The news today that Fernando Alonso has signed a new five year contract keeping him with Ferrari until the end of 2016 has been met with an interesting reaction in the Barcelona paddock.
Alonso himself appeared in the press conference and said that the whole process of contract renewal had taken only two weeks from start to finish. His reason for committing the rest of his career to the Scuderia was very clear, “I think the intention is to keep enjoying racing, ” he said. “For sure, I think I’m in the best team possible to fight for World Championships. I think some other teams go up and down. They have good years and bad years. At Ferrari, in the worst season you finish third or second in the World Championship, so this is something that Ferrari can offer to a driver.”
There have been a range of views on this in the paddock this afternoon from drivers and others. There is speculation about what might be linked to the deal, Santander’s long term funding, for example and one wonders what engineers from other teams Alonso might have identified as targets for Ferrari to hire, as team and driver opt for stability and growth.
There was also speculation about whether the contract specified what series Alonso would be racing in with Ferrari, the threat of a breakaway lurking quietly in the background as the negotiations over F1’s commercial future continue.
It is clear that there is quite a statement being made here by Ferrari and there is a political dimension to it as well; it says to Bernie Ecclestone, CVC and the FIA that Ferrari is in control of one of the sport’s leading drivers, another leading F1 asset under its control.
Michael Schumacher was unaware of the news until he was asked about it this afternoon in a press briefing. As a man who had a 10 year love affair with Ferrari, did he feel like he would if another man made a long term commitment to his former girlfriend? He said, “Not really, I believe in continuity for success and I’m sure he feels very comfortable there”.
Lewis Hamilton’s reaction was fascinating; asked if he was sad that this meant he wouldn’t driver for Ferrari he said, “Why not?” He added that he would have no problem racing alongside Alonso again, although he doubted that the feeling was mutual. “I’ll beat him in a different car,” said Alonso’s 2007 McLaren team mate.
Nico Rosberg, whose name is forever being linked with possible deals at all the top teams, was asked whether he could imagine himself committing to a five year deal with a team if the circumstances were right. “I could..” he said, thoughtfully. “But it is a very long time.”
Jenson Button, who is now 31 years old, agreed that five years is a long time when you do not know what is around the corner, “How does he know what he’s going to want to do in five years? That is the thing I can’t believe. Why does he need to sign a five-year contract?” said Button.
“Five years is long. We don’t know what’s going to happen in five years’ time do we? I’m not very good at planning that far into the future.”
Ferrari is, however and the news has been received with rapture in Italy; the team that is always there or thereabouts has secured the driver who is always there or thereabouts.