As the motorsport community reflects on the unfortunate events of the Japanese Grand Prix and prays for the welfare of Jules Bianchi, the big story prior to this concerned the future of Fernando Alonso.
There may have been no official announcement, but the revelation which blindsided many – that Sebastian Vettel is departing Red Bull, with little attempt made by either party to deny he is destined for Ferrari, as good as confirmed the relationship between the Alonso and Maranello is concluding.
The Spaniard has been linked heavily to McLaren, whom he represented previously for a solitary season – a highly fractious 2007 campaign, with Honda returning to the sport in conjunction with the outfit.
Yet the two-time champion, whose other option – a direct swap with Vettel, was snuffed out as quickly as it arose with Toro Rosso rookie Daniil Kvyat promoted alongside Daniel Ricciardo for 2015, is reportedly posturing for a berth at Mercedes.
As it stands, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have contracts with the Silver Arrows for 2015. Thus, barring a spectacular falling out between parties, or the unlikely event of Hamilton being tempted into a McLaren return, it is highly improbable that Alonso will be at Brackley next season.
It might be that the 33-year old is set on forcing his way into what is shaping as the car of the field for the foreseeable future, and is willing to take a year out of the sport – and ostensibly pursue his cycling interests, whilst formulating a plan to join Mercedes in 2016.
The prospect of this being realised however is low. At this stage of his career, Alonso can ill afford to spend twelve months out of a sport where the state of affairs have a tendency to change overnight. The cautionary tale of fellow double champion, Mika Häkkinen, might be enough to persuade the Spaniard to remain on the grid. Citing burnout following 1998 & 1999 titles, coupled with the demands of a young family, the Finn served a sabbatical in 2002, which transformed into full-time retirement once he realised that he enjoyed life out of the spotlight. If Häkkinen’s permanent absence was disappointing, the mere thought of Alonso’s is devastating.
Taking a punt on McLaren, despite Ron Dennis’ prerogative to demand a multi-year commitment, with the eventual possibility of joining Brackley in 2017 once Rosberg comes out of contract, shapes as the best course of action.
The idea that Alonso might sign, if he is yet to do so – a direct contract with Honda, as opposed to McLaren, opens the door to the prospect of the Spaniard joining another outfit in 2016 should the Japanese marque provide its’ services beyond the Woking squad – thus keeping his options open if a second sojourn there is as volcanic as his first.
Wherever the Spaniard does end up, the Alonso-Ferrari relationship will be recalled as a failure. Commencing with multiple instances of so near yet to far, mediocrity – not for a lack of trying on the former’s part, and ultimately concluding in bitterness, the fact remains that eight years later, Fernando Alonso is still chasing title number three.
This pales in comparison however to the situation which presented itself on the weekend – a situation everybody fears but doesn’t expect, serving as a stark reminder that despite the accident’s unique nature, dangers are still inherent in Formula One. Now we wait and hope for good news regarding Jules Bianchi, the sport and the world is not ready to lose him.