As Alonso nears the Ferrari exit, Bianchi awaits his chance

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Marussia’s Jules Bianchi has said that he is ready to step up to a full-time race seat at parent team Ferrari if star driver Fernando Alonso leaves the Italian marque at the end of this season.

Speculation about Alonso’s future has been rife for some time, with a move to McLaren being hotly tipped after five seasons with Ferrari that have failed to yield a third world championship for the Spaniard.

Although McLaren is by no means a front-running team at the moment, the return of Honda as an engine supplier in 2015 is thought to be a big lure for Alonso, with the Japanese manufacturer highlighting him as the perfect driver to lead its return to F1 after six years away.

During a press briefing on Thursday ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix, Alonso said that he would do what is best for Ferrari when making a decision about his future.

“I will do the best for Ferrari,” he said when asked about a move to McLaren for 2015. “I always put the interest of the team and the Tifosi [Ferrari’s fans] as well as this big brand that is bigger than any of us in front of my own interests. If there is something to talk about in the future and something better for Ferrari, then I will do whatever.

“I’ve been in this [team] five years, giving everything in the track and the numbers speak for themselves. Outside the track – sometimes it was public sometimes it was not – my priorities are always in the best interest of Ferrari.”

He went on to say that he was aware of the rumors surrounding his future, and that they were making him feel uncomfortable.

“I’m not living out of the world, so I’m aware of all the rumours every day that come out,” he said. “It’s not helping, as I said in Singapore, we are in the middle of a fight with Williams in the constructors’ championship and I would like to help Ferrari to the maximum.

“This is the first priority for me – on the track side to help the team – and my second priority will be my future if there is anything to talk about.”

According to veteran journalists Leo Turrini and James Allen, the relationship between Alonso and the team has soured drastically in recent weeks, with both parties looking for a change. As a result, Alonso could be released from his contract one year early, thus opening the door for a possible move back to McLaren for 2015.

For Ferrari, losing Alonso may appear to be a blow, but it is in fact part of a plan to make a fresh start for 2015. After six years without a championship, there have been a number of changes at Maranello in 2014. Team principal Stefano Domenicali was the first major casualty back in April, but the biggest departure has been that of the marque’s president, Luca di Montezemolo, who confirmed after the Italian Grand Prix that he would be resigning. His exit may have been the final nail in the coffin for the Ferrari-Alonso partnership.

So in a complete change of wallpaper, Bianchi – who has been a member of Ferrari’s driver academy since 2009 – could be set for the chance of a lifetime by moving up to the Scuderia alongside Kimi Raikkonen for 2015.

“Of course I feel ready,” Bianchi said. “I have been working on that since I joined the academy in 2009.

“Now I have done nearly two seasons in Formula 1. I have good experience and feel ready for that. It looks like the logical step for me if something happens.

“Obviously at the moment both drivers have a contract so it’s not a question but if there is an opportunity I think it will be good for me and I feel good.”

As Allen suggests in his article, another option for Ferrari could be Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel as the German driver becomes increasingly uncomfortable at Milton Keynes. However, it may be that they look to draft in the four-time world champion upon the expiration of his current deal with Red Bull, which coincides with the end of Kimi Raikkonen’s contract at the end of 2015.

Silly season has raged on across the course of the summer, but we may be approaching the crescendo that answers all of our questions.

Steve Torrence takes NHRA points lead with Gatornationals victory

NHRA Gainesville Steve Torrence
Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two-time defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence took the points lead Sunday in the AMALIE Motor Oil Gatornationals, beating his father, Billy, in the final round at Gainesville Raceway.

Torrence had a 3.809-second run at 322.11 mph to win for the third time this year and 39th overall. He is now on track for another championship despite missing the season opener.

“We’ve got some good momentum and to be in the points lead, it’s a testament to how hard these guys work,” Steve Torrence said after the NHRA Gainesville victory. “We’ve just got to stay focused and concentrate on what the task at hand is, and that’s trying to win a championship. These guys give me an unbelievable race car and you just try not to screw it up.”

Ron Capps won in Funny Car, Alex Laughlin in Pro Stock and Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Capps raced to his second win this year and 66th overall, beating Tim Wilkerson with a 3.937 at 323.12 in a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

Laughlin topped Aaron Stanfield with a 7.068 at 204.76 in a Chevrolet Camaro for his first win this season and fourth in his career. Smith rode to his first victory in 2020 and 25th overall, topping Andrew Hines with a 6.843 at 196.99 on an EBR.