The strained relationship between Fernando Alonso and McLaren split wide open on Thursday when the driver blamed his car for the crash in testing that left him in hospital for three days and forced him to miss the opening race of the Formula One season.
McLaren insist there was nothing wrong with the car and even compiled a 37-page report after an examination of data following the accident at the Circuit de Catalunya. It leaves them at odds with a driver with whom they had a spectacular falling out in 2007.
Having passed medical tests to race in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Alonso said: “It’s clear there was a problem in the car. It’s not found on the data at the moment. It locked to the right as I approached the wall.” The Spaniard dismissed McLaren’s explanation that the car had been hit by a gust of wind. “No, no, definitely not. When you see the video, even a hurricane would not move the car at that speed. They said the theory of the wind but obviously it was not.
“Some of the confusion comes from the very early quotes and explanations because the attention was very high at the moment, the stress was very high.”
McLaren maintained a stoic silence in the face of testimony that contradicted their findings; clearly they do not want to be involved in a slanging match with a driver they have just signed for £40m – especially in the run-up to only the second race of the season.
McLaren did their credibility few favours when, immediately after the crash on 22 February, they blamed the wind, as they did when the group chairman, Ron Dennis, denied the driver had suffered concussion.
They remain convinced there was nothing wrong with the car. That brings the original speculation back into play: that Alonso suffered a loss, or partial loss, of consciousness immediately before the accident, even though he was cleared by CT and MRI scans. He had to undergo a thorough examination by three FIA-appointed doctors at Cambridge University on Sunday before travelling here, when he had to pass another impact test by medics.
He presented a saturnine but exceptionally healthy looking face to the world on Thursday as he totally dominated the press conference at Sepang, which featured five other drivers. He was the only show in town but his efforts to explain the crash resulted in more confusion.
He admitted to a four-hour memory loss but that was after the crash and when he was in hospital following medication. “I lost consciousness in the ambulance or in the clinic at the circuit but the doctors said this is normal from the medication they give you for the helicopter,” he said.
He denied telling doctors: “I’m Fernando, I’m in karts and want to become Formula 1 driver,” as reported by the El Pais newspaper.
The 33-year-old maintained he was conscious at the time of the crash: “I approached the wall, braked at the last moment, downshifted from fifth to third. Unfortunately, on the data, we are still missing some parts. Also data acquisition on that particular area of car is not at the top.
“I remember everything. It was a sunny morning, all the set-up changes, all the lap times. [Sebastian] Vettel was in front of me but cut the chicane to let me go. After the hit, I was kissing the wall for a while and then I switched off the radio first and then I switched off the master switch for the batteries to switch off the ERS system because I saw the marshals were coming, so they could touch the car. So I was perfectly conscious at that time.”
Jenson Button, Alonso’s team-mate, said: “I saw Fernando this morning and gave him a hug. Nothing has changed. I’ve seen the data many times. The data hasn’t changed. Every single bit of data I’ve seen, that can be checked on the car, says that it’s all OK. There is no problem. I have sat down with the engineers – not just on one occasion – and I’ve gone through every single, tiny detail and I can’t see any issues whatsoever.”
Speaking with a smile on his face, Alonso said: “I’m happy to be here. Malaysia has been always a very nice circuit for me in my F1 career. My first pole position was here in 2003, my first podium and then three wins with three different teams gives me possibility to enjoy this circuit. It is going to be very tough this year to repeat such a result. It will be like a test session in the first races.” He was, he said, “one of the happiest people in the world”.
Alonso, though, has often proved to be a demanding man to work with and it is not difficult to see his relationship with an uncompetitive McLaren team ending badly, just as it did following ramifications from the Spygate scandal eight years ago.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010