An otherwise low-key Friday in Singapore was enlivened by excitement over the apparent possibility of Fernando Alonso returning to McLaren, the team he left at the end of the turbulent 2007 season.
Martin Whitmarsh insists that there has been no contact with the Spaniard and his camp, but the team boss is happy to confirm that he would love to have him back, and that the door is open. Mischievously he suggests that the Alonso/Raikkonen partnership at Ferrari will not last long, and there is more than a hint that, even if Fernando is not available for 2014, he just might be in 2015, when Honda joins the party.
Quite what the end game is remains to be seen, but apart from creating waves at Ferrari what this little saga does is tell the world that McLaren is as yet unconvinced by Sergio Perez, hired amid much fanfare last year. It also potentially creates a vacancy for another driver who might not be as committed elsewhere as Alonso. I asked Whitmarsh for his thoughts…
Q: Can you clarify the team’s position on Fernando Alonso?
“I was asked yesterday if we would like to sign him, and the answer is I’d love to have that challenge, and I’d love to have that opportunity. We’ll see what happens. At the moment I’m sure he’s under contract with Ferrari, and we’ll see what happens in the longer term, whether he wants to come back or doesn’t. At the moment I’m sure he’s focussed on doing the best job he can for his team. I think it’s one of those stories that has built today. Perhaps there is not much else happening here! I think any team principal if you asked them, ‘Would you like Fernando Alonso in your team?,’ the answer has got to be ‘Yes,’ if they’re sane. I don’t think he’s available right now, but if he ever becomes available, then we’ll see.”
Q: In the last few races you’ve always said we’ve got two great drivers and we’re going to keep them. All of a sudden there seems to be some doubt about Sergio…
“Our two drivers have done a great job in a very difficult year, and I expect we’ll have the same driver line-up next year, that’s my expectation. But we haven’t announced it yet, it’s not all done, and we’ll see what happens.”
Q: Why have you not announced it?
“I think we’ll see, there are other things going on at the moment… We’ll see what happens.”
Q: You said today that he hasn’t beaten Jenson as often as you wanted. That’s the first time we’ve heard any criticism from you.
“It’s an observation. He’s a young driver who wants to make his mark in F1. Jenson is a great benchmark. It’s not easy to beat him, but that’s what you’ve got to set out to try and do. I think he’s disappointed, I’ve had that conversation with him. But we’ll see. Maybe this weekend he can show that he can really do a good job.”
Q: You say there are a lot of other things going on – a cynical view would be that Mexican sponsorship might be related to the delay over his deal.
“No, it’s not a commercial issue at all. I think we want to make sure we’ve got the best driver line-up and everything’s straightforward. There’s no great urgency either. The most likely outcome is no change. But we’ll see.”
Q: You’ve said that you want to respect Ferrari’s position, but in this business it’s every man for himself, and you’ve taken drivers from other teams before.
“I’ve taken drivers in the past if there was a chink, but as far as I know, there’s not one yet!”
Q: Is 2015 slightly more realistic?
“I’ll turn that around. Kimi and Alonso is a dream team at its birth. But does it stay that way for long? I don’t know. You make that judgement yourself, but I think that’s quite an interesting one.”
Q: You could equally say Jenson and Fernando, two World Champions… What makes you think that is more manageable?
“I think it is. I think Jenson is an extraordinary team player.”
Q: It’s as simple as that?
“I think so. Both those drivers, I know them, I’ve seen them in a team, and I also know Jenson, so I do believe that’s a manageable one. But again I don’t have to speculate upon it at the moment. We expect to have the same driver line-up in all probability that we’ve got this year. I’m happy with that, but I’m not rushing into it right now.”
Q: You’ve made it clear that with Honda you’ve got more financial clout in the market. How much of a push from them is there to get two superstars?
“I think they want the two best drivers they can possibly get in the world. We do have more horsepower with them in that sense…”