Fernando Alonso today committed his future to the Ferrari team, with a five year deal which will take him though to the age of 35. Alonso spoke of “ no doubt ending my F1 career” at Ferrari.
Apart from an impressive rally last Autumn, where the car was developed into a competitive enough package to allow him to win races and challenge for the title, so far the overall balance sheet for Ferrari with Alonso has not matched expectations. The two times champion has had to be patient as the team overcomes calibration issues with the wind tunnel and a restructuring of the technical management.
Alonso’s commitment to Ferrari is therefore a bold statement of faith on both sides. Like Vettel’s new three year contract with Red Bull, these commitments are the cornerstone of both teams’ medium/long term plans.
The other driver of that calibre, who has yet to decide his long term plans, is Lewis Hamilton.
McLaren are delighted with the pairing of Hamilton and Button, as are their sponsors and all the signs are that they intend to stick with it. However there are some destabilising forces, such as Red Bull’s management, which enjoys dropping compliments and hints about Hamilton joining their squad.
The question is; are they serious, or just trying to destabilise McLaren? And is Hamilton listening? The Englishman dismissed Red Bull as merely ‘a drinks manufacturer’ recently, but their continued domination on the track argues differently and Hamilton is in a position, in which many leading drivers have found themselves in the past; needing to decide whether to stick with McLaren because they are always there or thereabouts, or to try to get himself in the best car.
Hamilton’s idol, Ayrton Senna, won three world titles with McLaren, but eventually moved to Williams in 1994 because they had dominated the sport for the two previous seasons with their Adrian Newey designed car. Hamilton is eager to match Senna’s three titles, but his opposition is fierce and he needs to know that he will have access to a winning car.
Red Bull don’t need Hamilton in order to win because they have Vettel (and Newey). But this is a company which has always done things differently and Hamilton’s appeal to them would be enormous and it would re-energise the team, if they could persuade him to move at the end of 2012. Should this start to look like a reality, a new one year deal for Mark Webber would bridge the gap before Hamilton’s arrival.