McLaren confirmed on December 19th that world champion Fernando Alonso will join the team in 2007. The news comes just days after McLaren announced it had secured Vodafone as title sponsor for the same year. The Woking squad said it was in discussions with current drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya in regard to 2007.
"Its great that our strong belief in the strength and competitiveness of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes package has been further endorsed by the World Champion," said tem principal Ron Dennis. "We always make it clear that we want to be the best and the only way of achieving this objective is by attracting the best people, the best drivers and the best sponsors."
"Fernando and McLaren Mercedes wanted to make the announcement as soon as possible in a controlled and professional manner to allow McLaren Mercedes, Fernando, Kimi and Juan Pablo to focus on the preparations for the 2006 season."
"Our aim for next year remains absolutely clear to everybody within the team -- we want to win races and be in a position where we might have two Formula One World Champions driving for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in 2007."
Alonso became the youngest ever champion with Renault in 2005 after a season-long fight with McLaren and Kimi Raikkonen. While the news of his move to McLaren may be a little surprising, there have been rumours that Renault may quit F1 after 2007. The Spaniard said the chance to join McLaren was too good to pass up.
"To become part of a team with such a desire to succeed and passion for performance is a dream come true for any Formula One driver," Alonso commented. "I'm very excited about 2007 and the fantastic opportunity to drive for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. It will be a new beginning for me and a tremendous challenge and from what I have heard about this exciting new Partnership there is something to look forward to."
"Obviously I will be sad to leave Renault but sometimes possibilities come along which are just too good to miss. I'm pleased that we are able to make this announcement already now as it will allow my current team and I to focus 100 per cent on defending the World Championships next year."
Renault president Patrick Faure said he understood Alonso's decision: "I was disappointed to learn of Fernando's decision but, by the end of 2006, he will have spent five seasons with Renault. Fresh challenges are essential for any sportsman, and he has taken the decision to pursue a new direction in his career. That is part of Formula 1, and part of life."
Now we have to wait and see who Alonso's teammate will be at McLaren. Rumour has it that Raikkonen is planning to head to Ferrari in 2007, so it could be that McLaren have secured Alonso as the Finn's replacement. However, for the moment it's only speculation.