It is becoming increasingly clear that Fernando Alonso will decide to leave Ferrari at the end of the current Formula 1 season, with the contract between the two parties being terminated, apparently by mutual consent. The logic behind this is that Alonso is not happy with the way things are developing at Maranello, and the Italian team a driver around whom a new team can be built for sustainable long-term success. The model is not very different from the team that Jean Todt put together at Ferrari in the late 1990s when Michael Schumacher and his collaborators arrived in Maranello from Benetton. It makes sense if one has the commitment to go ahead, but it will only work if the driver is young enough to have a team built around him. Some will tell you that letting the sport’s best driver go may not seem entirely logical, but if relationships are strained is there a point in continuing together? Particularly if there is a rebuild process required that will take several years. Building a great team is about having the right resources and the right combination of people and the best cannot always work with the best because ego gets in the way.
There is huge speculation that Alonso will be going to McLaren-Honda, with a massive wedge of money on offer, but I just don’t see that. One might suggest that Alonso is haunted with the prospect of a legacy as being the man who should have won more World Championships than he did, given his spectacular ability. He has won two titles but his career choices have been pretty lacklustre. He can drive the wheels off any bad car, but the skill is to avoid being in the bad cars… His relationship with McLaren was tortuous (at best) back in 2007, and although the Woking team is changing very quickly now (and we will start to see that more publicly in the next three weeks), there is still a huge question mark over whether the new Honda engine will be good enough to win races, or even to be in the same ballpark. No-one doubts that Honda has impressive capabilities for the longer term, but the word is that the new engine is late, heavy and not powerful enough. That may or may not be true, and Honda may be working 24 hours a day trying to fix the problem, as the rumours suggest, but all of this would make McLaren-Honda a worrying course of action for Alonso. He needs success and he needs it quick. His best choice, given that Mercedes Benz does not have availability, is to join the second best team. And the second best team in 2014 is… Infiniti Red Bull Racing. Fernando knows Renault (he won two titles with them) and he also knows that the French engines are the problem that the team has right now. The Red Bull chassis is good. Red Bull will tell you that there’s no availability because Sebastian Vettel and Dan Ricciardo are under contract, but that may not be the case if there is a Ferrari available for a talented youngster with past success and ambitions to prove that he’s not a one-team wonder. For Vettel to truly join the all time greats of F1, he needs to win the title with more than one team. Add to that the fact that his reputation has been damaged this year by the gnashing ambitions of Dan Ricciardo and one can see that the departure of Vettel makes an awful lot of sense… for all concerned. That would open the door for Alonso to slide into a Red Bull.
This has been rumoured on and off for a few weeks now, but there are now one or two signs that perhaps it is not as daft an idea as some will tell you. If all was well, Vettel’s chief mechanic Kenny Handkammer would not have disappeared from the team. I am not a gambling man, but I can see Kenny popping up in a red uniform in a few months from now. If a driver is going off to a new team, he will often want his own people around him. And, guess what? Is it a coincidence that Vettel’s race engineer from his days at Scuderia Toro Rosso, Riccardo Adami, is leaving the Faenza team and the word is that he will soon pop up at Ferrari. Ferrari’s head of design is James Allison, who has not worked with Vettel before, but Sebastian has raced against Allison’s cars and let us not forget that Seb is mates with Kimi Raikkonen, who could have given some very useful useful advice on the state of affairs down Maranello way. The two men used to live close to another in Switzerland and regularly trained together.
Does this sound like a new team forming up in Maranello? On balance I’d go with that… The evidence is beginning to stack up and the whispers are growing, not amongst the media, but rather among the folk who know these things. There are nods and winks that were not there a fortnight ago.
The knock-on effect of this, of course, is that McLaren will almost certainly end up with Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen again next year. And then other dominoes will start to fall. The first team that will be directly affected by all of this will likely to Force India, where Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg will be wanting to hold on to what they have in 2015.