• Feature

Going nowhere fast

Nate Saunders
June 2, 2014
An item for Fernando Alonso's birthday list again this year? © Getty Images
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Ferrari's PR department may well have leapt for joy when they saw Nico Rosberg finish Monaco qualifying in the Mirabeau slip road. The bad blood which followed at Mercedes provided a compelling narrative for the rest of the weekend and buried the news everyone had been talking about earlier that week, which centred around a certain Fernando Alonso.

The news had triggered with Alonso's cryptic comments in response to praise from Mercedes chairman Dieter Zetsche, saying he did not feel like he received the same support from those closest to him. Ferrari issued a gushing reply from Luca di Montezemolo, stating Alonso is "the best driver in the world, who always gives 200% in races".

The statement suggested various things, notably that Montezemolo is terrified of losing Alonso after failing to provide him a competitive car yet again this season. Ferrari's reported big-money pursuit of Red Bull technical guru Adrian Newey would support that hypothesis. Alonso caused a stir in 2013 by joking that he would like "somebody else's car" for his birthday and he may well wish for similar this year.

If Alonso's eyes have started to wander again, ESPN looks at the likely destinations for the Spaniard and whether there is much hope of him finding a drive away from Maranello.

Mercedes

Mercedes kicked off the Alonso speculation in two ways; first came Toto Wolff's statement that Alonso was a "racing monster" capable of just about anything in a motor car, followed by chairman Zetsche saying Alonso was "probably the best driver" on the current grid. The statements were bound to cause a stir in the paddock, even before Montezemolo's response, and could be interpreted as an attempt to court a man who made very public his dissatisfaction at Ferrari in 2013.

© Sutton Images
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On the surface it is hard not to like the idea. The only team-mate to genuinely challenge Alonso consistently in his career is Lewis Hamilton, so much so that it caused the Spaniard to destroy his opportunity at McLaren in 2007 and spend two years languishing at an uncompetitive Renault as a result. Hamilton was an incredible coup for Mercedes when they signed him in late 2012 so it is next to impossible to imagine the team would dump him so soon, meaning Nico Rosberg would appear the most likely to go.

But it seems equally unlikely Mercedes would turn its back on Rosberg, a German driver who has been with the team since the beginning in 2010 and has reportedly signed a two-year contract extension. Then there is the team harmony to consider. Mercedes has already spent the last weeks fighting fires between Hamilton and Rosberg. Replace Rosberg with Alonso and the situation could resemble something of a towering inferno.

Red Bull

The rumour mill was in overdrive half way through 2013 about Alonso replacing Mark Webber at Red Bull. By some accounts Alonso pushed hard to join and Red Bull gave serious consideration to the idea before opting for Daniel Ricciardo. It is hard to know what Vettel would have made of being team-mates with Alonso - he did a good job of staying tight-lipped on the subject last year - but his growing frustration this year suggests he would not have handled the challenge of a competitive former world champion all that well.

Choosing Ricciardo is already a decision which is paying dividends for Red Bull and meant the team continued its tried and tested formula of promoting youngsters from its drivers' programme. With Daniil Kvyat impressing for Toro Rosso and the likes of Alex Lynn and Carlos Sainz Jr also on the books in other series, if a seat was available it seems unlikely Red Bull would want to overlook one of its own junior drivers with F1 opportunities already at a premium.

Add to that the reputation Alonso brings as a man who likes to build a team around himself and you have a problem for a team which spent so long managing the frosty relationship between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.

McLaren

Alonso's move to McLaren in 2007 was supposed to be a platform to a third world title but ended in acrimony after just one year, his reputation tarnished and his relationship with Ron Dennis seemingly damaged beyond repair. The problems stemmed from a rookie Hamilton having the gall to challenge Alonso not only for race wins but for the title, before taking an ugly turn when the Spaniard threatened to go to the FIA with information relating to the spygate scandal.

© Getty Images
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But there may yet be hope for Alonso yet. Despite their rocky relationship Dennis said "never say never" when asked about Alonso coming back to McLaren at the end of last year. The arrival of Honda engines could well open the door for Alonso if the engine manufacturer wanted to mark its return next season with a marquee driver signing.

Whether Alonso would see McLaren as a step sideways or backwards is another question. McLaren clearly has the resources to get back to the front but, like Ferrari, it has been a worryingly long time since it delivered its drivers a car with championship-winning potential. Jenson Button's contract runs until the end of this season but almost certainly has an option for another, while it would take a remarkable downturn in form for the team to consider dumping the promising Kevin Magnussen after just one season.

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