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?