NOVEMBER 5, 2007
The departure of Fernando Alonso leaves McLaren in search of a new driver for 2008 and the team needs to decide on its strategy. There is no rush to sign anyone as the same drivers available now are more than likely going to be available in three months from now. However, others may become available in that time if they choose to try to find ways to get out of their existing contracts. At the moment there are very few drivers with experience who are out of contract. Giancarlo Fisichella is one but he is nearly 35 and has not been a match this year for Heikki Kovalainen. McLaren has already said that it is not interested in Ralf Schumacher. Anthony Davidson is believed to be under option to Super Aguri but could be available. Of the rest there is only Tonio Liuzzi. His recent races with Scuderia Toro Rosso have been very good and he clearly has potential which Red Bull has failed to use.
Of the people who are rumoured to be in line for the drive all are under contract elsewhere: Heikki Kovalainen at Renault, Adrian Sutil at Force India and Nico Rosberg at Williams. Kovalainen has been inconsistent this year but has beaten Fisichella. He is the same age as Liuzzi but has less F1 experience but he would need to buy himself out of his contract. Adrian Sutil is younger (by 18 months), has not really done enough this year, particularly when compared to Sakon Yamamoto, and is contracted. Williams says that it is not going to sell Rosberg's contract, no matter how much money is on offer.
McLaren is well aware that it has to be very careful at the moment because it does not wish to face allegations that it has induced a driver to breach a contract with another team and so may steer well clear of the contracted men. They, however, may choose to take a risk and negotaite their own release from their current deals so as to be available. The option is to take a flyer on a test driver such as Pedro de la Rosa, Gary Paffett, Christian Klien or Timo Glock but McLaren may feel that racing experience is much more important than miles in F1 cars. Hamilton's success this year was more to do with his speed and ability to race rather than the mileage he had done.
There are also questions about the term of any contract that might be on offer. McLaren might take a risk and do a one-year deal with a veteran such as Fisichella which would allow the team to negotiate with a driver who will be free in 2009. Rosberg is the name mentioned more than anyone else in this respect but he may not be able to get out of his Williams deal until 2010 as there are believed to be performance clauses that would keep him there if the team does well enough in 2008.
One way or another it is an interesting question.