McLaren’s one-year relationship with Alonso ended in animosity during Lewis Hamilton’s debut season in Formula One. Claims of favouritism towards Hamilton and the infamous Spygate saga (thought to have been initiated by Alonso) cast a pall over their time together. Despite this, Whitmarsh was clear that no bad blood remained between the two parties and would be keen to reignite the association.
“In 2007 I was there and let’s be honest it was fairly acrimonious at the end. A lot of passions were raised but we’re under a different set of circumstances now. From my perspective there’s no impediment, but whether there is from Fernando’s… I hope not. I doubt it. We’re perfectly cordial when we talk and he wants to win. He wants an environment around him that’s based on winning.”
McLaren famously poached Alonso from under the nose of Renault towards the end of 2006 whilst under the stewardship of Flavio Briatore, but Whitmarsh made it clear he had no intention to perform a similar move while Fernando was still contracted at Maranello.
“We’re interested, but I think we have to be respectful of what’s happening at Ferrari and see how it pans out.”
When questioned as to whether Whitmarsh had already met with lawyers (or via an intermediary agent) for Alonso as recently as last night, Martin was playfully dismissive.
“No I was drunk at a bar last night”, joked Whitmarsh. “If they were lawyers they didn’t tell me… In all probability our driver line-up will remain unchanged but we’ll see. They’ve worked long and hard through a difficult season. They deserve another go, but again we’ll see what happen.”
If a driver was to make way for Alonso, Whitmarsh made it clear – at the very least – that Sergio Perez was most at risk given his inability to fulfil specific performance targets set out by McLaren.
“Sergio has come into Formula One with a tremendous benchmark in Jenson. But if you’re a young charger like Sergio, frankly he knows – and I know – that he has to come in and beat him and he hasn’t done that consistently enough” offered a forthright Martin.
As recent as yesterday, both McLaren drivers publicly claimed to already have deals in place for 2014. Whitmarsh was however unwilling to commit to any deals beyond twelve months.
“I think they both wanted to talk about it for some reason, but we’ll know in the next few weeks about next year at least.”
Should Fernando want to return to McLaren, such a move would require a season-early break in contract from Ferrari. Certainly such a shift wouldn’t take place in 2014 given a number of factors. Firstly, decamping from a Ferrari outfit consisting of James Allison and Pat Fry during a major technical change would amount to career suicide. Secondly, committing to McLaren during the final throws of their Mercedes relationship could potentially see him piloting a ‘thrift-shop’ powertrain in the relative scheme of things before the McLaren/Honda partnership comes into effect in 2015.
On the subject of Honda, Whitmarsh was more duteous to his current supplier and cautious not to make any waves during McLaren’s final season with Mercedes. However, Honda’s ability to test without restrictions during 2014, whilst accrueing valuable information before the McLaren/Mercedes association terminates, would be an attractive proposition for any driver.
“We don’t want to talk too much about that era at the moment because we’re respectful to Mercedes Benz” Martin said. “We have our twentieth year with them next year and we want to win with Mercedes Benz. But clearly Honda is a game changer for us in lots of different ways.”
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic