Is Fernando Alonso banking on three car teams?

Fernando Alonso

Intrigue surrounds the future plans of Fernando Alonso. He has kickstarted a relatively stagnant driver market by announcing that he will leave Ferrari at the end of the season. But confusion surrounds his future plans, which appear not to be in place.

Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso continues to make cryptic remarks about what his plans truly are. He is clearly enjoying his game with the media, who in turn are happy to play along in order to fill their column inches.

So what can we read into it all?

First of all, it is worth noting that — as far as I can tell — neither Ferrari nor Fernando Alonso has officially announced that Alonso is leaving Ferrari. There is certainly nothing to that affect on either of their websites.

On the day the news broke, Fernando Alonso’s interview with the BBC’s Lee McKenzie was highly intriguing to me.

Alonso began by saying, “Everyone was waiting for some kind of announcement on my side, and the first one to move chairs was Sebastian.”

But another section of the interview made me really prick up my ears.

When Lee McKenzie asked if there was a possibility that we could see Alonso as a team mate with Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, Alonso replied, “Well I think anything is a possibility.”

Also of note is Alonso’s comments that he wants to do what is best for Ferrari. The following is an extract from an article by Jonathan Noble:

“I always put the interest of the team and the interest of the tifosi – this big brand Ferrari that is bigger than all of us – in front of my own interest,” he said.

“So if there is something to talk about in the future and something better for Ferrari, I will do whatever.”

When asked directly if he could rule out racing for McLaren or Red Bull over the next two years, he responded: “This is a very difficult question to answer. And I will repeat the answer, probably I will do the best for Ferrari.”

A widespread interpretation of this has been that Alonso sees that now is the time to step aside and enable the team to embark on rebuilding itself following a turbulent year for the team’s internal political situation.

But regardless of political issues, would it necessarily be the best for Ferrari to lose what many regard as the most talented driver on the grid?

There are strong rumours that Sebastian Vettel will drive for Ferrari next season. But this has also not yet been officially announced.

As for what would happen to Alonso, conventional wisdom is that his main option is McLaren. However, it is far from clear that this would be plain sailing. Alonso is known to have had a difficult relationship with Ron Dennis in the past. It would be a huge risk for Alonso too. McLaren are in a major slump, and they will be using a new and unproven Honda lump.

Beyond that, Alonso has said that he does not think he will be using a Mercedes engine. This strikes many teams off the list: Mercedes, Williams, Force India and Lotus. Red Bull are clearly not interested; they quickly announced that Daniil Kvyat would take Sebastian Vettel’s seat.

That leaves a very limited selection of teams — in fact, the teams that are all rumoured to be on the brink of closing down.

Fernando Alonso has said that in retrospect we will look upon his decision as the “obvious” one. Clearly that is another cheeky wink at the journalists he is playing a game with. But what would be the obvious choice for Alonso?

In this week’s BBC Radio 5 Live Formula 1 podcast, Will Buxton suggested the “obvious” choice would be to remain with Ferrari.

On paper, Ferrari have 2015 contracts for perhaps the three best drivers in Formula 1: Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkonen. So one of them has to go. Right?

But another political issue looms on the horizon: three car teams. Rumours swirl that one or two or more teams are on the brink of closing down. In that case, there is a chance that some teams would have to run three cars just to pad out the grid numbers.

Most teams would want to avoid that scenario because of the increased costs it would involve.

Ferrari has no such concerns. In fact, the team has been pushing to run a third car for several years.

With some teams facing closure, now is perhaps Ferrari’s best chance to get what it has wanted. But it would face strong opposition from the other teams.

But if it has three of Formula 1’s most popular, most marketable, and best drivers, Ferrari’s political strength is increased. Were the situation to develop where three car teams might become a reality, Ferrari have a strong hand. Anyone blocking Ferrari from running three cars would be accused of preventing one of the sport’s top drivers from racing.

So is this what Fernando Alonso has done that is “best for Ferrari”? By stirring the journalists he has shaken up the previously static driver market, enabling Ferrari to sign Sebastian Vettel and retain Kimi Räikkonen. But as far as I can tell, Alonso still has a valid contract with Ferrari as well.

Alonso says he has “the privilege of being the decision maker in some aspects”. McLaren is clearly an option. A sabbatical may be another, less ideal option. But perhaps what he has done is put his neck on the line to help facilitate the move to three car teams — what is “best for Ferrari”.

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