It was a busy Sunday. Up early to watch Sebastian Vettel win the Singapore Grand Prix and dash off a report (see two posts down) and then into the car to drive to the Peterborough-area Kawartha Speedway for the final race of the 2013 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series season. Scott Steckly of Milverton became the first three-time NASCAR Canada national champion (see next post down for that story).
So following the stock car race, I’m walking through the infield at Kawartha after interviewing Steckly when some of the people who read my stuff – apparently – wave me over for a chat. They don’t agree with my thesis that Alonso will leave Ferrari at the end of the season and be driving for McLaren in 2014.
So, here is my full and complete thinking on this matter.
Team McLaren is up the creek. They have two guys driving for them this year, Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, who have done absolutely nothing. Not a podium between them. If you were Martin Whitmarsh, would you really be all that keen to bring both of them back for another year?
Of course not. You want somebody who, by hook or by crook, is going to drive the wheels off that car of yours and, through sheer determination and will, get it to the front, or close to the front.
There is no other driver in Formula One today who can do that but Fernando Alonso. Perhaps Sebastian Vettel can do that too, but we don’t know because he’s always been in the best car. Alonso has been saddled the last two years with a Ferrari that can’t get the job done but he’s made it close. Boy, has he made it close. McLaren people salivate when they think about what Alonso could do for them.
As well, with Honda engines coming, McLaren want their team leader in place as early as possible so that he knows the team, knows the factory, knows the setup. McLaren is gearing up for a Great Leap Forward and they need a winner to lead the way and that winner is Alonso.
Alonso is a two-time world champion who is looking for a team to support him and a car that can win. In Ferrari, he has not had the car. They can promise to do better all they want but every year the Red Bull runs away and hides on them.
If you are a two-time world champion and all you get are promises, you tend to get a little snarly on occasion. When that happens, the team gets miffed. Alonso has been publicly rebuked once this season after he mouthed off and who knows how many other times he’s been on the carpet in private?
He doesn’t want to hang around. He doesn’t think they want him all that badly. He’s right; they don’t.
Now, F1 is the most political, nasty, dog-eat-dog environment you will find anywhere. And the pirhanas (author Timothy Collings called the power brokers in F1 "the Pirhana Club" in a book in 2004) frequently use the media to send messages to each other.
In a story in the Guardian two days ago, Whitmarsh all but said Alonso would be in the McLaren next season. Asked in an interview on Sky TV if he would sign Alonso to drive for McLaren, Whitmarsh said:
"Yes, if I could. I think most teams up and down this pitlane would happily sign Fernando Alonso. He's a very talented driver.
"I expect next year our driver lineup to stay the same but we are open to anything (my italics). And in the longer term, then he'd be a great asset. I think Fernando's in control of his own destiny, but we'll see."
For his part, Alonso said he’d happily agree to a contract extension with Ferrari. (Norris note: Ho, ho, ho.) But you would expect he'd say that, because he’s certainly not going to leave Ferrari till the end of the season and he’s undoubtedly been threatened with large fines if he so much as suggests he’s not as happy as all-getout with his current employer. (Don’t believe me that racing teams do things like that? Ask Paul Tracy sometime about his last year at Team Kool Green.)
To stick it to Alonso, and to force him to eventually quit, Ferrari goes out and hires Kimi Raikkonen to replace Felipe Massa in 2014. Massa is a happy No. 2; Raikkonen is a No. 1 driver and always will be. There is no way he will return to Ferrari and not consider himself equal to the current No. 1, Alonso.
And we know what happened the last time there were co-No. 1s in a team that Alonso was on. That was in 2007 when Alonso signed with McLaren as No. 1 and Ron Dennis brought up his personal protege, Lewis Hamilton, and treated him like he was No. 1. It was a ghastly, miserable year for Alonso and I guarantee you that he will not go through another year like that again.
So, McLaren needs a tiger to be No. 1; Alonso needs to be No. 1 in a team. It will soon be a marriage made in heaven. Trust me.
OTHER RACING: A friend of mine sent me a text before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship started. It contained two words: Matt Kenseth. My pal is batting 1.000 as Kenseth has won both Chase races to date. For details of Sunday’s round at New Hampshire, please click here. Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, 19-year-old Ryan Blaney (son of Dave Blaney, the Sprint Cup driver) won the Nationwide Series race. Austin Dillon was second and Matt Crafton finished third. What’s interesting about that race (click here for the full story) is that it was held at a speedway far away from where the Sprint Cup race was located and that meant there weren’t any Sprint Cup drivers in the field – which is the way it’s supposed to be. Many of the drivers (Blaney and Crafton, for instance,) usually race in the Camping World Truck Series but got to move up because the Big Stars were busy elsewhere. I interviewed Blaney when the Camping World Series was at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park over Labour Day weekend and he’s a great young guy. The future of big league stock car racing is safe with young guys like that on the way up.