Speculation that Fernando Alonso and Ferrari could be about to go their separate ways has reached fever pitch. The whisperings which have been swarming for a number of months are becoming louder with Autosport reporting that an announcement is not far away. This has further been compounded by the fact that Sebastian Vettel has confirmed his departure from Red Bull at the end of the season. The four time world champion was coy about his destination but both Helmut Marko and Christian Horner spoke of him moving to Ferrari. So, does this confirm that Alonso is on his way out? In 2011 Alonso signed a contract extension which would see him remain at Maranello until the end of 2016. This in itself has seemed increasingly unlikely to be honoured in the recent months but now it looks like the two-time world champion won’t make it to 2015 with the team.
Following qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, Alonso let little away but revealed he had a plan. “I still have not decided completely,” he said. “I have a plan in my head, I have had my mind set for the last two or three months. I have the privileged position because more or less I can choose wherever I want to go in the moment that I want to go.” That plan could involve a return to McLaren, having previously driven with the Woking based squad back in the ill-fated 2007 season. There were obviously fireworks at the time between him and team-mate Lewis Hamilton, and Alonso also found himself intertwined into Spygate. Many have questioned whether Alonso and Ron Dennis could work together again after their infamous falling out but it has been seven years, so you would imagine it would be water under the bridge now. Alonso has not hidden the fact that he wants to win another world championship and Ferrari have admitted it could be another two or three years before they are back in contention. McLaren are not any better off than Ferrari but Alonso could be banking on the Honda engine helping to catapult McLaren back to the front end of the grid, rather than the midfield where they currently lie.
McLaren’s Ron Dennis told Sky F1’s Martin Brundle that no drivers have been signed yet for the 2015 season by McLaren but that the team want to sign the most competitive drivers available. McLaren seem to be Alonso’s only viable option for a competitive drive, with Mercedes confirming that they are keeping both their drivers for next year and Red Bull promoting Daniil Kvyat to join Daniel Ricciardo. The Alonso to McLaren rumour is not a new one and has been mentioned for quite a while and the Spaniard has returned to teams in the past. After the 2007 season he returned to Renault before moving to Ferrari for 2010. His deal with the Scuderia was announced at the end of 2009 – after fierce denials from Ferrari that they were dropping Kimi Raikkonen – and he arrived to partner Felipe Massa. “I’m very happy and very proud to become a Ferrari driver,” Alonso said at the time. “Driving a single-seater from the Prancing Horse is everybody’s dream in this sport and today I have the opportunity to make this dream come true.” But now that dream seems to have fizzled out and become more of a nightmare.
Alonso moved to the team with high hopes of winning championships but he has been unable to do that with under-performing cars. He came very close in 2010 but lost out in the season finale in Abu Dhabi after a rather frustrating race stuck behind Vitaly Petrov. He finished fourth in 2011 with just a solitary win. He finished second again in 2012 and 2013 again with a car not capable of taking the fight directly to Vettel and Red Bull. 2014 has proven to be another disappointment and he is currently fourth in the championship with Ferrari slipping to fourth behind Williams. His year with McLaren 2007 is the closest he has got to winning another championship since his titles in 2005 and 2006. He eventually finished third despite tying on points with Hamilton. Alonso took four victories and eight further podiums that year. 2010 was close as well – with five wins – but since then the wins and even podiums have fizzled out. His last win was the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix and he has only picked up two podium positions – not enough for a man who harbours a dream of winning a third world championship.
He has obviously become frustrated in his current situation. Ferrari have been ruthless this year as they strive to get back on top and both Stefano Domenicali and Luca di Montezemolo have exited the team. It has often been stated that no individual is bigger than Ferrari, but what does the future hold for Alonso? Is he on his way back to McLaren or does something else lie ahead for the Spaniard? Time will tell…