The rumours about Fernando Alonso joining Honda appear to be gaining strength with some sources suggesting a deal has already been done. And several teams appear to be interested in signing Bruno Senna.
Plus, Heikki Kovalainen was confirmed as a McLaren driver last weekend, for at least one more year, on what turned out to be the eve of his first F1 win. Let’s take a look at some of the rumours around the 2009 F1 driver market.
Fernando Alonso to Honda
I was a bit sceptical about this rumour when I first heard about it in June. But yesterday Guardian journalist Alan Henry put his name to an article claiming Fernando Alonso will partner Jenson Button at Honda in 2009 and even stated the fee involved: £7.6m ($15m).
There are a couple of things about the rumour that seem strange. Would Alonso really want to change teams for the third year in a row? Henry even suggests the deal might only be for one year as Alonso may to Ferrari in 2010, making it four changes in as many years. Is this stretching the limits of credulity too far?
On the other hand Renault seem in no better shape this year than they were last year and Alonso is in as good a place as anyone to judge how they will perform in 2009. Honda seem to have bags of potential: they were the first team to get their Kinetic Energy Recovery System on-track (with no reports of mechanics being electrocuted) and have made it quite clear how much of thier effort has been focused on 2009. Plus, they’ve got Ross Brawn, one of the pitlane’s foremost strategists.
If Alonso were to leave Renault, who would replace him? Assuming Renault are going to keep Nelson Piquet Jnr they’d probably want a more experienced driver alongside him. So would they take Rubens Barrichello in a straight swap? Or might BMW drop Nick Heidfeld?
Kazuki Nakajima stays at Williams
Toyota have Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock contracted for 2009 (some news sources are running stories claiming Glock has had a contract extension for next year, but his deal was described as ‘multi-year’ when it was announced last year).
Although Kazuki Nakajima’s pace hasn’t been quite a match for Nico Rosberg’s he finished in the points more often and is showing signs of improvement.
If Nakajima were to go anywhere else it would be Toyota, so another year at Williams looks like a good bet.
Heikki Kovalainen stays at McLaren
I didn’t have time to write a post about it, but Kovalainen has been confirmed at a McLaren driver. That means McLaren and Ferrari each have all their drivers contracted for 2009 (Hamilton is signed until 2012), but apparently Alonso has not firmed up his 2009 plans yet in the hope Raikkonen may quit his contract a year early to retire.
Bruno Senna to Williams
Until now speculation on the future of Bruno Senna (nephew of Ayrton) linked him to the seat at Toro Rosso left vacant by Sebastian Vettel.
But as Senna closes in on GP2 series leader Giorgio Pantano rumours have linked him to test drives at BMW and Toyota. Another rumour puts him at Williams in a move backed by the team’s petrol supplier Petrobras, which is Brazilian.
In order for that to work, however, he’d have to squeeze either Rosberg or Nakajima out of their Williams seats, which doesn’t look too likely at the moment. Senna has said he wants a race seat, and Toro Rosso is the only team that seems able to offer that right now.
But if a BMW test seat is available he may consider that a better bet than Toro Rosso. BMW are a top three team, whereas the future of Toro Rosso is uncertain as owner Dietrich Mateschitz is looking to sell the team. Senna began his single-seater career in Formula BMW.
BMW to drop Nick Heidfeld
Before the Hungarian Grand Prix Mario Theissen indicated he was not yet convinced Nick Heidfeld had gotten past the problems he was suffering earlier in the year:
I am very confident that he has overcome the weak period, but you don’t get into this within a week and you don’t get out of it within a week. So, he has to work systematically – and he is working systematically. And I am confident he will get back to full performance and full confidence.
Heidfeld was eliminated in the first round of qualifying at Hungary – no thanks to Sebastien Bourdais. But his qualifying performances relative to Robert Kubica’s are still poor: he has only beaten Kubica once on Saturday – and that was when the Pole spent the final part of the session in the garage with a car problem.
If BMW did drop Heidfeld they might promote test driver Christian Klien, who has quite a lot of F1 experience. But this is all highly speculative. BMW’s options on Heidfeld and Kubica expire at the end of next month and the team are believed to want to extend Kubica’s deal until the end of 2010.