Fernando Alonso’s prospects of joining Ferrari in the near future appeared to have been killed off earlier this year when Luca di Montezemolo said in public that he did not want Alonso to partner Kimi Raikkonen in the future.
But the rumours re-surfaced over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend with sources claiming Alonso had signed for Ferrari for 2010. Alonso has already hinted he might leave Renault for Ferrari.
Should we believe the rumours? Will Raikkonen quit in 2009? And how might this change the 2009 driver line-up?
Why Alonso will join Ferrari in 2010
Alonso is a two-times champion and indisputably one of F1′s top three drivers. Renault are clearly not a top tier team at the moment – and it’s questionable whether Flavio Briatore’s focus lies squarely with them now that he’s discovered Queens’ Park Rangers football club.
Why Alonso won’t join Ferrari in 2010
Alonso never managed to reproduce at McLaren the kind of harmonic relationship he enjoys at Renault – so why jeopardise that a second time? Renault may not be in race-winning form right now but there have been clear signs of progress from the team already this year.
What if he has signed for 2010?
Luca di Montezemolo has said in the past that Ferrari would not have Alonso and Raikkonen as team mates. That would seem to indicate Raikkonen has indicated he does not wish to extend his contract beyond 2009.
It would also suggest that Felipe Massa’s contract until 2010 is safe, as Ferrari would surely not want to run the risk of changing both drivers. Massa has bounced back from a shaky start to the season with a career-best four consecutive podiums.
BMW are chasing Robert Kubica’s name on a new contract with sources suggesting the deal has already been done. Although Nick Heidfeld has struggled to match his team mate it would be a surprise to see the marketable German driver leave the team, particularly as neither of BMW’s test drivers (Marko Asmer and Christian Klien) look likely to be promoted in his place.
They are probably the only other team likely to be both interested in signing Alonso and capable of attracting him. So if he’s no longer on the market, then I would expect them to keep the same line-up.
Whatever happens with Ferrari Alonso will surely still be a Renault driver next year. But who will be his team mate? Nelson Piquet Jnr needs a revolution in form to justify his place in Formula 1. The impressive Swiss-French GP2 driver Romain Grosjean must be favourite to take his place, unless Renault continue their questionable strategy of placing graduate drivers with their test team for a year, which did little for Piquet or Heikki Kovalainen.
Test driver Lucas di Grassi’s indifferent form in GP2 last year has not marked him out as a future F1 driver. Their other test driver Sakon Yamamoto has impressed more people in F1 since he started DJing at parties. But a possible outside bet for the team could be Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, if an accommodation could be made with Briatore, who Bourdais has fallen out with once before.
Bourdais’ team mate Sebastian Vettel is tipped to replace David Coulthard at Red Bull, Coulthard finally heading into retirement and Toro Rosso heading into oblivion if a buyer is not found. If one is, look for iSport GP2 driver Bruno Senna in the hunt for a seat here.
McLaren, Honda and Williams will probably keep the same line-up. However Kazuki Nakajima has scored points in three of six races so far this year and Toyota may want to pinch their protege back from Williams.
The Grove team’s test driver Nico Hülkenbeg does not look ready for F1 yet, so perhaps Williams would get Timo Glock in return in a straight swap? As their engine suppliers Toyota have a fair amount of leverage in these discussions.
Adrian Sutil will need to repeat his Monaco form to justify his continued inclusion at Force India where owner Vijay Mallya may bring in Karun Chandhok, if he chooses to ignore the Indian’s dismal form in GP2 this year.