Assessing Rumours of Fernando Alonso Leaving Ferrari for McLaren

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 05:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari walksacross the paddock ahead of the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 5, 2014 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

For most Formula One drivers, driving for Ferrari is one of the most sacred opportunities in the sport.

The history, heritage and achievements of the Prancing Horse, the most successful team in history and the only outfit to compete in every single season of F1, resonates in every aspiring racer and every boyhood fan.

Not Fernando Alonso, though: He's always considered himself a McLaren man.

Ayrton Senna, driver of the #1 Honda Marlboro McLaren McLaren MP4-6 Honda 3.5 V12 during practice the San Marino Grand Prix on 27th April 1991 at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, San Marino.(Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images
Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

For the same reasons why many of his colleagues and competitors gravitated towards Ferrari, Alonso drifted towards Ayrton Senna.

Alonso has previously been quoted by Ian Parkes of the Daily Mail as describing how Senna became something of an obsession for him as a youngster growing up in Oviedo, Spain.

Despite being unable to view the Brazilian's performances on television in his homeland, Alonso said, pictures of Senna dominated his schoolbook and a poster of the three-time world champion adorned his bedroom wall.

Even his first go-karts were decorated in the white and rocket red livery of the Marlboro McLarens, which Senna guided to 35 of his 41 grand prix victories.

Ahead of last weekend's Canadian Grand Prix, Alonso was quoted by Andrew Benson of BBC Sport as stating how he would not retire from Formula One until he has secured his third Drivers' Championship, expressing his belief that "the the third puts you in a list of very important names." 

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 09:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren celebrates on the podium after winning the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on September 9, 2007 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The thought of equalling Senna's three world titles, achieved in 1988, 1990 and 1991, is undoubtedly playing on Alonso's mind as he continues to hunt down his third crown. 

Alonso's fondness of Senna from a young age, and his clear willingness to emulate the man who is widely considered the finest driver in F1 history, makes it saddening that his one-season stay at McLaren in 2007 ended so spectacularly ugly.

The Spaniard's desire to enjoy preferential treatment over teammate Lewis Hamilton led to Alonso sabotaging the then-rookie's final qualifying run at the Hungarian Grand Prix, below.

MARK J. TERRILL/Associated Press

Soon after, Alonso—according to Kevin Garside of The Telegraph at the time—allegedly threatened team principal Ron Dennis, the man who had played such an instrumental role in shaping Senna's career, with documents which could significantly harm the team during the "Spygate" scandal. This scandal ultimately led to the team receiving a record fine of $100 million and expulsion from the 2007 Constructors' Championship.

The chances of Alonso ever returning to Woking following such a catastrophic breakdown in relations were desperately slim—until last year's Singapore Grand Prix, when Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren's team principal at the time, was quoted by Sky Sports' Pete Gill as saying:

Yes, if I could [I would sign Alonso].

Most teams up and down the pitlane would happily sign Fernando Alonso, he's a very talented driver... we are open to anything and in the long-term he would be a great asset.

Fernando is in charge of his own destiny, but we'll see.

Alonso flirted back by telling Andrew Benson of BBC Sport how he would be open to a return to McLaren, saying: "I always said that there are no problems with anyone, it was just the philosophy of the team, especially one man in the team that is not there [any more]."

Since then, however, Whitmarsh has been removed from his position and the "one man" whom Alonso referred to, Dennis, has returned to an executive position at McLaren.

Yet Dennis, over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, was quoted by Marco Canseco of Marca as suggesting that he would have "no problem" working with Alonso again.

The major sticking point to any potential deal, then, is just how willing both men would be to become colleagues again.

Despite Dennis' seemingly relaxed public stance, there are valid question marks over his comfort with the idea of working alongside someone who played a significant role in arguably the darkest period in his team's history.

Dennis, remember, has been a figurehead at McLaren since 1980, and it is entirely plausible that the events of seven years ago are still too recent, too fresh in the memory to allow a seamless reunion to take place.

Conversely, there is a belief—as Kevin Eason, the Formula One journalist, recently pointed out whilst appearing on Sky Sports' Midweek Report television programme—that Dennis is pragmatic, realistic and blindly ambitious enough to get Alonso, who (despite failing to win a title since 2006) is still considered the most complete driver on the grid, in one of his cars. 

Alonso's resentment towards Dennis was reflected when rumours linking him to McLaren died out for a time when the latter's return to power was confirmed by the team in January.

Yet Ferrari's failure to use the 2014 regulations to their advantage and produce a front-running chassis and power unit package has left the Spaniard with no choice but to test the waters for a transfer once again.

This led to Alonso deploying a familiar tactic ahead of last month's Monaco Grand Prix, with the Ferrari driver responding to praise by Mercedes chief Dieter Zetsche by informing Mike Wise of Sky Sports:

It's always welcome when people see your job in a good way and respect what you try to do and what you try to achieve. Sometimes it's strange to see good comments and good compliments from people from outside and from the other side that are supposed to be close to you, there are the opposite comments.

It's motivating. It's motivating for me and it's good to receive good comments. But it's funny when you see the opposite in your closest friends.

His indirect criticism of Ferrari's attitude towards him carried parallels to when he accused Renault of making him, according to at the time, feel "alone" as his title battle with Michael Schumacher reached its climax in 2006.

Less than a year later, he described how he had "never felt totally comfortable" at McLaren, as Kevin Garside of The Telegraph reported at the time. 

Alonso's words in Monaco forced Luca di Montezemolo, the Ferrari president, to issue a statement via the team's official website to praise his driver's efforts.

And it seemed to do the trick—perhaps partly due to the news of Nico Rosberg's contract extension with Mercedes making the front-running seats off-limits for 2015—with Alonso appearing much more positive about Ferrari's chances of future success whilst speaking to Sky Sports' Mike Wise in Canada.

But Ferrari's lacklustre performance in Montreal, which saw Alonso finish sixth and teammate Kimi Raikkonen finish 10th, having been unable to fight for victory after the dominant Mercedes cars suffered rare reliability problems, must surely have led to the Spaniard questioning his future once again.

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 09:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari sits in his car in the garage during practice ahead of the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 9, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Ferrari's lack of pace, promise and potential is forcing one of their greatest servants away, and a rival manufacturer could capitalise on the situation.

Honda powered the McLarens of Ayrton Senna which took pride of place, in the form of posters and photographs, on a young Alonso's wall and on his school equipment.

And the Japanese manufacturer, who will return to F1 as McLaren's power unit supplier from next season, are likely to be on the hunt for a marquee signing to lead their charge into a new era.

The recent claim of Eric Boullier, McLaren's racing director, to Pete Gill of Sky Sports that Jenson Button, who has strong links with both Japan and Honda, having driven for their Formula One team between 2006 and 2008, is likely to be retained for 2015 casts the position of Kevin Magnussen in doubt.

Although the logic of releasing a rookie driver within a year of handing him an opportunity to impress in Formula One would be questionable to say the least, McLaren—as their handling of Sergio Perez's departure from the team proved last season—care little for sentiment and loyalty when trophies are on the line.

1988:  Rear view of Ayrton Senna of Brazil in his McLaren Honda before the Monaco Grand Prix at the Monte Carlo circuit in Monaco. Senna retired from the race after hitting a barrier. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport
Getty Images/Getty Images

Admittedly, Alonso might not fancy the idea of driving a McLaren under the stewardship of Ron Dennis—but the opportunity to emulate Senna by thrashing a McLaren-Honda around the streets of Monaco in 2015? The possibility of winning his third world championship in the same car-engine combination which Senna took each of his world titles?

It would be difficult to turn down.

It would be the realisation of a boyhood dream.

And let's face it—it would be better than wasting away in a stale, uncompetitive Ferrari.

For Alonso, a driver whose crash helmet has frequently featured graphics of playing cards, the gamble might just be worth taking.


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