Ever since Fernando Alonso publicly made disparaging comments about his Ferrari car after the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix, speculation has abounded as to his future with the fabled Ferrari team. Whilst Alonso had previously commented on his wish to remain at Ferrari for the rest of his career, and had signed a long term deal tying him to the team until the end of 2016, it appeared increasingly likely he could leave the team as their cars failed to provide with championship opportunities.
At age 33 and coming closer to the end of his career, Alonso was increasingly motivated to add more world titles to his two already from his years at Renault in 2005-2006. Alonso should have won the 2010 world title in his first season with Ferrari, although a strategic error in the final race in Abu Dhabi meant he was stuck behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov, and was forced to watch Sebastien Vettel steal his first world title from him.
From here 2011 was a lean year as Ferrari struggled and Red Bull dominated, although 2012 saw Alonso wring every last ounce of performance from his once again poor Ferrari car, to take the championship title fight into the final race in Brazil. Despite leading the title fight for a majority of the year, Alonso once again was beaten by Vettel at the final race for the title.
In 2013 Ferrari once again struggled with a poor car as Red Bull and Sebastien Vettel once again dominated, something Alonso grew increasingly frustrated with. After his response from a reporter asking what he would like for his upcoming birthday in the aftermath of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso sarcastically responded with “someone else’s car.” These were ill timed comments from Alonso as there were persistent rumours at this time that Alonso and his manager were talking to Red Bull about potentially him joining the team to replace his great friend Mark Webber for 2014.
From here Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo warned Alonso about his F1 conduct with regards to his comments, with a statement from this time stating “There is a need to close ranks, without giving in to rash outbursts that, while understandable in the immediate aftermath of a bad result, are no use to anyone. That was a reference to the latest comments from Fernando Alonso, which did not go down well with Montezemolo, nor with anyone in the team.All the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own.”
After the prospect of an unlikely Red Bull move was quashed after Daniel Ricciardo was announced as their new driver, it seemed Alonso was stuck with Ferrari until the foreseeable future. This was not entirely a bad thing however, as many tipped Ferrari to benefit most from new 2014 regulation which saw a switch to turbo V6 power. The fact Ferrari would be the only team other than AMG Mercedes producing both their own cars and engines, which suggested they would have an advantage with the design of their 2014 car and engine.
After a mixed testing period, once the season started it quickly became apparent AMG Mercedes would be dominant as the Mercedes engine was clearly the most powerful, with some even suggesting an 60-80bhp advantage over the Ferrari powerplant. It was also apparent the AMG Mercedes and Red Bull chassis were much better than the Ferrari F14T. Alonso once again performed heroics to drag the car onto the podium with a 3rd at the Chinese Grand Prix, it was clear however Alonso would once again miss out on the world title in 2014 as the two AMG Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated the season.
Heads began to roll at Ferrari as team principal Stefano Domenicalli resigned after the Bahrain Grand Prix, to be replaced by the CEO of Ferrari North America, Marco Mattiacci. Despite having very little racing experience Di Montezemolo felt his success with Ferrari North America could help provide a fresh impetus to Ferrari. It was clear now that the relationship between Alonso and Di Montezemolo was strained. As the season wore on and Alonso struggled it also became clear Mattiacci felt Alonso could be deemed expendable as his frustrations and lack of commitment to Ferrari increased.
This therefore provided a very unlikely initial rumour which quickly grew much larger. Honda were to join F1 in 2015 with McLaren, and it soon became clear Honda would provide an open chequebook to sign a top line driver. Whilst Sebastien Vettel laughed off the rumours, it soon became clear Alonso was seriously considering the offer. The news that long term Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo was to leave the team at the Italian GP did little to persuade Alonso to stay.
This ongoing saga reached critical mass at the 2014 Japanese GP, where it became apparent in the build up to the weekend that Alonso and Ferrari had reached an agreement to terminate his contract after the 2014 season. In the next few days the bombshell was announced that Sebastien Vettel was to leave Red Bull, with their team principal Christian Horner letting the cat out the bag by announcing he was to join Ferrari. This development left Alonso in a weakened position as it now became obvious his only options for 2015 were to either join McLaren or take a sabbatical.
After brief talk of Alonso potentially taking a year off and desperately trying to get himself into an AMG Mercedes seat for 2016 was shot down by the team, it became clear Alonso would likely sign for McLaren. Whilst the team has struggled in the past two years, and also Alonso’s turbulent season with the team in 2007, it appears fresh impetus from Honda will give Alonso a greater chance to be competitive and add the world titles his craves to his resume. McLaren with Honda will likely by Grand Prix winners within two years, whilst Ferrari are talking of several years of re-building before becoming dominant again.
This is why Alonso was so keen to leave the team, as sticking around for several years of re-building will not leave him enough time to win any more world titles. This optimism is something McLaren can provide with their’s and Honda’s winning pedigree. An official announcement on Alonso’s move to McLaren is likely to come later this month, with the next big decision for the team being whether to retain either experienced Brit and key ally of Honda Jenson Button or the team’s young rookie Kevin Magnussen. Plenty of people in the paddock with be relieved when all the confirmations are revealed, as Alonso looks forward to developing the McLaren-Honda package in 2015.
Photo credits go to :
Alonso 2013 Hungarian GP – http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2013/07/28/alonso-faces-investigation-over-drs-breach/
Alonso 2012 Brazilian GP – http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1080651_vettel-picks-up-third-f1-world-champion-after-brazilian-gp
Alonso Di Montezemolo photo – http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2014/09/06/hamilton-ends-pole-position-wait-monza/gp-italia-f12014-23/