THE MOLE

The future of Fernando Alonso

The Mole had been rather grumpy all week. He had been looking forward to a nice quiet winter, but as soon as he flew back from Brazil, much delayed thanks to a rather poor showing from British Airways, his life had been spoiled by controversies of little interest and minimal import.

Chief amongst these teacup squalls was the Brazil appeal. This, The Mole felt, would be an embarrassing affair because sports writers who do not understand the peculiarities of F1 will descend on F1 and begin picking away at details about what the written rules mean, what unwritten rules exist, what measurements were made and how, and whether or not these measurements apply or not. Nobody expects the results to change. It is simply an opportunity for peculiarities to be held up to the light.

On top of this there are the arguments about whether or nor there is a Concorde Agreement after December 31, the rumours about driver movements and, finally, various utterances from Max Mosley which would perhaps have been better left on the cutting room floor.

"There is only so much one can do when people have ceased listening," said The Mole.

"What?" said Penelope (Roedean).

Then came Friday and the news of the McLaren-Alonso split. The Mole was in the rose garden when his mobile rang and his source in Woking read the press release to him. As he listened The Mole sniffed the breeze and thought that he smelled roses, but then realised that somewhere in the background was the scent of horse manure.

Everyone was frightfully polite about the "ups and downs" that the team has had this year, he noted, but he felt that there was no question that it had taken a battery of clucking lawyers many days to work out the wording of the statement.

"There is almost certainly going to be a clause in the severance agreement to stop the Spaniard attacking the team and the team from telling the full story of what happened when Fernando met McLaren boss Ron Dennis in Hungary," said Norma, The Mole's legal counsel, when they met in the office that afternoon. "There is also likely to be an agreement not to talk about money. I would be amazed if there was not some money moving in McLaren's direction. The only way the team would be willing to let Fernando go would be if he was going somewhere that would not worry them. If he is off to a top team then it would be costing a king's ransom."

"So where does our little friend the Spaniard end up?" The Mole asked.

"Ferrari seems to be out of the picture," said Penelope (Roedean). "But Italian operas are never over until the fat man has sung three encores, so if I were Felipe Massa I would still be looking over my shoulder.

"Renault was obviously in the running," said Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College), "but the team seems to have been unable to close a deal. And while one can see that Red Bull Racing can afford Fernando, Renault might not be too happy to see him in a Renault-engined car, with the likelihood that he might then be able to beat the factory team in 2008? Why would you agree to pour rubbish on to your own head?"

The Mole nodded. It was a decent point.

"BMW does not appear to want Fernando," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey), "preferring to stay with its own "home-grown" talent."

"So?" said The Mole.

"What about Williams?" said Norma. "I cannot say I have heard anything about them. They do not have the budget to pay for Fernando and there is no doubt that Ron Dennis would have thought twice before releasing Fernando to join an old rival."

"No," said Penelope (Roedean). "The signs are that Williams is going to go for Japan's Kazuki Nakajima. The team may find that it will need to do a lot of repair work in 2008 given that Kazuki probably needs another year of GP2 to be fully ready from F1. But there are a lot of benefits for Williams. This year the team has paid for its Toyota engines and it is always possible that a deal with Nakajima would reverse the flow of money. That may not be part of the decision, however, as long-term aim is to build up the closest possible relationship with Toyota. Signing Nakajima would no doubt assist in that process."

"So where does Alonso end up?" said The Mole.

"The obvious answer is Toyota," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey). "The team has a drive available - a drive that was thought to be going to Timo Glock. It has Jarno Trulli, a team mate that Alonso knows he can handle. It has money. It has a car that may not have scored the results of which it was capable this year. Trulli qualified the car well many times but neither he nor Ralf Schumacher raced with much success. Alonso might get more from the car. Expectations in such a situation will be low and so Alonso knows that he can make an impression if he does well. If things go badly the team will take the blame."

"A nice hypothesis," said The Mole.

"It is a bit more than that," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) with a rather chilling stare. "My friend who sells flowers at Geneva Cointrin Airport rang this afternoon to say that Toyota's John Howett was there with lawyers in tow."

"He did not stop to buy flowers?" said The Mole.

"Apparently not," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey). "One might hazard a guess that perhaps the party was en route to Mont-sur-Rolle, midway between Geneva and Lausanne, where a certain Spaniard has been living of late."

"The place has lovely views," said The Mole.

November 2 2007

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