Unhappy Alonso could blow open 2008 driver market

Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, 2007 | Daimler ChryslerOnly a few weeks ago it looked like there would be no big moves in the 2008 ‘silly season’. With the top three teams of 2007 all having made major driver changes and seemingly happy with them, there was no reason to expect any major moves for next year.

The shocking and public breakdown in relations between the McLaren drivers has changed all that. Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso each compromised the other in qualifying and Hamilton later claimed Alonso is refusing to talk to him.

McLaren has reportedly told Alonso he is free to leave the team at the end of the year if he wishes. Speculation has linked him with a return to Renault for 2008, and it remains to be seen who will drive for new 2008 entrants Prodrive.

McLaren-Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, 2007 | Daimler Chrysler1. Fernando Alonso (2007 driver, expected 2008 driver)
2. Lewis Hamilton (2007 driver, expected 2008 driver)
T. Pedro de la Rosa, Gary Paffett

We can only speculate what damage the row at the Hungaroring might have done to the relationship between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – and what that might mean for the future of the team’s all-star line up.

Alonso met with Bernie Ecclestone following the argument on Saturday but denied it was in any way connected. He is also believed to have spoken to Flavio Briatore. Does Alonso really want to leave McLaren so badly he would return to his old team, even though they are no longer competitive?

The Renault explanation seems too obvious to me. There is another top manufacturer team that could have a vacancy for a top driver and be willing to pay for him – BMW.

And that would leave a highly prized seat at McLaren up for grabs.

Renault F1 Team

Heikki Kovalainen, Renault, Hungaroring, 2007 | LAT Photographic / Charles Coates3. Giancarlo Fisichella (contract expires 2007)
4. Heikki Kovalainen (expected 2008 driver)
T. Nelson Piquet Jnr, Ricardo Zonta (2007 drivers)

After a difficult start to the year Kovalainen now seems to regularly have the beating of Fisichella.

Fisichella has said that he expects to stay with the team for next year, but unless he gets back on terms with Kovalainen the team may find it hard not to justify putting Nelson Piquet Jnr in his car. Or, if he becomes available, Alonso.

Scuderia Ferrari

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Nurburgring, 2007 | Ferrari Media5. Felipe Massa (expected 2008 driver)
6. Kimi Raikkonen (expected 2008 driver)
T. Luca Badoer, Marc Gen???

Both drivers are doing well, and yet Ferrari continue to trail McLaren in both championships.

All the same, expect Ferrari to let driver line-up settle rather them embark on more risky change.

Honda Racing F1 Team

Rubens Barrichello, Honda, Hungaroring, 2007 | Hondaracingf1.com7. Jenson Button (2007 driver)
8. Rubens Barrichello (confirmed for 2008)
T. Christian Klien, James Rossiter

Rubens Barrichello has signed for another year at Honda and should surpass Riccardo Patrese’s record as the driver to have started the most races next year.

If Button does want out – and who could blame him – it’s not obvious where he might go instead. As Honda have recruited heavily on the technical side, perhaps he would do better to ride this one out.

Alternatively, he may recall how much better the team did when it was managed by Richards, and pick up the ‘phone to Prodrive…

American Marco Andretti tested for the team in the winter but has struggled in the Indy Racing League this year and the team will surely feel that he needs more time. A spell in GP2 would surely be best for him if he wants to race in F1.

BMW Sauber F1 Team

Nick Heidfeld, BMW, Hungaroring, 2007 | BMW9. Nick Heidfeld (2007 drivers)
10. Robert Kubica (expected 2008 driver)
T. Timo Glock (2007 driver)

Test driver Sebastian Vettel has returned to Red Bull earlier than expected, promoting Timo Glock to the lead testing role. Glock is leading the GP2 championship at the moment but, due to a combination of mstakes and misfortune isn’t, running away with it.

He’s not expected to rival either of the incumbent drivers for a race seat, but the team are taking a long-time to make their mind up about Heidfeld.

The German’s contract expires this season and even though he has regularly been the best of the rest behind McLaren and Ferrari, Mario Theissen has said there won’t be a decision on his contract until after the summer break (that ends at the Turkish Grand Prix on the last weekend of August).

Who else could be on Theissen’s shopping list? Perhaps Nico Rosberg – he’s German, he’s having an excellent second season with Willians, and he brings marketable, youthful good looks compared to Heidfeld’s awful beard. And if Alonso really is on the market, the wily Theissen would surely jump at the opportunity.

Toyota Racing

Jarno Trulli, Toyota, Hungaroring, 2007 | Toyota11. Ralf Schumacher
12. Jarno Trulli (contracted until 2009)
T. Franck Montagny, Kohei Hirate, Kamui Kobayashi (2007 drivers)

There has been a lot of speculation surrounding the future of the Toyota team, mainly because it’s hard to see how they can be pleased with their experienced but under-performing driver pairing.

Rumours in Indianapolis suggested that Christian Klien could sign a multi-year deal with the team, and Kimi Raikkonen was linked with them earlier in the year when things weren’t going so well for the Finn.

Jarno Trulli’s contract was extended until 2009 last year.

Red Bull Racing

14. David Coulthard (contract extended to 2008)
15. Mark Webber (expected for 2008)
T. Robert Doornbos, Michael Ammermuller (2007 drivers)

Red Bull will stick with their mature driver pairing having re-signed Coulthard for a fourth season.

Doornbos has already won two races in the Champ Car World Series, so if he turns his back on racing in F1 a test seat could be up for grabs.

Test driver Ammermuller has had a poor year. He picked up a wrist injury in GP2 and was dropped by the ART team after his return to the series.

The team has recently given F3 Euroseries and GP2 racer Sebastien Buemi the mileage he needs to get his superlicence, and the Swiss is a strong candidate for a testing role next year, perhaps dovetailed with a placement in a competitive GP2 or World Series by Renault team.

Williams

Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota, Hungaroring, 2007 | LAT Photographic / Andrew Ferraro16. Nico Rosberg (2007 driver)
17. Alexander Wurz (2007 driver)
T. Kazuki Nakajima, Narain Karthikeyan

Williams’ future driver line-up is inextricably linked with the future direction of the team.

Rookie Rosberg has become hot property – but can Williams afford to keep him? More to the point, would they turn down a big-money offer to let him go to another team.

Engine partner Toyota may well want to see one of its Japanese drivers given their F1 start at Williams. Nakajima, son of former F1 racer Saturo, is a prime candidate. He’s tested for the team this year and is fourth in GP2 having scored four consecutive podiums.

Wurz may have more points than Rosberg, but although his technical input has been praised, the younger Williams driver has usually qualified and raced better. Wurz may get a second season but he needs to be consistenyl up with Rosberg in the remaining six races.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

18. Vitantonio Liuzzi (2007 driver) or Sebastien Bourdais
19. Sebastian Vettel (confirmed for 2008)

Toro Rosso was believed to have an option on three-times Champ Car champions Sebastien Bourdais that expired at the end of July.

Meanwhile the team dropped the American Scott Speed, whom it only signed at the 11th hour before the start of the season, and replaced him with Red Bull-contracted Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel was then confirmed for 2008 – but will Liuzzi get a stay of execution or will Bourdais make his long-awaited switch to Formula 1? During his acrimonious firing Speed said team bosses Franz Tost and Gerhard Berger were “pushing like hell” to drop himself and Liuzzi.

Spyker F1 Team

Adrian Sutil, Spyker, Hungaroring, 2007 | Peter J Fox / Crash Media Group20. Sakon Yamamoto (2007 driver)
21. Adrian Sutil (on a multi-year deal)
T. Fairuz Fauzy, Adri???n Vall???s, Markus Winklehock, Giedo van der Garde (2007 drivers)

Albers split with his manager Lodewijk Varossieau in June, and shortly afterwards was dropped from the team. With his sponsor not coughing up, it looks like his time in F1 is over.

Sutil has strong backing from team boss Colin Kolles, so expect him to stay. The second seat will be a matter of who can bring the most money. In which case Sakon Yamamoto is a candidate to stay with the team for what would be his first full F1 season,

But in reality any half-decent throttle jockey with a fat wallet should send Spyker their CV.

Super Aguri F1 Team

22. Takuma Sato (2007 driver)
23. Anthony Davidson (2007 driver)
T. Sakon Yamamoto (2007 driver)

Expect Japanese Sato to stay. His PR value to the team is immense, especially since he bagged them four points, notwithstanding his various unforced errors.

Davidson has not really impressed this year and it’s possible that his seat could be under threat from one of the emerging Japanese drivers like Kohei Hirate or even 2006 Super Aguri driver Yamamoto.

Prodrive

24. TBC
25. TBC

There is still no word on Prodrive’s plans for 2008. They are expected to be running a customer chassis (which will be legal next year), and were linked with McLaren, but the deadline for that deal passed weeks ago with no word.

Their driver line-up could well feature a young driver from whichever team it obtains its chassis – which could be good news for some racers currently languishing in test driver roles.

Photos: Daimler Chrysler, Daimler Chrysler, LAT Photographic / Charles Coates, Ferrari Media, Hondaracingf1.com, BMW, Toyota, LAT Photographic / Andrew Ferraro, Peter J Fox / Crash Media Group

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26 comments on Unhappy Alonso could blow open 2008 driver market

  1. when talking about Prodrive – they are way overdue with their announcements … McLaren had set them Silverstone race as pretty much a deadline if they want their chassis, then Richards said he needs few more weeks … still quiet … I wonder whether they will make it on the grid at all … Plus we have the financial difficulties in SUper Aguri with sponsor not paying (SS United) – they may have to go and look for pay driver …. well and if Alonso or Hamilton go … that would trigger some wild activity :-)

  2. Phill said on 7th August 2007, 9:57

    with alonso kicking up a fuss, we could see alot of changes, heres something I wouldnt mind seeing:

    Mclaren; Hamilton & Heidfeld
    Ferrari; Raikkonen & Massa
    BMW; Kubica & Rosberg
    Renault; Alonso & Kovalainen
    Williams; Nakajima & Luizzi
    Red Bull Racing; Coulthard & Webber
    Toyota; Trulli & Sutil
    Super Aguri; Sato & Hirate
    Honda; Button & Barrichello
    Torro Tosso; Vettel & Boudais
    Spyker; Fairuz Fauzy & Adrián Vallés (or whoever has some cash)
    Prodrive; Gary Paffet & Fisichella

  3. Journeyer said on 7th August 2007, 10:06

    Oh, how things can change quickly. The way I see it, Alonso and Heidfeld can do a swap. After all, Heidfeld, pre-BMW, was supposed to go to McLaren to replace Hakkinen… before Raikkonen came into the picture.

    McLaren: Hamilton and Heidfeld
    Ferrari: Raikkonen and Massa
    BMW: Alonso and Kubica
    Renault: Kovalainen and Piquet
    Williams: Rosberg and Wurz (they’re both doing well this year)
    Red Bull: Webber and Coulthard
    Toyota: Trulli and Schumacher (Ralf’s having a late surge)
    Super Aguri: Sato and Davidson
    Honda: Button and Barrichello
    STR: Vettel and Bourdais
    Spyker: Sutil and Winkelhock (unless some guys with fat wallets come along)
    Prodrive: Paffett and de la Rosa

  4. I think if Alonso decides to leave McLaren then Red Bull could be kicking themselves for announcing their drivers too early as surely they wouldn’t have turned him down?

    BMW seems the most likely place for him to head for if he does leave, but it’s still a pretty big if in my book.

    Depending on the way the championship pans out, and on how Hamilton conducts himself in the next few months, could Ron do the unthinkable and actually ask the golden child to leave instead?

  5. Mario Theissen says he’s not interested in Alonso. That may be easy to say before anyone moves anywhere but Mario’s a pretty straight guy and I would tend to take him at his word.

    Oh wait, this is F1 we’re talking about, isn’t it? I just remembered my promise never to believe anything anyone says anymore… ;)

    Allow me to buck the trend, however. I haven’t given up on Ron’s ability to patch this one up and get them working together again. It’ll be the same line-up next year.

  6. Sean said on 7th August 2007, 13:41

    Massa is a bit of a disappointment. Maybe Ferrari can lure Alonso. As Kimi seems to stay above the fray and rancor, Alonso’s mindgames may not have an affect.

    Cheers.

  7. Kimi may not mind Alonso as a team mate, but Alonso will not want to go to a team where he would have to be again “equal”…

  8. If you think you’ve seen sparks fly with Alonso in a Brit/German team, imagine what would happen if you put him with a bunch of Italians. The guy is not temperamentally suited to working with Germans or Brits (which is why you can forget him going to BMW – Theissen’s no fool) and he would have huge arguments at Ferrari. If he goes anywhere, it’ll be back to Renault. Only there will they give him the preferential treatment he demands.

  9. Dan M said on 7th August 2007, 17:50

    I guess if Nick was no longer going to be on BMW I would like to see Alonso there. It would be great to see him on Mclaren although I would still prefer he stay at BMW.

    I think anyone except Ferrari would be stupid not to take Alonso. His past beef with Shumi and his need to be #1 (when Kimi deserves a championship) would make that a rocky relationship…. He does speak decent Italian as we found out in Germany though!

    My hope is still that they let Alonso go and find out that Hammy can’t drive when he doesn’t have TC and someone else’s setup. I’m already sick of this kid, he only been in F1 for less than a year and its all gone to his head.

  10. Roger said on 7th August 2007, 18:18

    Do you think what he wants is a preferential treatment, or maybe and equal treatment? Do you know that has been published that what happened on qualify in Hungaroring (making his pole lap with used tyres because of bad pressure of the new tyres) wan’t the first time that occured?

    I think that if Ron Dennis let his pilots compete on equal conditions, with no shared setups, telemetry, etc, and Alonso and Hamilton assume this, both drivers will end his contracts.

  11. Paul Sainsbury said on 7th August 2007, 20:48

    Dan M……I am just very curious as to where you have come up with the idea that ‘Hammy can’t drive when he doesn’t have TC and someone else’s setup’

    Presumably you have not witnessed any motor racing outside of F1?

  12. Wesley said on 8th August 2007, 1:08

    Clive is right,there is no way Alonso and Theissen are the proper combination.I am watching BMW pretty close this year and I think Theissen is very focused an knows his goals.Nothing against Alonso,I love to watch the man work but,I just think he is a little emotional and would rock the BMW boat.
    @Dan M – after the qualy fiasco I am a bit unhappy with “Hammy” not giving his team (and man that made him) proper respect but,the kid CAN drive.

  13. Journeyer said on 8th August 2007, 4:32

    Good point. Most of the newer rumors are now linking him with Renault. So much so, in fact, that Nelson Piquet Jr. has revealed to SPEEDTV that he’s negotiating with Williams in case Alonso does go back to Renault.

    And now Wurz has been making noises about Prodrive, so it may mean Williams won’t keep him.

    Interesting, interesting.

    McLaren: Hamilton, Paffett?
    Ferrari: Raikkonen, Massa
    BMW: Heidfeld, Kubica
    Renault: Alonso, Kovalainen
    Williams: Piquet, Rosberg
    Prodrive: de la Rosa, Wurz

  14. peteszab said on 8th August 2007, 6:03

    I agree that Ron wouldnt let Hamilton go. After all he is taking care of him for 10 years. It wouldreally make him look like a loser. I think that Hamilton is really good but Rosberg, Kubica and Piquet jr. would all be as good as him if they would be in that car.
    Anyways ferrari will be a lot better next year I hope because kimi needs to get used to the car.

  15. Number 38 said on 8th August 2007, 8:07

    I’ve noticed a couple others above who view Hamilton as I do, perhaps a good driver but not much of a person. The first podiums and the media attention he absorbed gracefully but after a couple more , “gee, this is easy”, then he started talk of triple salary, and then at Hungary dis-obeying orders and talking back, he doesn’t seem very thankful for what McLaren have done for him. What really ticked me off was HE started the event at Hungary, Alonso may have amplified it but Alonso took the hit, a grid penalty, and bad media coverage and the snotty little Hamilton is hiding behind Ron’s skirt! Alonso…..I think he’s smart enough to stick with the best car, the team be damned!

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