The Logical Choice: Why Fernando Alonso Is Ferrari Bound
Formula One's silly season seems to get earlier every year, but now we are firmly into the period where next season's contracts are being finalised and deals being announced. As in 2007 and 2008, the big story of 2009 concerns the destination of double world champion Fernando Alonso.
Since his move to McLaren turned sour in the latter stages of 2007, Alonso has been linked with a move to Ferrari. The Italian team has been coy about the prospect of recruiting the Spaniard so far, but the word in the paddock is that he is now contracted to race for them in 2010 or 2011.
This makes sense because while Ferrari is Formula One's oldest, most prestigious and most successful team, Fernando Alonso is currently F1's best driver.
This may seem like an ambitious statement to make, but it is entirely borne out by the facts.
Alonso has proven time and again that he is, given the correct machinery, a driver capable of winning races and championships. Winning the world title in 2006 was a sublime achievement, given that he was scrapping for glory with the most successful driver in the sport's history.
Furthermore, Michael Schumacher's Ferrari that year was a superior machine to Alonso's Renault, the progress of the French team hampered mid-season by the banning of its unique "mass damper" concept; with Ferrari's Bridgestone tyres clearly better suited to most tracks than Renault's Michelins, only a slow start to the year from the Scuderia gave Alonso the momentum he needed to take the title.
He has also shown that he is capable of mixing it at the front in sub-optimal machinery, too: 2008 saw Fernando win twice in a Renault that finished the year only fourth overall, some 55 points behind third-placed BMW.
No other driver currently in the sport has such a complete pedigree; his closest rival in terms of ability has to be Lewis Hamilton, but the Englishman has yet to dial out the occasional errors that mar his otherwise stellar performances.
The marriage of F1's best driver to its best team, then, is something that seems inevitable.
Throwing a spanner in the works at present is Kimi Raikkonen, the Finnish driver who, a few years ago, briefly rivalled Alonso for the mantle of F1's greatest driver, post-Schumacher.
Raikkonen was chosen as Schumacher's heir apparent by Ferrari, a promising but largely unhappy spell at McLaren having given the Finn two near misses but no world championships.
That was to change in 2007, Raikkonen duly winning the world title as his old team descended into controversy and farce; first the crimes of Spygate destabilising McLaren, followed by a bitter dispute over apparent favouritism showed to Hamilton over Alonso.
But Raikkonen's critics, among them the ever-fickle tifosi, had been unimpressed by his start to the season and would be given more ammunition in 2008, when an uncharacteristically inconsistent mid-season saw him take a back seat to teammate Felipe Massa.
This year the balance has been redressed slightly, though Massa was unquestionably still the better of the two before his horrific accident in Hungary threw the rest of his season into doubt.
Raikkonen has a contract to drive for Ferrari in 2010; the validity of that contract, however, is based on performance clauses. It is unknown whether the Finnish driver has successfully fulfilled those clauses, but given that it is now about the time of year that contractual options expire, we should be hearing fairly soon whether he will be continuing to drive for Ferrari next year.
A logical place for this announcement is the Italian Grand Prix in September; here Ferrari have traditionally announced their line-up for the following year, and by then the extent of Massa's injury may be better known, with a view to knowing whether he will participate in a full season in 2010.
Complicating the matter somewhat is the fact that Ferrari are known to have secured a lucrative sponsorship deal with Spanish bank Santander; top officials at the bank have previously expressed that they would not be interested in sponsoring Ferrari without Alonso.
Sources within the F1 world currently indicate that Ferrari are trying to reach a settlement with Raikkonen, so that he can retire from the sport at the end of the year and focus on rallying, which has been an interest of his for some time.
Whatever happens, the evidence at the moment all seems to be pointing in one direction: Fernando Alonso, whether you like it or not, will soon be a Ferrari driver.
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