Why Would Fernando Alonso Leave Ferrari for Jenson Button's Seat at McLaren?

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2014

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 24:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari drives during the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 24, 2014 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

MURAD SEZER/Associated Press

Since Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren's then-team principal, admitted his interest in re-signing Fernando Alonso to Sky Sports' Pete Gill last year, Formula One's rumour mill has been dominated by one story.

Would Alonso be willing to forget the events of his previous tenure at the Woking team and happily return to an environment that cost him a third consecutive world title in 2007?

Would Ron Dennis, McLaren's proud head honcho, tolerate the presence of a man who, according to BBC Sport, threatened to release evidence in the "Spygate" scandal which eventually cost the organisation £49.2m? 

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 22:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari sits in his car in the garage during practice ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 22, 2014 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Would the Spaniard, who since 2010 has appeared to be Ferrari's guiding light, be able to stomach the idea that his time at the Prancing Horse was time wasted?

And would Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion and arguably McLaren's lead driver since 2011, be the one left standing in this year's edition of musical chairs?

We are, with just seven races of the current campaign remaining, rapidly approaching the stage where F1's silly season becomes a lot more serious. 

It is a time when fantasy becomes reality, when the flow of questions stop and the answers begin to drip from the tap.

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 24:  Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren waves during the drivers' parade before the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 24, 2014 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

It is no surprise, then, that we are beginning to see the first real signs of movement, the first pieces of the jigsaw puzzle coming into place.

Button has, for the first time, admitted that his F1 career could be winding to a conclusion, with the 34-year-old telling Andrew Benson of BBC Sport at last weekend's Belgian Grand Prix:

We haven't sat down and talked about it.

If I have to retire at the end of the season then so be it, but I feel I have so much more to give and I can't imagine life without motorsport and especially Formula 1.

On the back of Button's comments came the news, as reported by The Telegraph's Daniel Johnson, that Dennis himself "has spoken with Alonso over a move back from Ferrari," signalling that the team's efforts to re-sign the 2005 and 2006 world champion have grown in intensity.

These developments emerged despite Marco Mattiacci, Ferrari's team principal, informing Sky Sports' Pete Gill at Spa that both Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, another former McLaren driver, would remain with the Italian outfit for 2015.

Button's apparent resignation to retirement should McLaren secure a driver upgrade, however, suggests Alonso's short-term future is still to be decided—but why would the Spaniard entertain the team's overtures? 

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 21:  Ferrari Team Principal Marco Mattiacci looks on in the garage during final practice ahead of the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring on June 21, 2014 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Ferrari and McLaren, the two most successful outfits in the sport's history, are currently in the midst of transition periods, both without a world championship of any kind since 2008.

Yet there is reason to believe that the McLaren, despite failing to win a grand prix for almost two years, will rediscover their stride before the Prancing Horse.

A blame culture has prevented progress at Ferrari, with the likes of Chris Dyer, Aldo Costa, Luca Marmorini and Stefano Domenicali all leaving their roles since 2010, with the latter replaced by Mattiacci, someone with no previous F1 experience.

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 18:  McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier looks on during practice ahead of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 18, 2014 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Drew Gibson/Getty Images)
Drew Gibson/Getty Images

Such instability and such an alarming lack of direction is in stark contrast to McLaren, who despite currently trailing Ferrari in the pecking order are at least taking meaningful steps to reverse their fortunes. 

McLaren's signing of Peter Prodromou, who as Dennis explained to ESPN F1 will formally begin work with the outfit next month, from Red Bull—where he acted as the right-hand man to the esteemed Adrian Newey—is likely to ensure that the Woking team's 2015 chassis will be their strongest since 2012.

The presence of racing director Eric Boullier—who transformed Lotus from mere points scorers and occasional podium finishers to race winners and championship challengers in just a handful of years—should mean that McLaren, operationally, will be sharper in the Frenchman's second campaign on board.   

And, of course, there is the return of Honda as McLaren's power-unit supplier from 2015 to consider, although the strength of the Japanese manufacturer's power train relative to those of Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari as yet unknown.

Although money can often be a taboo subject in top-level sport, a deal between Alonso and McLaren would be financially rewarding for both driver and team.

According to Daniel Johnson of The Telegraph, Alonso would become the best-paid driver in F1, earning £20m per year, if he were to return to Woking.

And his personal support from Santander might also come in handy for McLaren, who have an existing sponsorship deal with the Spanish bank and who, it is worth noting, are continuing their search for a title sponsor. 

When pushed, however, you would still bank on Alonso remaining with Ferrari until at least the end of 2015—but there is one thing that would encourage the Spaniard to jump ship, and end the career of Button, a year early.

The last truly high-profile driver move in Formula One, Lewis Hamilton's switch to Mercedes from McLaren in 2012, was widely thought to be a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Raymond Ho/Associated Press

It wasn't until he retired from the lead of the Singapore Grand Prix—and turned to look at his stricken car as he walked away—that Hamilton decided his time with McLaren was up.

Perhaps Alonso—faced with a penalty before his Belgian Grand Prix had even began last weekend after his mechanics remained on the track as the formation lap started—would also be swayed to change teams if he were to suffer a similarly crippling disappointment before the end of the season. 

A sudden retirement from a promising position, a pit-stop calamity or one of those miserable uncompetitive, energy-sapping weekends could all see the Spaniard decide that enough is enough.

It could be Ferrari's faults, rather than an outstanding McLaren offer, that will see Alonso walk away.

And given the way that the last five seasons have gone, that would be an apt way for the relationship to end.