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. Number 38 said on 8th August 2007, 14:26

    I re-read all this a second time hours later and come to an additional conclusion…….
    the word is out that Alonso is free to move at the end of the year but is this really the best move for McLaren. Alonso is one of the top 4 drivers in F1 at this time and probably #1 regardless of today’s points standings. Does Mclaren really want to let him go for a lesser driver? That’s merely the inverse of ‘does Alonso really want to leave for a lesser team?’ In the end I think Ron has got to iron out the internal situation and see this through with what he’s got now. Swapping out a KNOWN GOOD driver for a hotshot name, like Paffet or Piquet Jr. or Vettel is a big gamble. Think about it ….. would you swap Alonso for any of the above?

  2. Manuel said on 8th August 2007, 17:02

    well, i don´t know wich one will developpe the car if Alonso leaves, maybe De la Rosa leaves too.

    And all of us know the “success” of the Hamilton´s decissions in:

    Silverstone, Nurburgring, Hungary,

    we all could see the style of driving under the rain and strategy by Hamilton.

    we all could see how Alonso kick the Massa´s ass, in a hell.

    Really do you think that Hamilton is a “good” driver?

  3. Dan M said on 8th August 2007, 18:19

    I was not saying that Hammy is a bad driver, I was simply stating that I hope he turns out to be a bust. I also hope to win the lottery someday. Looking back in 10 years and its doubtful either of my hopes come true.

    I have seen Hammy race in lesser series against a diluted competition. Its hard to judge his talent against the “Pinnacle” of driving talent because he is in a far superior car. He has been as quick as Alonso but only if the conditions are perfect. In the one wet race we have seen he failed miserably. But hey hes just a rookie, so maybe he should start acting like one!

    Trust me, I’m not Hammy Hatin’, I just hate arrogance.

  4. Rach said on 8th August 2007, 18:54

    Interesting to see that so many of you think that Alonso could go back to Renault.
    Not withstanding his previous success and obvious enjoyment with the team – what about Heikki Kovaleinen? Another good young driver who is on a par with Hamilton – the team set-up might be different, but I can’t see Alonso wanting to risk a similar situation of being shown-up so directly by another “next big thing”. The main problem for Alonso seems to be the intensely direct nature of the competition from someone in the same car.

    On another point: Hamilton is somewhat justified in his annoyance with Alonso though – how gutting must it be to be ahead of your teammate, a person who so obviously wants to be treated like a primadonna and be paid a fraction of his salary? Not forgiving Hamilton’s incident at Hungaroring, but surely it’s Alonso who should be displaying the maturity of a seasoned driver? There’s nothing like leading by example and Alonso was the first to start mud-slinging in the press (tabloid or otherwise). I’d find that hard to stomach.

  5. Dan M said on 9th August 2007, 14:16

    Respect your elders, even if they are only 4 years older!

  6. Lahlo said on 11th August 2007, 5:15

    Why all the negetive and the Lewis Hamilton bashing .How can one even say the kid can`t drive? Do you haters even watch Formula 1 ? Why should he take a back seat to Alonso if he can win the Championship? ‘What is wrong with you guys? Come on give the kid a break !’ Lewis Hamilton is here to stay so stop the hate and give due to a wonderful talent. Why lewis Hamilton should roll over for Alonso ? I dont think so this is what Formula 1 is all about the best driver should win .

  7. pierre said on 11th August 2007, 8:54

    Fellow F1 Fanatics

    Let us not get ahead of ourselves. RD may let Alonso leave but he still reserves to right to enforce Alonso’s contract until the end of 2008 meaning that he will not be able to drive for another team until 2009. RD may let him of the hook with a BIG, VERY BIG payday form prospective team bosses seeking his services. As I see it Alonso have two choises: -

    1. Stay with Mc and face Hamilton for another season and do what he does best – Win World Championships.

    2. Take a sabbatical for the 2008 season – Can anyone see that happen?

  8. Jian said on 21st August 2007, 8:58

    Keith, can we see a piece from you about how good Heidfeld really is(or isn’t)?

    He has after all got an upper hand against Kimi, Massa, Webber & co. Is he only thriving as a big fish in a small pond (like Fisi) or is he neglected world champion material?

    As far I remember he’s always put in stellar performances but someone else always got ahead of him to the top teams. Wonder why that is?

  9. kiran paul said on 23rd August 2007, 7:54

    i am hoping that toyota will do better in 2008 season..they have to improve techinically as well as the pace of their car..

  10. Wesley said on 25th August 2007, 1:04

    I was starting to wonder if there were any fellow Heidfeld fans out there.I am enjoying the steady rise to the top by BMW.

  11. pablo said on 3rd October 2007, 6:35

    2008 predictions
    McLaren – Hamilton, Alonso
    Ferrari – Kimi, Massa (certain)
    BMW – Hieldfeld, Kubica (certain)
    Renult – Kovalein, Piquet Jr (Fisi scrapped)
    Williams – Roseburg, Fisichella (wurz scrapped)
    Red Bull – Coulthard, Webber (certain)
    Toyota – Trulli, Glock (Ralf left)
    Honda – Button, Barrichello (certain)
    Super Aguri – Sato, R. Schumacher
    Toro Rosso – Vettle, Bourdais (certain)
    Spyker – Sutil, Liuzzi
    Prodrive – De la Rosa, Paffet

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