Alonso and Prodrive central to 2008 driver market

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, Istanbul, 2007 | DaimlerChryslerThe news that Prodrive will not be using McLaren’s chassis next year raises more questions about who will be racing in F1 in 2008. Ralf Schumacher is leaving Toyota but his F1 career may not yet be over. Alexander Wurz’s departure opens up a space at Williams.

And of course there is the unresolved question about what Fernando Alonso will do. Return to Renault? Take a sabbatical? Grit his teeth and bear another 12 months at McLaren?

Or could a rumoured rift at Ferrari open the door for Alonso to join the Italian team?


1. Fernando Alonso (2007 driver, expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
2. Lewis Hamilton (2007 driver, expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
T. Pedro de la Rosa (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Gary Paffett (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Alonso is the key to the drivers’ market and Ron Dennis has said there will be no announcement on the Spaniard’s future with the team until after the final round next week. It goes without saying that Alonso and Lewis Hamilton don’t want to remain team mates.

But rumours suggest Alonso is not on the team’s winter testing schedule, which indicates a deal to move him to another team has already been done.

Who would McLaren replace him with? Sponsor Banco Santander would surely want to see a Spanish driver in the car, which could be good news for Pedro de la Rosa. He’s been a test driver with the team for several years and replaced Juan Pablo Montoya for half of last year.

There are doubts over de la Rosa’s speed, though. Nico Rosberg would be a good fit for the team – he’s German, which would fit well with Mercedes (McLaren have not had a German driver during their association with Mercedes), quick and a former karting team mate of Hamilton’s.

Williams wouldn’t give him up easily, but the Grove team might not turn down a big-money offer having made a ???28m loss in 2006.

The British press has excitedly suggested that Jenson Button could fill the seat – but two British drivers in one team seems unlikely.

Renault F1 Team

Heikki Kovalainen, Renault, Spa-Francorchamps, 2007 | Steven Tee / LAT Photographic3. Giancarlo Fisichella (contract expires 2007) | biography | articles
4. Heikki Kovalainen (expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
T. Nelson Piquet Jnr, (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Ricardo Zonta (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Heikki Kovalainen has surely done enough to justify his future at the team. Paddock expectations are that Giancarlo Fisichella will be dropped for the returning Alonso.

Even if Alonso goes elsewhere, Fisichella’s days are surely numbered. Kovalainen’s had the beating of him over the balance of the season and Nelson Piquet Jnr has been lobbying hard to get a drive.

Romain Grosjean, current F3 Euroseries championship leader and Renault Development driver, will join the team as test driver next year.

Scuderia Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Spa-Francorchamps, 2007 | Ferrari Media5. Felipe Massa (expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
6. Kimi Raikkonen (expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
T. Luca Badoer (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Marc Gen??? (2007 driver) | biography | articles

The Ferrari line-up seems set – but rumours suggest a struggle for power at the Scuderia between Jean Todt (CEO) and Luca di Montezemolo (President) could change the situation.

It had been suggested that Todt placed Felipe Massa (who is managed by Jean’s son Nicolas) at the team last year as a number two to Michael Schumacher. But Luca di Montezemolo arranged a deal with Kimi Raikkonen that led to Schumacher leaving the team earlier than planned.

Montezemolo’s preferred driver line-up is Raikkonen and Alonso. Massa and the two Todts have been linked to a switch to Toyota.

It may be pure fantasy – but recent remarks from Ferrari may indicate there is some truth in them. Jean Todt last week issued a lengthy statement that seemed to be both praising and defending the team’s performance under his stewardship. Head of track activities Luca Baldisserri, meanwhile, seemed to toe the Montezemolo line by giving Raikkonen the highest praise imaginable – comparing him to Schumacher:

From mid-season to the race that he did today he can be at the same level as Michael. A driver that can do a race like today, such difficult conditions, without making a mistake is a great driver.

Autosport this week blind quoted a driver manager saying, “You wouldn’t believe how smelly it’s getting in there. You have to be careful because if you back the wrong man you will never get a drive at Ferrari.”

But sporting director Stefano Domenicali insisted next year’s drivers will be Raikkonen and Massa. But perhaps the most convincing argument against a Raikkonen-Alonso pairing is that if Alonso was unhappy being given equal treatment with Lewis Hamilton, why should he accept the same with Raikkonen?

Honda Racing F1 Team

7. Jenson Button (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
8. Rubens Barrichello (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
T. Christian Klien (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. James Rossiter (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Honda announced earlier this year that their race driver line-up will remain unchanged.

BMW Sauber F1 Team

Turkish Grand Prix, Istanbul, 2007, start | BMW9. Nick Heidfeld (2007 drivers) | biography | articles
10. Robert Kubica (expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
T. Timo Glock (2007 driver) | articles

BMW also announced earlier this year that their race driver line-up will remain unchanged.

Toyota Racing

11. Ralf Schumacher (dropped for 2008) | biography | articles
12. Jarno Trulli (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
T. Franck Montagny (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Kohei Hirate (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Kamui Kobayashi (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Several drivers could conceivably plug the gap at Toyota left by Ralf Schumacher.

Kazuki Nakajima, who has been backed by Toyota for several years, will make his d???but for Williams at Brazil this weekend, and if he does well may even end up in the ‘factory’ team.

GP2 champion Timo Glock has also been linked to a drive at the team. Toyota have shown an interest in nabbing Nico Rosberg off Williams, to whom they supply engines and thus have a degree of power over. Rosberg’s statement earlier this year that he wants to drive for Williams in 2008 could be interpreted as a warning to Toyota not to bother.

Red Bull Racing

14. David Coulthard (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
15. Mark Webber (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
T. Robert Doornbos (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Michael Ammermuller (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Red Bull will run Mark Webber and David Coulthard once again next year.


Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota, Spa-Francrchamps, 2007 | LAT / Lorenzo Bellanca16. Nico Rosberg (expected for 2008) | biography | articles
17. Alexander Wurz (dropped for 2008) | biography | articles
T. Kazuki Nakajima (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Narain Karthikeyan (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Rosberg has said he wants to say – but if McLaren came knocking with a large cheque for Williams he surely wouldn’t turn up the chance of a championship winning car?

Wurz, sadly, has called an end to his comeback year one race short of a full season. If Nakajima does well at Brazil next week he stands a good chance of taking the seat. But even if he does the top GP2 rookie of this year would surely benefit from a second year in the category with a top team to polish off the rough edges and make a title bid.

An outside chance for the seat might be Ralf Schumacher, who drove for the team for several years, and Toro Rosso refugee Vitantonio Liuzzi.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso-Ferrari, Fuji Speedway, 2007 | GEPA / Bildagentur Kraeling18. Sebastien Bourdais (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
19. Sebastian Vettel (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles

Toro Rosso will partner three-time (soon to be four-time) Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais with Sebastian Vettel having dropped both the drivers it started this year with.

Spyker F1 Team

20. Sakon Yamamoto (2007 driver) | biography | articles
21. Adrian Sutil (on a multi-year deal) | biography | articles
T. Markus Winklehock (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Adrian Valles (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Giedo van der Garde (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Fairuz Fauzy (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Roldan Rodriguez (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Spyker will once again be transformed as it has been sold to Indian businessman Vijay Mallya. Adrian Sutil has had a decent rookie year and picked up a point (appeal pending) and deserves a second year.

If the new owners want a home driver in the team pronto the GP2 race winner Karun Chandhok would be a good choice, but giving him another year in GP2 before putting him in the F1 pressure cooker would be smarter.

Narain Karthikeyan has a season’s experience and might also get a look-in. Interestingly, Ralf Schumacher has been named in connection with the team as well – could he be thinking of building a team around himself as Michael did at Ferrari?

Super Aguri F1 Team

Nico Rosberg, Takuma Sato, Fuji Speedway, 2007 | Charles Coates / LAT Photographic22. Takuma Sato (2007 driver) | biography | articles
23. Anthony Davidson (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Super Aguri’s driver plans are likely to revolve around Takuma Sato. Anthony Davidson has impressed on several occasions – not least of which his mighty qualifying effort in Istanbul – and deserves a second season. But will the team have to drop him for a paying driver?


24. TBC
25. TBC

What Prodrive’s plans might be now the McLaren deal is off is anyone’s guess. David Richards suggested they were in discussions with two other teams about a supply of chassis for next year, which may influence their race driver plans.

Photos: DaimlerChrysler | Steven Tee / LAT Photographic | Ferrari Media | BMW | LAT / Lorenzo Bellanca | GEPA / Bildagentur Kraeling | Charles Coates / LAT Photographic

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