Why is the Alonso leaving Ferrari rumor refusing to die down?


Fernando Alonso celebrated his 32nd birthday a few days after last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix. In the paddock, many people gave him good wishes ahead of the day, and some were even kind enough to ask him: “What do you want for your birthday?”

When the Spaniard turned around and said: “Someone else’s car,” the rumor mill went into overdrive. Could Alonso – the man who was intended to revive Ferrari’s fortunes from 2010 – really be looking to leave?

Since then, the story has refused to lie down. Speculation linking him to McLaren emerged when it was revealed that Sergio Perez was under pressure (and ultimately dropped), but Alonso remained defiant. In fact, he was getting a bit irritated towards the end of the season when, in every press conference, he was asked the same question. “Will you be leaving Ferrari?”

Come 2014, little has changed. The same rumors linger, and after another poor start to the season and another title concession, it’s not surprising. You cannot blame Alonso for being frustrated. This glorious partnership that was intended to take both driver and team back to the top has not gone entirely to plan. Three championship runner-up trophies will mean little to either Alonso or Ferrari.

As per 2013, the main place that the rumor mill continues to spit out is McLaren. Jenson Button is 33 and nearing the end of his career; McLaren will be getting Honda engines for 2015, and could return to form. Although Alonso’s tenure with the team ended in the worst possible fashion – him walking away when relations with Lewis Hamilton soured – there are suggestions he could be angling for a move back. After all, he is one of the most naturally talented drivers on the grid, and ultimately wants a third world title before he retires. If Ferrari can’t give him that, someone else might.

The big problem with this story for me is that McLaren already has a succession plan in place. Namely, Stoffel Vandoorne is the man who puts a spanner in the works.

Vandoorne has consistently impressed throughout his junior career, much like Kevin Magnussen. He won on his GP2 debut in Bahrain last month, and is thought of very highly within the McLaren setup. Should Button opt to call it quits at the end of the 2016 season, having enjoyed one year with Honda power, Vandoorne appears to be the perfect driver to complement Magnussen. If McLaren did draft in Alonso as a replacement for Button, it would put Vandoorne’s F1 aspirations on the back burner.

Over the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, an even stranger rumor emerged: Alonso was angling for a move to Mercedes, the team that will most probably win both championships in 2014.

It must be hastened that, unlike the Newey to Ferrari rumor, this came out of nowhere. However, some corners of the paddock suggested that Alonso could come in as a replacement for Nico Rosberg, and re-join Lewis Hamilton.

Toto Wolff was asked about this rumor, and he looked perplexed, telling broadcasters “I wouldn’t change my line-up for the world.” Indeed, the Hamilton-Rosberg partnership looks to be very fruitful, having scored 197/215 possible points in 2014.

Alonso was then asked whether he’d be moving to Mercedes, but he just said: “No.”

Back to our original question. Why won’t the Alonso leaving Ferrari rumors go away? Because Ferrari still isn’t winning. Just one podium finish in the first five races is a very poor yield. The Spaniard continues to pull the car through the order and make it do things that it simply shouldn’t, but until he’s got the fastest car, it’s unlikely the rumor mill will give this one up.

I can appreciate why he would want to leave Ferrari, but where can he go? McLaren has the afore-mentioned succession plan, Mercedes has a perfect line-up, and so does Red Bull. A move to Lotus? Force India? Williams? Unlikely.

This story does split opinion in the paddock, but I for one cannot see him walking away from Ferrari at the end of 2014 because – disregarding everything else – he has few places to go.

He is still the unofficial number one driver, as suggested by Kimi Raikkonen’s odd strategy in Spain, and technical director James Allison is yet to design a car. His first will be in 2015. And who knows? Maybe that will be the year that the Alonso-Ferrari partnership finally lives up to the lofty expectations.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”