Alonso confirmed at Renault for 2017

Fernando Alonso will return to Renault in 2017, representing his third tenure with the Enstone operation.

Alonso has inked a two-year agreement, with an option for a third season, by which stage the Spaniard will be 38.

Alonso claimed dual titles in his initial collaboration with the French marque, in 2005 and 2006, though he has failed to add to this tally following near-misses in 2007, 2010 and 2012.

Remarked Alonso “For many seasons, I try to have the third title, with McLaren, with Ferrari and again McLaren, but I don’t want anymore. I have a good feeling with Renault, many people I remember and many good memories.”

Renault’s managing director, Cyril Abiteboul, admitted that the manufacturer’s ultimately successful bid to land Alonso played a large role in returning to the sport in its own right following a five-season absence.

“Having Fernando on board is a huge coup, a huge vote of confidence that we made the right decision. By his arrival we aim to have a package we can already have podiums with, and with Fernando driving, to win races and then championships”, said the Frenchman.

Rising thirty-five, the move shapes as Alonso’s final pursuit of an elusive third crown, having grown disillusioned with progress at McLaren since rejoining the outfit ahead of the 2015 season.

The implication of this announcement is that the Spaniard will not honour the final season of his existing contract with McLaren. Stoffel Vandoorne is expected to be confirmed as his replacement.

The Belgian, who will deputise for Alonso at Bahrain this weekend after the Spaniard was deemed unfit to race on account of his spectacular crash at Australia, could make his full-time debut as imminently as June’s Canadian Grand Prix – following Alonso’s home event at Spain and the subsequent Monaco Grand Prix.

This outcome, heavily favoured by McLaren chief executive officer, Ron Dennis, would in turn provide Alonso with an opportunity to enjoy a sustained break prior to undertaking the next chapter of a fantastical career, blighted by being in the wrong places at the wrong time.

For his part, Dennis remained circumspect regarding the Spaniard’s impending departure. “The fundamental elements to achieve the objectives which company strives for haven’t been forthcoming. With the fullness of time, company hopes to rectify this, however it was mutually agreed that both parties will benefit through dissolution of the relationship”, elucidated the Briton.

Alonso last stood atop the podium at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, and hasn’t visited the rostrum in an official capacity since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix. An impromptu trip to the dais alongsideteammate, Jenson Button, in a rare moment of levity nearing the conclusion of a miserable campaign, at last season’s Brazilian Grand Prix, drew the ire of Dennis.

That the victor of 32 Grands Prix has opted for a return to an operation which has just re-entered the sport, speaks volumes about his faith, or lack thereof, in the McLaren-Honda collaboration, and foremost, his own desperation.

On the previous occasion that Alonso departed McLaren for Renault, he followed that up with a switch to Ferrari. Yet this move surely amounts to the final destination for the Spaniard?

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McLaren confirms Alonso return, Button retention

Formula One’s worst-kept secret has at last been realised, with confirmation that Fernando Alonso is rejoining McLaren.

The Spaniard will spearhead the Woking squad’s renewed collaboration with Honda, whilst Jenson Button has been retained, following much deliberation over the Briton and his 2014 team-mate, Kevin Magnussen.

Alonso returns to McLaren seven years after his sole, acrimonious 2007 campaign, having failed to add to his 2005 & 2006 titles throughout his five-year Ferrari tenure.

Button – the 2009 World Champion, will embark on his sixth campaign with the outfit – his sixteenth in the sport, with the line-up mirroring Ferrari in boasting a champion on either side of the garage.

The result of this announcement is a combined 500 Grands Prix in experience. Taking into account McLaren’s recent campaigns, coupled with the conclusion of a two-decade partnership with Mercedes in favour of Honda, the decision can’t be frowned upon.

Ron Dennis – utilising his finest, infamous Ronspeak, remarked “we now have by an order of magnitude the best driver line-up of any current Formula 1 team.”

It’s certainly a more compelling notion than Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen on the basis of their most recent campaigns and immediate prospects of flourishing in the abyss which Maranello currently represents.

There will be those who claim that Kevin Magnussen is desperately unlucky, that the Dane might be – he was until recently viewed as a certainty to stay on next season, yet it may just transpire to be the best outcome.

It takes time for relationships – regardless of history, to blossom. The McLaren-Honda combination which dominated the sport a quarter of a century ago bares no relevance to today. There are no guarantees that the initial McLaren-Honda output will yield an improvement on the MP4-29.  A second campaign for Magnussen at the wheel of a handful could have been detrimental to his long-term prospects, on a personal and prospective employer level.

His retention as a test and reserve driver could be perceived as a token gesture, but the reality is that he’s a solid chance to regain a race seat in 2016. Button could well be content that the extra season his second unexpected reprieve has granted, and decide the time is right for a WEC switch. As for Alonso – he’d never depart McLaren after one season, surely? Yet, it did happen last time, so…

Ostensibly, the issues which plagued the Spaniard’s initial stint at Woking have been addressed to a manageable degree otherwise he’d never have made the return which appeared so inconceivable just months ago.

Whether this entails Ron Dennis taking a step back from day to day operations of the racing division once more, or whether both individuals have agreed to let not past differences affect the future vision for restoring McLaren to glory, will be known in relatively short order.

Pending Caterham’s presence on the grid in 2015, the line-ups for all confirmed outfits is now set.

MERCEDES: Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg

RED BULL Renault: Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat

WILLIAMS Mercedes: Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Massa

FERRARI: Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen

McLAREN Honda: Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button

FORCE INDIA Mercedes: Nico Hülkenberg, Sergio Perez

TORO ROSSO Renault: Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz (Jr)

LOTUS Mercedes: Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado

SAUBER Ferrari: Marcus Ericsson, Felipe Nasr

 

 

The Ferrari-Alonso legacy

Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix marks Fernando Alonso’s ninety-sixth and final event representing Ferrari.

Confirmation of the Spaniard’s departure following five seasons was made by Ferrari in conjunction with the sport’s worst kept secret – that four-time World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, is joining Maranello from next season.

The 2005 & 2006 champion leaves the Italian marque two years before his contract was due to expire, with the strain of multiple failed title bids finally proving too much.

Barring a fond farewell under the Yas Marina lights, the Spaniard will boast 11 victories and 44 podiums from his time in red. Yet, it could have been so much more.

Alonso had one hand on title number three in 2010. From a forty-seven point deficit following the British Grand Prix, the Spaniard enjoyed a golden run to find himself leading the standings, eight points clear of Red Bull’s Mark Webber and a further seven up on the Australian’s team-mate, Sebastian Vettel, heading to the finale at Abu Dhabi. On paper, all he needed to do was turn up to become champion.

History shows that Ferrari committed a supreme tactical blunder in following Webber’s ultimately inferior strategy – one which consigned Alonso to a frustrating evening behind Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, whilst Vettel drove off under the lights to pinch the crown that very few had anticipated.

Two years later, with a car which had been described as woeful during pre-season testing, Alonso found himself forty points clear of Vettel mid-year. Red Bull’s aggressive in-season development and traditional late campaign resurgence saw the German claim the lead. Nevertheless, Alonso went to the finale hopeful of success. Heartbreakingly for the Spaniard, Vettel recovered from opening lap near disaster at Brazil to snare enough points to ensure a third consecutive title.

Multiple victories in the opening five events of his 2013 campaign had many convinced that Alonso was finally set to make the long awaited breakthrough. Remarkably, his triumph on home soil at the Spanish Grand Prix that season remains his latest. With this, the inevitability of the Ferrari-Alonso marriage failing to produce the ultimate glory become more of a reality.

Ferrari hasn’t looked anywhere near in contention this season. Alonso’s best efforts, quite probably resulting in his finest campaign to date, has been the only saving grace from an otherwise embarrassing maiden campaign under the new regulations.

That he came within two laps of victory at Hungary is testament to his underlying reputation as the best driver on the grid, even if his lack of a title during his past eight seasons betrays this notion.

For this reason, the Spaniard’s logic in calling time is understandable. From all appearances, Ferrari is two or three years away from being title protagonists, let alone the class of the field, once again.

Sebastian Vettel has the luxury of time on his side – as Michael Schumacher did before him. The German is aware that he might not enjoy the success he found so frequently at Red Bull until nearing the end of the decade.

Alonso will likely not be in the sport in five years’ time, so he is willing to throw it all on the line for a shot at the elusive third title.

McLaren is his destination according to all under the sun, yet no official announcement has come. The outcome of the initial McLaren-Honda public outing at the post-season Abu Dhabi test is surely the precursor to what would represent the worst kept secret on par with Vettel joining Ferrari.

Rumours persist of a sabbatical, but more likely, a one-season with an option, get out clause at Woking, which would enable to Spaniard to flee, ostensibly to Mercedes in 2016, should a certain Lewis Hamilton decide he wants to return “home.”

Irrespective of the Spaniard’s future destination, the fact is that his Ferrari stint will conclude as a dismal failure on what was promised as a dynasty which was supposed to recreate the outfit’s golden era witnessed at the turn of the century.

What next for Fernando Alonso?

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.

The phantom Ferrari vacancy

Consider this hypothetical outcome.

Friday, 3rd October 2014 – Suzuka International Circuit

A press conference has been called at the McLaren motorhome.

Present are McLaren’s Ron Dennis and Eric Boullier, accompanied by Honda’s Yasuhisa Arai.

The former sits before the gathering media calmly, the steely glaze of his eyes not lost to onlookers.

As the press take their seats, Dennis affords himself a fleeting glance at Arai – a wry grin emerging on each man’s face, before casting his attention to the fourth estate, uttering in his infamous ‘Ronspeak.’

“It gives me pleasure to announce that Fernando Alonso will race for Honda (insert title sponsor here) McLaren in 2015. Fernando is an individual who has previously represented our company. Sadly the previous relationship did not transpire optimally, but with his return it is our intention to rectify this.”

“McLaren has not achieved desired results in recent campaigns, we are an organisation which exists to win championships, but foremost we are an organisation which exists to win races. With Fernando arriving, it is expected that results will return to an appropriate level”, remarks Dennis.

“I’d now like to invite Fernando to say a few words”, he adds, as the Spaniard walks on stage to the blinding flash of cameras and smartphones.

“This is something I didn’t expect to be doing, but what happened in the past is a long time ago, it was racing…”, Alonso’s voice trails away. It is clear from his facial expression that he’s reconciling how the events of 2007 indirectly led to his failure to add another title to the pair he claimed in 2005 and 2006 – he might as well blurt out, “if only I’d known that seven years later I’d still be after my third.”

“I gave Ferrari many chances to win, but there is only so much a samurai can achieve before he grows tired, I could do nothing more”, the Spaniard continues.

And with that, the Ferrari-Fernando Alonso marriage is dissolved after five seasons, leaving a seat at the iconic Prancing Horse vacant.

Several names are immediately put forward as is the case when the first die of silly season is cast. Some suggestions are fanciful, others logical, despite the outfit’s poor fortunes, it is the ride of a lifetime.

Sebastian Vettel rejects Maranello’s advances, choosing to honour the final season of his contract at Red Bull, the four-time champion hoping to regain his mojo following his most wanting campaign to date. Yet the German reiterates his desire to one day race for the marque, suggesting a different answer to the question twelve months down the track. “Obviously it it would be a huge honour to represent Ferrari, but I have unfinished business here. Obviously things have gone not so well this year, but I hope to do a better job next season.”

Lewis Hamilton asserts his happiness at Brackley, remarking “it’d be amazing to race for Ferrari, I’ve got massive respect for them, but the ride I’ve already got is freaking amazing.” The consensus is that the Briton wants another twelve months to gauge inter-team relations with Nico Rosberg, feeling he is beginning to assert himself over the German. The 2008 World Champion is also keen to assess his former employer McLaren’s fortunes in their new/old direction with Honda with a driver of Alonso’s calibre at the wheel. whilst baring in mind the allure of claiming titles at three outfits if Ferrari’s 2015 challenger shows promise.

Jules Bianchi takes every opportunity he can to stress his readiness to make the transition from backmarker to er, midfielder. The Frenchman feels that two campaigns, as opposed to the previously practised three – in the case of Felipe Massa, are sufficient to carry the weight associated with driving for the famous team, and to handle Kimi Räikkönen on the other side of the garage.

Other names which inevitably come into the equation includes Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg and Jenson Button. Even Kamui Kobayashi – who served as a test driver for Ferrari in 2013, is linked to the seat.

As is the case in Formula One, nothing can be ruled out. What’s your opinion on the identity of Alonso’s replacement, should the Spaniard make the departure which seemed inconceivable just weeks ago?

McLaren-Mercedes association a damp squib

The McLaren-Mercedes association has only nine races to run, prior to Honda’s highly anticipated return to Formula One next season.

Twenty seasons is a long time for two organisations to be in collaboration, they two names have become synonymous with one another.

Yet, for the potential when the two joined forces in 1995, the relationship’s finest hour will be confined to its’ relative infancy, when Mika Häkkinen and the outfit swept respective titles in 1998.

The quasi-Silver Arrows’ early season domination was such that Häkkinen and team-mate David Coulthard lapped every competitor at Australia – a race infamous for bringing team-orders into the spotlight, en-route the first of five one-two rout’s throughout the campaign.

Häkkinen scraped his second title in 1999, but Ferrari denied them the satisfaction of the constructors’ crown, this would become the Prancing Horse’s exclusive domain for six seasons.

As Ferrari and Michael Schumacher took all before them in the early twenty-first century, McLaren and Mercedes become synonymous with another variety of winning.

…the battle to be the most unreliable, with Mercedes engine failures a common sight, belying the Adrian Newey designed challengers – then, his creations to this day with Red Bull are notorious for sparing no space, perhaps this was part of the problem.

The MP4-18 is testament to this, it never appeared at a race weekend.

Kimi Räikkönen had a near miss in 2003, coming within two points of ending the Schumacher reign, despite a solitary victory and a car which wasn’t anywhere near the class of the field.

Two years later, the Finn – arguably at his peak, won seven races courtesy of some peerless displays, and the team ten for the season, yet despite boasting the fastest car on the grid, unreliability cost them both titles to Fernando Alonso and Renault.

When Alonso arrived in 2007 as reigning dual World Champion, joined by a rookie team-mate named Lewis Hamilton, there were great expectations of a revival.

These hopes were realised, but what nobody counted was Hamilton matching and regularly outperforming the Spaniard.

What shaped as a tour de force mid-season, with both drivers’ and team comfortably heading the standings, escalated into the unforgettable ‘Spygate’ scandal.

Alonso, jealous of being overshadowed, threatened to reveal incriminating details, from which point the campaign went into freefall

McLaren were fined $100 million, excluded from the constructors’ standings, and Alonso’s relationship with the team non-existent.

Hamilton led the standings going to the finale, but his slide into retirement at China, coupled with a costly mistake at Brazil, ensured defeat from the jaws of victory – instead going to Räikkönen of all people, whilst Ferrari collected another constructors’ title.

Alonso would retreat to Renault, leaving Hamilton as the main man.

Twelve months later, the Briton made amends with his memorable pass on Timo Glock at turn 13 on the final lap to deny Felipe Massa a popular title on home soil, giving McLaren their first in nine seasons.

And their last in the Mercedes era.

The German marque announced their return to the sport as a manufacturer at the end of 2009, absorbing the fairytale Brawn GP, and scaling back its’ ties to the Woking squad.

Despite the effective relegation to customer status, the partnership would enjoy further victories. Hamilton was unlucky to be plagued by chronic unreliability in 2012 when it looked as though he could make a breakthrough, but by the end of the season, he was bound for the factory team.

And so in May 2013, with McLaren enduring the worst campaign of their association, it was announced they would be re-uniting with Honda from 2015, signalling the end of one of the sport’s most enduring relationships, potentially on par with the McLaren-Marlboro association.

There are no outward signs that Jenson Button or Kevin Magnussen can give the combination a final hurrah, with suggestions that Mercedes aren’t providing the team with an optimum package as Honda looms in the background.

Three drivers’ and a solitary constructors’ title aren’t a lot to show considering how bright the outlook was in the early days.

Even for an operation which emphasises race victories as the primary measure of success, these have been few and far between for a large portion of the tenure.

When the curtain comes down on the relationship at Brazil, those involved over the years will look back fondly, but the overwhelming sentiment will be one comprising ‘what if.’