshalls/medicos? when i see screens erected i usually think that there is something pretty messy there that the doctors etc don’t want the public to witness.

maybe james can enlighten us on this?

8
kenneth chapman

maybe james won’t enlighten us on this?

9

that comment about the steering being “locked and maintaining the turn”
i’m thinking that maybe the car was running a lot of caster and steering ackerman and the team didn’t have, or forgot to put the steering stops on the steering uprights ?
so when FA has turned the wheel to an angle close to full lock, the inside wheel has over rotated in its turn angle and sent him to the wall.
when this happens, it is impossible to recover from as the inside wheel is tucked around so far that the steering arm is in line with the steering tie rod linkage, and all it does is pull in a direct line and the wheel doesn’t correct itself because of the force applied to it by the forward motion of the car .

Or maybe they are secretly working on some sort of auto corrective steering system ( auto traction control ) to help when the car steps out,
and they didn’t have the level on the g force accelerometer turned up enough ? food for thought.

10

It will be interesting to see if the Media will let them (put the episode behind them)…..

Does this include you, James???

11

My sentiments exactly. The guy had an accident, is recovering from it, and his life is poured over by the media like a bacteria under the microscope. Why is this now anyone’s business? It is vulgar to watch and unbecoming of journalists overall. But then again, the British press is well renowned for it. The turn this story has taken over the last few weeks is highly disappointing, JA included. 🙁

12

I observe and comment where appropriate…

13
kenneth chapman

@ james…thank goodness for that…however the FIA have, i believe, stated that they will not release their investigation report to the public. what a cover up this is all turning out to be but then again i did forecast that this would happen a couple of weeks ago. a carbon copy really of the bianchi full report.

14
Matthew Cheshire

James- Did Alonso definitely say that “unwound” the steering without getting response?

F1 hydraulic steering is similar to road cars- the whole system is mechanical linkages. You cannot have the steering input without a steering response without significant and obvious mechanical failure-

stripped spline at the wheel, broken universal at the steering joint, stripped rack or pinion teeth, broken tie rods(or equivalent). That’s it.

The assistance can weight, or unweight the steering, maybe lock it, but cannot “ignore” input.

Any mechanic would find that kind of failure in seconds. Even Ron was a mechanic back in the day.

If Alonso meant heavy/locked/unweighted steering, that could be an intermittent fault. Steering with no wheel movement is a completely different thing. It must be a mistranslated phrase or one party is lying completely.

15
Racing driver 1

Why doesn’t Alonso just tell the vultures ( I mean press) to go **** themselves, I would if I was a driver. They are clearly just trying to form a wedge so they can make money from a tasty story. Why do drivers sit in press conferences for hours, answering stupid questions. I would just say I have more productive things to do, stand up and ask the interviewer to “say hi to his wife”, just to shine them on.

If I was McLaren I would probably look into legal action and try to get restraining orders for certain annoying press members. If that doesn’t work, I would just close public relations with the media. If they don’t stop acting like Mosquitos, then they won’t have any material to interview.

16

Have you forgotten to take your meds?

17

No media = no attention on the sport = no money in the sport = no private jets and tax havens for drivers

You do the maths…

18

Fernando has already started damage limitation mode. Same as when he was at ferrari. Makes him look better if the car works and limits expectation if it doesn’t.

He reminds me of the Spanish soccer player who went down in pain in the previous World Cup . The one who faked the injury when it became clear on replay that the kick was several inches from his leg. In Canada we say a hockey players fakes health where a soccer player fakes injury.

19

Can’t understand why came back together.

It’s like marrying again the same wife to get back that miserable life.

20

Wonder is they thought this distraction would be this effective? Worked like a charm!

21

We’ve had to delete a number of your posts. You have been warned about bashing Alonso.

Please change the record – Mod

22

James, related to this, Alonso says he saw the marshals approaching and thrned off the ERS master switch otherwise they could not touch the car. How does this work? What would happen if the driver loses consciousness on a crash and can’t turn off the ERS master switch? How would rescue teams get the driver off the car? I am sure this has been addressed, just curious about the details.

Thanks!

23

I watched the driver conference on Sky F1 channel and I felt that FA was just rambling on when asked questions. The answers he was giving did seemed a bit confused. I did not think he was his normal self at all.

24

Just a couple of points since my previous comment.

1. Alonso stated that he was using a different steering rack not steering wheel. Also that he will be using the same set up as that used throughout 2014 and Aus G.P. by JB & Kmag. Perhaps this is a similar issue to the one which Kimi was troubled with when he first joined Ferrari! I don’t know for certain but I would imagine that the steering wheel is mounted onto a primary shaft but not directly connected to the lower shaft and steering rack. It’s probably via an electric motor similar to many production cars.

2. I once suffered a short period stress related black out many years ago whilst rallying. I woke up in hospital having been injected with a drug to imobilise movements i.e. similar to convulsions. Perhaps this was what was given to FA at the trackside or at the circuit medical center. The reason is basically to imobilse the patient so as not to cause further stress or movement whilst being transported to hospital. Perhaps RD interpretted this as the effect of concussion without really knowing any better. Also it may answer the question why FA was ‘out of it’ for a four hours after the incident.

25

James, are you conveniently “forgetting” the fact that Ron, retracted his initial statement that alonso was not concussed in Aus. Looks like only media is more confused after today’s press.

I think steering issue perfectly explains the crash, And both said there is nothing in the data to support the claim. So, all seems OK to me.

26

Over a month before F1 media get to speak to Fernando, and it completely dominates the PC.

With so much interest in this incident and so many unanswered questions,

Why didn’t paddock media demand the FIA Rep Matteo Bonciani organise a press conference with McLaren (Dennis, Alonso, and other relevant members) before the drivers PC?

The only questions directed at other drivers were token “we feel bad for not including you questions”….”F1 is dangerous,do you ever get scared”or how great is it to be Spanish? ( I’m paraphrasing).

It let Nico off the hook though…he didn’t have to answer the “Can you catch Lewis” question.

The first question I had when I saw pictures of Alonso’s crash was, Why didn’t the car break up? I assume it was just the trajectory, but it seemed strange that everything looked pretty much intact,(from the pics that I saw).

James, You know these people and I suspect you have a gut feeling about what’s happened and I don’t expect you to share it with us.

As an outsider,alI I have is this to go on…I have no reason to dis-believe Alonso, not so sure about Dennis.

About 20 or so years ago watching a race on Ch9 in Aus, commentated by Darryl Eastlake and Alan Jones… camera cuts to McLaren pits with a shot of Ron.

Eastlake says,”thats McLaren boss Ron Dennis,

Jones in the next beat says “He’s a nasty piece of work”

Eastlake ….AW, don’t hold back AJ.

Maybe AJ let a little truthiness slip out.

27

Still very much believe this is all smoke screens on Alonso’s personal health.

28

Alonso / McLaren didn’t work first time around and it looks like second time isn’t going to be all that rosy. Why on earth did McLaren want Alonso back in the first place I’m sure the money spent luring him from Ferrari could have better spent. I have to be honest Ive never been a great Alonso fan but he has in the past shown a lot of brilliance. I’m not sure that raw hunger to win is still there and I think the Honda / McLaren partnership have wasted a lot of money.

29

They needed a top line driver and Alonso was the best available.

30

At the risk of sounding like a member of the tin foil hat brigade that I so often deride, this is a bit strange. It is hard to imagine how a steering system could fail in the way Alonso describes, and then be OK in the garage, the column is either still attached to the rack or it isn’t. Even if the ends of the rack were damaged in the impact, if the coupling between the rack and column had sheared (the only failure I can think of that would give the symptoms Alonso describes) then it would be apparent on inspection, it couldn’t temporarily fail then re attach it is a fixed mechanical link. I can’t imagine what sensors were not fitted to the McLaren and what type of sensor Fernando believes would be available Int the future. It is my understanding that all F1 cars are fitted with steering angle and load sensors, and have been for many years. I would have thought these would be adequate to detect any failure of the steering system.

Where did the stories of Fernando believing it was 1995 originate? It was quite a detailed story and widely reported, who would invent such an imaginative tale?

The inconsistencies between McLaren’s version of events and Alonso’s are troubling to say the least, it’s clear that some of McLaren’s statements have been incorrect, and there are some serious questions raised by Fernando’s version of events.

Maybe a joint press conference with Dennis, Alonso and the strangely silent Boullier would be advisable, it certainly seems at the moment to be two separate entities competing to be believed rather than a team in harmony.

31

Tim

Strange…you can say that again!!!

32

Tim

To sell papers I suppose.

But the story of 95 and speaking Italian did not come from Mclaren but defo Spanish media.

There was a lot of confusion re Alonso’s condition so not suprising Mclaren got it wrong at the start.

As has been pointed out Alonso has a clear recollection of steering problem and has only said so 3 weeks after the event.

Some one is confused but are they deliberately lying, probably not.

Mclaren have the telemetry backing them up and Alonso clearly believes what he is saying.

Storm in a teacup if you ask me.

However given the previous relationship it would have been better for both parties to agree a script and stick to it.

Apparently Alonso went off script.

33

Buzzz, making up stories to sell papers is one thing, but I just can’t see why they would invent something as strange as the 95 story. It may well be a storm in a teacup but it is a very unusual sequence of events with both parties saying strange things.

34

Spanish media!

35

Buzz, the Spanish media invented the 95 story? Why? For what purpose? I don’t understand why they would come up with such an elaborate story that would be so easy to dis prove.

36

The first real eye opener for Fernando could be when his McLaren gets lapped by either or both of the Ferrari’s in Malaysia. The last straw will be come shortly after that when he gets lapped by one of the Saubers. There is also the lingering question of how the McLaren-Honda will handle the heat and humidity with its tightly clad bodywork. They might have to dial the engine back far enough into heat survival mode that they get lapped twice again.

37

there is nothing to this story. mclaren tried to tell the public what they thought was the true story without actually speaking with alonso and alonso is now telling the story after studying all the data, speaking with the fia and mclaren. from listening to alonso, i do not sense a rift between him and mclaren. he said he was one of the happiest men on earth when he was asked how he felt about leaving ferrari to join mclaren in the mess that they are in.

38

I read that McLaren has a high price to pay Alonso’s insurance in case of a serious accident due to a faulty car. So Dennis would want to hide any problem linked to the car. Alonso on the other hand will want to avoid issues which could reduce his market value, so avoids putting any blame on himself. Hence, money, politics and personal interests take over. Nothing new, just frustrating for us fans who love the sport.

39

I respect Alonso as a driver. He is extremely gifted, but he is also a very political animal out of the car.

As James mention, things just don’t tally up with what the Team say and even his own management people have said. As for the team, I don’t give any creditability to what Eric Boullier says, as I remember back to when he was at Enstone, and 2 times in front of the world media he claimed that Kimi Raikkonen had been paid, when of course, Kimi finally had enough, and said he hadn’t been paid a single penny. Plus the other time, when he said he saw the money come into the Bank account and then leave. This was referring to a Bond that a so called group of investors claimed to have for their share of the Enstone team. We fell off our chairs laughing so much. Let’s just say we know this market and how it works.

In a test session, the car is loaded up with sensors, as they need to collect as much data as possible; in race trim they take a lot of the car. McLaren and Button both have said they found nothing wrong with the car. I think, but not sure, that Button then drove the same car / chassis. Button looked over all the data before getting back in the car. He felt it was safe, but now Alonso claims he had heavy steering, sorry don’t buy that.

The problem for Alonso and McLaren is that we know someone or both parties are been extremely economical with the truth on what happen.

To me, given the extended hospital stay, I think there is an underlining health problem, but there real problem is what info they now put out there, the fans and other media outlets, will start to question every word, as they just don’t trust both parties right now and I think for a long time to come.

Ron Dennis has not helped his position within and outside McLaren these days, and if he is trying to attract outside investors to help him take over McLaren, then he just shot himself in the foot. Eric Boullier has zero creditability in my eyes, given what he said while at Enstone, and Alonso, given as gifted as he is in driving a F1 car, questions have to be asked about his involvement outside of the car. Are the toys already coming out of the pram this early?

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