NOVEMBER 5, 2007
Fact and fiction about Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso's management says that the Spaniard is free to sign for any Formula 1 team he would like to - and that seems decidedly odd. There is no indication that Alonso has paid anything to McLaren to buy his freedom from the two remaining years of his contract and it seems rather unlikely that McLaren would let him disappear off to a serious rival - a Ferrari or a Renault. McLaren is, after all, losing a man who is a key asset in some of the team's sponsorships, notably the team's Spanish deals, and that could cost McLaren money in the longer term.
It is possible that McLaren agreed to release Fernando but only on the understanding that there were certain teams which he could not join. It is not in his interest to have this information made public as negotiations will be a lot more profitable if the teams involved think that he has other options open to him.
The other possible explanation is that McLaren agreed to release Alonso without payment or conditions because it felt that his recruitment by another team would be to the detriment of that team. There is no question that given what has happened in the last year perceptions of Fernando have changed dramatically and there may be some teams that will now think twice before signing him, for fear that the same political problems that have been seen at McLaren will happen inside their organisations. This seems a trifle convoluted - even for F1.
The truth is that no-one knows very much and the best way to reach the likely destination is to use a process of elimination. Ferrari has two drivers under contract for next year and seems to be settled. There continue to be suggestions that Fernando has signed an option to go to Ferrari in the longer term and thus is only looking for a one-year deal for 2008. It will be hard to find one as teams want to benefit more if they are paying the kind of salary that Fernando wants. We hear that money is not Fernando's primary motivation as he wants to be sure that there is a strong technical package with whichever team he decides to join. This may help to explain recent rumours that Ross Brawn may have given up waiting for Ferrari to find him a job and will go to another team in tandem with Fernando. The problem with that is that Brawn wants to be a team principal rather than a technical director and thus negotiating with the current team principals is unlikely to bear fruit.
On the face of it Renault is in the running but we have also heard that Fernando is not very keen to go back to the team. BMW has two drivers under contract and shown no obvious interest. Red Bull Racing has the sort of money needed and would probably like to have a big name but it is not clear whether Renault - Red Bull's engine supplier - would be keen to see the customer team with such a strong contender.
It seems unlikely.
Williams is not really in the running as the team seems now to be settled for next year and there does not seem to be any truth in rumours that Alonso and Nico Rosberg might swap drives. Honda could probably pay for Fernando but it is hard to see why he would risk ending up in an uncompetitive situation. It is a similar story with Toyota except that the Toyota TF107 was obviously a car with some potential although with Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher driving the results were inconsistent. With a driver like Alonso those results might improve dramatically. Money is not a problem and with Jarno Trulli as his team mate Alonso would not have the kind of worries that plagued him this year. On balance, therefore, Toyota seems the most likely of the outsiders, particularly if Fernando is blocked from doing other deals.