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Alonso frustrated by rumours, considering Honda - which way to go?

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Alonso frustrated by rumours, considering Honda - which way to go?
Sep 23, 2014, 11:52 AM

When there is an earthquake, there are always aftershocks.

When there is an earthquake, there are always aftershocks.

The earthquake at Ferrari was the ousting of Luca di Montezemolo last week after 23 years as president, the aftershocks in the F1 team are the moments of instability in evidence now, the questions of what happens next and whether their lead driver Fernando Alonso stays with the team.

It doesn't take a professor of body language to detect that Fernando Alonso was uneasy this weekend in Singapore. Rumours that he was considering a seat swap with Sebastian Vettel got him worked up on Thursday, the snarl was there on the lips as he dealt with the persistent undertone that he isn't a team player and that he's asking for an exorbitant fee for a contract renewal beyond 2016,

Fernando Alonso

"I respect Ferrari a lot and I try to create a good atmosphere in the team with the guys - from going out to dinner to playing basketball, playing poker, whatever - to ensure we are united," he said. 'It's what we need, and it's what people expect from us driving for Ferrari.

'So when all these things come from Italy, it's not really clear what the purpose is. It's sad when it comes from Italy, or they create these rumours for some strange purpose, which is not helping Ferrari.'

There are forces within the Ferrari structure, in other words, which want Alonso out, to be replaced by a younger four times world champion Vettel. Niki Lauda has told Marchionne that if they let Alonso go they will never be able to rebuild the Ferrari team.

Alonso meanwhile is surveying the landscape around him and weighing up his next two years - will the Mattiacci plan work? Will James Allison and his team build a faster car next year? And more urgently, can the engine department learn from the mistakes of 2014 and build a more potent engine, with a great big turbo and short exhausts like the Mercedes?

As happened after the earthquake of Enzo Ferrari's death in 1988, the aftershocks involve a different feel around the Ferrari team; greater FIAT influence on things, which historically has not been a positive.

It's no co-incidence that Ferrari's most successful period was when Jean Todt was in charge of the Gestione Sportiva, because he was a strong leader, but particularly because he was like a steel umbrella, protecting the team from Montezemolo and from the Italian media in particular. The engineers, drivers and team were allowed to get on with their work - and what work it was!

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 10.42.58

That's what Alonso needs now, it's what Allison and his team also need now, to be allowed to get on with their work. Can Mattiacci provide that protection? He's a strong man, but does he know enough of this F1 world to steer the correct course from this moment on and more importantly, can he shield the team from FIAT and media interference?

Already Sergio Marchionne, the man who ousted Montezemolo, has had enough things to say about the Ferrari F1 team to show that he isn't going to be a "hands off" chairman.

He looks like a man in a hurry; Detroit one day, Turin the next. Ferrari needs stability and time for the good people already there to do their work.

Alonso will also be disappointed at some of the rejections, which apparently have come in this year from engineers whom Ferrari has attempted to lure to the team. There have been some acceptances too and the team say we should expect some news about the names coming in, but one senses from Italian colleagues that the rejections tell their own story.

Fernando Alonso Ron Dennis

The McLaren Honda offer is there for Alonso if he can bring himself to work with Ron Dennis again. The Honda element is pushing hard to persuade him and it might be what swings it, but he will be concerned about the way the McLaren design office has flatlined in recent years. The arrival of Peter Prodromou from Red Bull is a positive and there are others, but 2015 pre-season testing is little over four months away and there is nothing to suggest that McLaren will be able to find 1.5 seconds in the chassis to close the gap in that time. Time is racing.

According to Italian colleagues, Ferrari doesn't want to give Alonso some of the guarantees he is seeking and Alonso has told Ferrari he wants to leave. Mattiacci said cryptically on Sunday night that Alonso was set to stay with the team "for the moment".

Veteran F1 journalist Pino Allievi told me at the weekend that if Alonso wants to leave, with two years of contract with Ferrari still outstanding, then he has to pay €30 million. Honda would sign that off without hesitation, sources suggest.

In the days when Ross Brawn ran Honda's F1 team, they identified Alonso as the main target but could never get him. That desire has not diminished.

Alonso will be looking more at his best prospect for 2016, not 2015, as next year will be Honda's first year back, while Mercedes is believed to have another step on the power unit to keep it ahead of the field.

McLaren engineering director Mat Morris admitted today that McLaren is some way behind, "The feeling within the team is a mix of great excitement and measured concern," he said. "We’re making some bold new moves, which is what was required, but such things always take time, and we’re still a long way behind where we need to be as McLaren. But we’re definitely moving forwards – that’s the most important thing.”

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari

If Alonso takes the Honda bait can Ferrari get Vettel, who is earmarked to replace him, for 2015 or will they have to wait until 2016? Vettel's contract with Red Bull has one more year to run. Red Bull will certainly not make it easy for him to leave, he is linked with their sponsors like Infinti, but all things are negotiable.

One senses also that Vettel at Ferrari is what Bernie Ecclestone would like to see, much as he did almost 20 years ago with Michael Schumacher.

Vettel, like Alonso, clearly needs a change of air, a fresh challenge. Red Bull is in the strong position of having Daniel Ricciardo ready to lead the team and Daniil Kvyat on standby. The Russian looks an outstanding prospect, it is generally acknowledged in the F1 paddock.

They would prefer Kvyat to have another year of learning at Toro Rosso before being parachuted into a Red Bull, but Vettel only did one full season at Toro Rosso before his promotion and that didn't work out too badly...

Can we expect an earthquake in F1 before the end of this season? It's looking more possible than it was, but there is still time for those with most to lose from such an earthquake to negotiate a deferral, if not a permanent way out of it.
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Series Formula 1
Drivers Fernando Alonso Shop Now
Teams Ferrari Shop Now