Alonso’s ambition continues to leave the Formula 1 paddock guessing

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The driver market for the 2015 Formula 1 season has been one of the hottest topics for the paddock over the past few weeks. Ever since Sebastian Vettel confirmed in Japan that he would be turning his back on Red Bull for next year, tongues have been wagging with speculation of what the implications will be.

General consensus is that Vettel will be racing for Ferrari in 2015, following the example set by Michael Schumacher in the mid-90s when he plummed for a long-term project at Maranello that ultimately yielded five world championships and 72 grand prix victories.

So where does this leave Fernando Alonso? Earlier this month, we look at how he actually had very little room for manoeuvre following Vettel’s decision to call it quits at Red Bull. The team’s instant reaction was to promote Daniil Kvyat up from Toro Rosso, leaving Alonso with far less bargaining power for a possible move to McLaren.

Unquestionably, the car that everyone wants to drive at the moment is the Mercedes. The next opportunity for a seat with the German team comes in 2016 upon the expiration of Lewis Hamilton’s contract. Alonso’s hope is that the Briton will be on the move due to the deterioration of his relationship with teammate Nico Rosberg, thus leaving a seat open at the quickest team on the grid.

However, what is the likelihood of Hamilton bailing on Mercedes? He’s leading the world championship by 17 points at the time of writing, and is poised to clinch his second F1 title. He has been by far the class act in the field this season, winning more than half of the races that have been held. Him leaving simply doesn’t make sense.

So this leaves Alonso with plenty to think about. McLaren doesn’t want him for a season to then lose him, and elsewhere on the grid, there are no desirable seats on offer. It appears to be a pretty bleak outlook.

And yet Alonso is in high spirits. He feels very relaxed and happy about his future. He has claimed for some time that his next move is “so obvious”, and said yesterday in Austin that he has an “ambitious plan” which is currently falling into place.

And that’s the strange part about this. Moving to McLaren wouldn’t be dubbed an “ambitious plan”. It’s a pretty simple one, actually. So what else could it be?

There are a number of interesting theories currently being banded about the paddock. One that has arisen in recent weeks concerns German manufacturer Audi, which has been linked with an F1 entry in the not-too-distant future. It denied the reports, calling them “pure speculation”, and it appears to be a case of putting two and two together before coming to five. At the same point though, a project with the four rings does have plenty of ambition about it.

Another option would be a sabbatical, which many F1 greats have successfully utilized in the past. Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Kimi Raikkonen all took breaks from the sport before coming back still with the same spark as before. So what does Fernando think of this?

“I don’t think it would be damaging too much,” Alonso said. “The rules are exactly the same, and there were people going out and coming back without any big problems. The last example was Kimi, who came back and was very competitive straight away.

“But it’s unlikely,” he added.

It is important to consider what Fernando’s true ambition is. In reality, all he wants – and indeed, all that he has craved for almost eight years now – is a third world championship. It’s as simple as that.

For when he became the sport’s youngest ever double world champion in 2006, the world appeared to be at his feet. A big-money deal with McLaren had been long secured for 2007, and with them, he seemed to have a real shot at carving into many of Michael Schumacher’s records. Few would have expected him to be still stuck on two titles in 2014, particularly after five seasons with Ferrari.

He continues to say that what he is doing is not only best for him, but also best for Ferrari. It is difficult to read too much into this, given that the team looks to want rid of the Spaniard so it can usher in a new era with Vettel at the helm. Basically, leaving the team will be what is best for Ferrari – a subtle dig and parting shot from Alonso.

This ambitious plan is one that continues to leave the paddock perplexed. The only man who really knows where Fernando Alonso will be racing in 2015 is Fernando Alonso.

It could all be a very elaborate plot that does have us going “of course, we should have seen it!” when the announcement comes. For the time being though, we continue to speculate and ponder just what Alonso’s options are. Perhaps there really is more on offer than just McLaren?

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?