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F1 tries to return focus to racing at Japanese GP

At the Japanese GP this week, Formula 1 hopes to return its attention to the race track - some place it hasn't been since the start of August.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2007 13:42 IST

After two tumultuous months, Formula 1 is at the Japanese Grand Prix this week hoping to return its attention to the race track - some place it hasn't been since the beginning of August.

That's when, heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix, things seemed relatively normal in Formula 1. Lewis Hamilton, the debutant, had a two-point lead over McLaren teammate and two-time defending champion Fernando Alonso in an entertaining duel.

McLaren was seemingly on its way to the team title after having gotten away with a slap on the wrist for a dispute with Ferrari over how technical data about the Italian team's cars ended up in the possession of McLaren's chief designer.

Nearly two months later, McLaren is not only out of the constructors' title race and fined US$ 100 million (euro72 million), but team boss Ron Dennis isn't talking with his champion driver, calling Alonso a recluse.

Ferrari has been named team champion for the 15th time and Hamilton leads Alonso in the drivers' standings by two points with three races left.

It has been a chaotic time in Formula 1.

More than 150 reporters and cameramen were pushing and shoving last week in front of the Paris office of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), when the principals arrived for another meeting before the World Motor Sport Council.

Alonso hadn't spoken to Dennis since the Hungarian Grand Prix. His relations also aren't great with Hamilton, who had been labeled "Ron's baby" by former McLaren driver Juan Pablo Montoya. Another former McLaren driver, Kimi Raikkonen, now of Ferrari, also piled on, talking about eavesdropping when he was with McLaren.

None of this would probably have happened if Alonso hadn't taken extra time in his last pit stop during Saturday qualifying in Hungary. He had finished his wheel change and didn't move for 30 seconds, including 10 after he was cleared to go by his team. That made Hamilton miss his final opportunity to beat Alonso's time.

"In Fernando's mind, there is the firm belief that our policy, whereby each driver receives equal treatment, does not properly reflect his status as world champion," Tennis said in the meeting according to the transcripts released by FIA.

"He bases this assertion on the fact that his experience and knowledge, and what came to him from his former team (Renault), is such that he should receive an advantage."

Sunday morning of the race in Hungary, Alonso and Dennis had an argument and the driver threatened to go to FIA with damaging e-mails containing information about the Ferrari case. Dennis immediately called FIA President Max Mosley and the resulting new evidence led to another meeting of the World Motor Sport Council and the fine and loss of points for the McLaren team. Both Hamilton and Alonso were spared penalties because they gave evidence.

Montoya, who drove two seasons for McLaren, said last week that he and his wife "immediately felt sorry for Fernando because Lewis is Ron's baby. (Dennis) would rather see Lewis win, who is like his own child to Ron. Fernando is nothing to him."

Last week McLaren dropped the chance to appeal and accepted the US$ 100 million (euro72 million) fine, which included the probable winnings of finishing first in the constructors race. McLaren will actually pay out about $30 million to $40 million (euro21 million-euro28 million).

"We believe the time has come to put this huge distraction behind us. McLaren wants to win races and world championships," Dennis said.

That will be more challenging than usual.

"The relationship between Fernando and me is extremely cold. That is an understatement," Dennis told FIA. "We are not on speaking terms, but that does not matter."

Montoya sympathizes with Alonso.

"They try to make them be equal, but Lewis is genuinely a really fast driver," Montoya said. "And apart from being really fast, he's Ron's favorite. It's just the truth, and it makes it bad for Fernando."

Even so, Alonso has made things more interesting by having the upper hand recently on the track against Hamilton.

Hamilton had a 14-point lead after the French GP in July. In five of six races since then Alonso has finished ahead of Hamilton.

With three races left, it could come down to the season-ending Brazilian GP, where Alonso clinched his past two titles while driving for Renault.