Fernando Alonso’s place on the grid is central to the 2009 F1 driver market: he is thought likely to stay at Renault, or switch to BMW or Honda.
New rumours have arisen suggesting Honda may have given up on acquiring Alonso’s services, but are looking at replacing Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button – or both – with Nick Heidfeld or Bruno Senna. What should we make of these rumours?
Nick Heidfeld to Honda
Honda’s Nick Fry has admitted “I’ve already spoken with Nick, and more than just saying ‘hello’.” Presumably that means he has spoken to Nick Heidfeld, rather than himself in the mirror.
The idea of Heidfeld joining Honda has an un-likeliness to it which I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s the thought of him and Jenson Button teaming up in some unholy all-bearded line-up.
Seriously, Heidfeld did an excellent job at BMW last year. This year, after a shaky start, he’s consistently brought the car home (to a record-breaking extent) and is scoring points regularly. This rumour only make sense to me if BMW are bringing Alonso on board. Even then, I can’t see what Heidfeld brings to Honda that Barrichello or Button lack, or why BMW should want to drop him.
Bruno Senna to Honda
While Heidfeld to Honda doesn’t sound quite right to me, Bruno Senna and Honda make a lot of sense. His uncle Ayrton Senna had a deep and strong relationship with the Japanese concern in its F1 role as engine manufacturer (sorry to keep bringing up Ayrton in the context of Bruno but his legacy inevitably has an important bearing).
Ayrton won 32 of his 41 F1 victories with Honda while at Lotus and McLaren. He gave impetus to the development of their engine, particularly so in 1991 when a late push by the manufacturer helped him retain his championship. He was hugely popular in Japan and helped Honda develop road cars like the NSX.
Not being at the sharp end of F1 at the moment (and that’s putting it kindly), Honda can arguably afford a gamble on a rookie. Though it would be particularly galling for their test driver Mike Conway, who beat Bruno to the 2006 British F3 crown.
Bruno Senna has admitted he’s talking to teams about a race seat for next year:
We have been speaking with quite a few teams and there is great interest from a few of them. So there are a few opportunities as a race driver, a few as a test driver. But there is a lot of competition and I need to come ahead of the competition right now on the negotiations and see if I can get a race drive.
At first he was being linked with Toro Rosso via Gerhard Berger. But they seem to be leaning towards Senna’s GP2 rival Sebastien Buemi – whether on merit alone or because Buemi is a Red Bull test driver.
If Senna didn’t get a race seat for next year, his options might include testing for a year (though that doesn’t tend to involve much mileage these days) or returning to GP2. But, having been runner-up this year, he would simply have to deliver the title and with a truck-load of wins if he went back for a third season.