Where to for Fernando?

Mon, 29 October 2007, 04:03

Fernando Alonso will be leaving McLaren before the end of this year. That seems like a safe statement at this point, following his bitter criticism of his team this year and the obvious fallout between Ron Dennis and the former world champion. The question is, where should he go and what’s available? Let’s explore some options:

Staying at McLaren
If Ron won’t tear up Fernando’s contract, he has to stay. There is little point in debating whether he should in fact stay if he ends up having the option to leave – McLaren is not the place for him and he is not the driver for McLaren. He may, however, be harbouring thoughts of revenge…

Ferrari has a running contract with The Iceman and confirmed Massa for 2008 quite recently. True, nowhere in their press release did they say Massa will actually be racing but we won’t waste our time speculating about that angle – it is unlikely that Massa would have signed up for a testing role following his excellent performances in the last two seasons and after Luca de Montezemolo’s subsequent lofty praise for the Brazilian it’s clear enough that he will next year once more find himself racing a red car bearing a black prancing horse.

Ferrari’s out then. But even if it was an option, would Alonso really go? True, he’ll be better off there than at McLaren but does he really want to go and have another tough team-mate battle? With the Iceman, of all people? Considering the difficulties Kimi faced this season, the amount of time he took to overcome them and of course the alacrity with which he did so, Fernando would surely think twice about attempting the same. His chances of beating Kimi? Not much.

BMW Sauber
With years of Sauber expertise and now BMW’s money, this team has progressed in leaps and bounds over the past two seasons. So much so, in fact, that Nick Heidfeld’s stated target of winning a race next season seems not at all far-fetched. In fact, if they take the same kind of step forward as they did in this season, it’s not impossible that they’ll be fighting for the championship. It’s not likely, of course, but it won’t come as a huge surprise. Not a bad option.

BMW Sauber, however, have elected not to get embroiled in the Alonso-driven silly season this year, confirming both their existing drivers some time ago and even letting Vettel, their bright young star, drive for Toro Rosso this year and next. The team has opted for stability and it was very likely an excellent decision – they have two quick drivers of which one has years of experience. There are no open doors here.

There has been no confirmation of drivers here and Williams have come back strongly in the latter part of the season (giving Toyota, their engine suppliers, a sound beating). It will nonetheless be a huge step down for Fernando. Say what you like, Williams will not be fighting for the championship next season. The rumour that Alonso is negotiating with them is surprising.

Red Bull Renault
A team not living up to its immense promise and this seems unlikely to change next year – unless of course Adrian Newey can regain the magic he worked with Williams and McLaren back in the day. Besides, they’ve confirmed their drivers. This is a huge no from many points of view.

A team who actually managed to get beaten by their very own unspoken “B-Team”. Ouch. We know Toyota has a spot open and it’s a not-very-seriously-kept-secret that they are trying to sign Alonso. I don’t blame them. They need him. Fernando, however, does not need them. Even Trulli, who believes it will do Toyota no end of good to have the Spaniard on board, has advised him against joining Toyota. An option then, but he should rather take gardening leave.

They weren’t actually beaten by their B-Team but my word, it was close. They’ve confirmed their drivers (unless Button does another triple contractual U-turn) and really, is Fernando that stupid?

Flavio has praised Fernando ad nauseam over the course of the season and to say he has made no secret that he wants the Spaniard back is understating things just ever so slightly. There is no doubt that he has made a connection between his favourite driver and his team’s sudden fall from glory. As unlikely as this seems, Briatore has led his team to championship glory on more than one occasion and if he believes it so, there is likely a fair degree of truth in it. Renault have also not confirmed either of their drivers and Kovalainen has made public the fact he is in negotiations with rival teams – including McLaren.

Renault, in fact, seems to be poised to pounce on its prodigal son the moment the merest hint of an opportunity presents itself. There has even been talk of them offering Heiki in exchange for Fernando – one of the more realistic silly season rumours. So no doubt then, that Renault is a very real option.

Is this where the double world champion should go? Is this where he can renew his quest for the glory of a third world championship? Renault may not have done very well this season but judge them not on the last four months. Renault wrote off this season before that and all their focus has gone to next year’s car. It is possible for them to bounce back – Williams has done it, McLaren has done it and even Ferrari has done it, though one hopes for Renault’s sake it doesn’t take them 21 years to get back on top. How likely is it though? Ferrari are, despite key losses of people, on an upward curve so they should provide fierce competition. McLaren have been hit hard financially but they can likely make budget cuts that won’t affect their pace all that much. BMW Sauber may yet prove to be a contender next year – and not for third place. And yet, with Renault’s focus and Fernando’s input, the team may well be right there again next season. It is the logical choice.

Edu de Jager

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