As I pretty much expected, Fernando Alonso has left McLaren. What surprised me was the fact he was let go without any financial penalty, leading me to suspect he had grounds somewhere in his contract to do so, the agreement came too easily. Either that or Ron Dennis was very much fed up by Alonso's antics, realizing that he might have won the 2007 championship with a less expensive lineup.
The two million-dollar questions that remain are, where will Alonso go, and who will substitute him at McLaren.
Let us deal with the first issue. Alonso could do one of three things: a one year sabbatical, retire or go to another team. Sabbaticals no longer work in F-1. Lauda and Prost did them and were champions again, but that was many years ago, GP cars change at such a fast pace that once you are gone a while, you are no longer of much use in F-1. The only reason Alonso would consider a sabbatical would be to wait for a Ferrari seat to become available, an unlikely proposition at this point. So scratch that. As for retirement, Alonso is still very young, and hungry. He has not made a huge fortune yet, so scratch retirement. He will race next year. But where?
His name has been linked to Williams, Toyota, Red Bull and Renault. Let me go item by item again. Alonso seems to hold the belief that his very presence in a team is worth about a 6/10 sec improvement. He owes to himself the huge improvement made by McLaren this year. So, he likely believes that by leaving Mclaren, the team might sooner or later lose the 6/10 seconds it gained, and his next team will gain something like the 6/10 sec.
As I said before, Alonso is still hungry, and even though he seems to believe the 6/10 sec. factor, he is no miracle worker. If he were to go to either Toyota, Williams or Red Bull, the 6/10 sec would probably move the car up to 4th/6th on the grid, it would not be sufficient to make them possible winners. Toyota has the money to pay him, especially after disponsing of Ralf Schumacher, Williams is strapped for cash, and Red Bull does have money. The problem with the last two is they are engine customers. None of these situations would be a pleasant scenario for Alonso. So, the only reason that would prevent Alonso from going to Renault next year is if he fails to agree with his old team on contracual terms.
Alonso probably also believes that the reason why Renault went down the pecking order was exclusively because he left the team. This is partially true. Renault Pat Symonds himself acknowledged there were shortcomings in the car's design, that no driver could make up for, including Alonso. So while Alonso's presence in the team will motivate it, the equipe might struggle for pace. Notwithstanding, I expect Alonso to sign up with Renault.
As for his replacement at McLaren, the team has three options: get a seasoned driver, do the inhouse approach, or go experimental. Two seasoned drivers should be available next year, none of which is likely to rock the boat with Hamilton. These are Fisichella and Schumacher. Having them in the team will bring experience, the one thing Hamilton lacks, and which, incidentally, caused him to lose last year's title.
The inhouse approach is likely to be inexpensive, and should create a good environment for Hamilton. Gary Paffett is contracted to McLaren, and Pedro de La Rosa would appease somehow the Spanish sponsors Santander and Mutua Madrilena. None of them is likely to create problems for Hamilton.
Lewis himself mentioned a short list of possible replacements: Nico Rosberg, Adrian Sutil and Heikki Kovalainen. Rosberg is still considered a young tiger, and I believe his dad Keke would not like to see his son in a number 2 position to Hamilton. Neither does Lewis dad want a driver like Nico paired against his son! Nico might actually be faster than Hamilton, and McLaren would again have huge driver problems. Plus, it will be quite expensive to extract Nico from his Williams contract. Adrian Sutil seems to be s fast driver, however, I do not believe he is worth one of the four best seats in the house. He might be a disappointment. I do believe that Kovalainen will be the number 2 McLaren driver next year. He has all the elements in place. He is fast, however knows his place, does not use the media to speak to his team, is good with sponsors and the press, not given to tantrums and was very much a team player at Renault. Plus Ron Dennis seems to like them Finns.
So this is my prediction: Alonso at Renault, Kovalainen at McLaren, a regular driver swap in the end.
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Artigos de autoria de Carlos de Paula, tradutor, escritor e historiador de automobilismo baseado em Miami. Articles written by Carlos de Paula, translator, writer and auto racing historian based in Miami.
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