AUGUST 6, 2007

The future of Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso was asked over the weekend in Hungary if he was going to see out his contract at McLaren and replied that he did not know. The Spaniard has not settled in well, despite strenuous efforts by the team management, and he has had trouble coping with the speed of Lewis Hamilton. He is clearly not as comfortable at McLaren as he was at Renault and there is no doubt at all that Renault team boss Flavio Briatore would like to get him back as the team has clearly suffered from not having a star name. Heikki Kovalainen is beginning to show signs that he has the makings of a good F1 driver, but he still has a long way to go to be at the level of an Alonso.

Renault is not the only team that is likely to be involved in the bidding if Alonso were to come on to the market. BMW would also love to sign up a star name to help close the final gap between itself and frontrunners McLaren and Ferrari.

It is thought to be significant that both Renault and BMW have delayed their decisions about drivers for next year, presumably as they wait to see what happens with Fernando. The big question for the Spaniard is whether or not McLaren would simply release him or whether he would have to sit out a year if he did not wish to stay where he is. Much would depend on where Alonso was planning to go but, even so, it is hard to imagine that Ron Dennis is going to allow one of his chief assets to go to another team. Having said that with Hamilton on his books, Dennis can afford to look for a replacement driver who will be competitive enough to be a solid back-up for Lewis without being a real rival for the World Championship. As Dennis has discovered in the past with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost it is sometimes better not to have two big stars at the same time. Dennis may wish to try to prove that such things are possible if the team is well-managed but the current stresses and strains suggest that it may not be any easier now than it was back then.

BMW Sauber has recently suffered the loss of not only its chief designer but also a string of aerodynamicists. This is due in part to the team's impressive performances but there have also been some stresses and strains within the technical management as it grows rapidly. Team boss Dr Mario Theissen says that all the positions that were vacated have already been filled, apart from the role of chief designer but he does not want to give any names as some of those involved are clearly still working elsewhere.