The strongest assertion that Fernando Alonso could be leading McLaren’s Honda revival came via Ron Dennis’s comments to Italian media last weekend, indicating his would be open to a reunion with the double World Champion.
“Fernando would be welcome back at McLaren. You’re surprised that I’m talking about Fernando? I don’t have any problem,” said Dennis. “The most important thing is for us to win again… In 2015 we have a Honda engine and we need a great driver.”
Responding to praise from rival team-principals over the weekend, Alonso took the opportunity to make a thinly-veiled attack on Ferrari. Saying to AUTOSPORT: “It’s sometimes strange to see good comments and compliments from people from outside, and the opposite from people who are supposed to be close to you.”
The Alonso/McLaren/Honda rumour isn’t new and was first broken by – then – McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh at the Singapore Grand Prix in September 2013. Many of the directives Dennis has implemented since re-taking the reins of McLaren were orchestrated by Whitmarsh – including the signing of Kevin Magnussen.
“Let’s be honest, 2007 was fairly acrimonious at the end. A lot of passions were raised but we’re in a different circumstance now,” said Whitmarsh in 2013. “From my perspective there’d be no impediment, but from Fernando’s… I hope not. I doubt it. We’re perfectly cordial when we talk. He wants to win and he wants an environment around him that’s based on winning.”
When quizzed as to whether anyone at McLaren had approached Fernando or his management, Whitmarsh laughed and quipped “Are you a lawyer?”
He went on to add: “Fernando’s under contract as far as I know but we’ll see. We’re open to opportunity and we’ve proved that in the past… We’re interested but at the moment we have to be respectful of what’s happening at Ferrari and see how it pans out.”
Exactly what’s happening at Ferrari is that his 2015 contract is based on codicillary performance targets. Whilst Fernando is currently third in the driver’s standings, he can reasonably contend this is down to his own performance rather than Ferrari’s – who are now a whopping 162 points in arrears of Mercedes. Having Raikkonen languishing in 12th on a meagre 17 points will only aid his cause during negotiations should he decide to jump ship. A McLaren-Honda partnership would also be an emotionally attractive prospect for Fernando given the history associated with his idol Ayrton Senna.
Should Fernando move aside, Ferrari would have a replacement in Marussia driver – and Ferrari Academy graduate – Jules Bianchi – who Fernando was quick to praise after earning his first F1 points last weekend at Monaco.
“We spend a lot of time together in Maranello, we play football, we cycle and we travel together for some races” Fernando said to AUTOSPORT.
“I am extremely happy for him and very proud for what this result will mean for his career. I have no doubts it will be a good career, but hopefully with this result he can have a more competitive car next year and show his talents even more.”
Images courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari and Octane Photographic.