Alonso and Prodrive central to 2008 driver market

Formula 1

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The news that Prodrive will not be using McLaren’s chassis next year raises more questions about who will be racing in F1 in 2008. Ralf Schumacher is leaving Toyota but his F1 career may not yet be over. Alexander Wurz’s departure opens up a space at Williams.

And of course there is the unresolved question about what Fernando Alonso will do. Return to Renault? Take a sabbatical? Grit his teeth and bear another 12 months at McLaren?

Or could a rumoured rift at Ferrari open the door for Alonso to join the Italian team?


1. Fernando Alonso (2007 driver, expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
2. Lewis Hamilton (2007 driver, expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
T. Pedro de la Rosa (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Gary Paffett (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Alonso is the key to the drivers’ market and Ron Dennis has said there will be no announcement on the Spaniard’s future with the team until after the final round next week. It goes without saying that Alonso and Lewis Hamilton don’t want to remain team mates.

But rumours suggest Alonso is not on the team’s winter testing schedule, which indicates a deal to move him to another team has already been done.

Who would McLaren replace him with? Sponsor Banco Santander would surely want to see a Spanish driver in the car, which could be good news for Pedro de la Rosa. He’s been a test driver with the team for several years and replaced Juan Pablo Montoya for half of last year.

There are doubts over de la Rosa’s speed, though. Nico Rosberg would be a good fit for the team – he’s German, which would fit well with Mercedes (McLaren have not had a German driver during their association with Mercedes), quick and a former karting team mate of Hamilton’s.

Williams wouldn’t give him up easily, but the Grove team might not turn down a big-money offer having made a 28m loss in 2006.

The British press has excitedly suggested that Jenson Button could fill the seat – but two British drivers in one team seems unlikely.

Renault F1 Team

3. Giancarlo Fisichella (contract expires 2007) | biography | articles
4. Heikki Kovalainen (expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
T. Nelson Piquet Jnr, (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Ricardo Zonta (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Heikki Kovalainen has surely done enough to justify his future at the team. Paddock expectations are that Giancarlo Fisichella will be dropped for the returning Alonso.

Even if Alonso goes elsewhere, Fisichella’s days are surely numbered. Kovalainen’s had the beating of him over the balance of the season and Nelson Piquet Jnr has been lobbying hard to get a drive.

Romain Grosjean, current F3 Euroseries championship leader and Renault Development driver, will join the team as test driver next year.

Scuderia Ferrari

5. Felipe Massa (expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
6. Kimi Raikkonen (expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
T. Luca Badoer (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Marc Gen?���?�?� (2007 driver) | biography | articles

The Ferrari line-up seems set – but rumours suggest a struggle for power at the Scuderia between Jean Todt (CEO) and Luca di Montezemolo (President) could change the situation.

It had been suggested that Todt placed Felipe Massa (who is managed by Jean’s son Nicolas) at the team last year as a number two to Michael Schumacher. But Luca di Montezemolo arranged a deal with Kimi Raikkonen that led to Schumacher leaving the team earlier than planned.

Montezemolo’s preferred driver line-up is Raikkonen and Alonso. Massa and the two Todts have been linked to a switch to Toyota.

It may be pure fantasy – but recent remarks from Ferrari may indicate there is some truth in them. Jean Todt last week issued a lengthy statement that seemed to be both praising and defending the team’s performance under his stewardship. Head of track activities Luca Baldisserri, meanwhile, seemed to toe the Montezemolo line by giving Raikkonen the highest praise imaginable – comparing him to Schumacher:

From mid-season to the race that he did today he can be at the same level as Michael. A driver that can do a race like today, such difficult conditions, without making a mistake is a great driver.

Autosport this week blind quoted a driver manager saying, “You wouldn’t believe how smelly it’s getting in there. You have to be careful because if you back the wrong man you will never get a drive at Ferrari.”

But sporting director Stefano Domenicali insisted next year’s drivers will be Raikkonen and Massa. But perhaps the most convincing argument against a Raikkonen-Alonso pairing is that if Alonso was unhappy being given equal treatment with Lewis Hamilton, why should he accept the same with Raikkonen?

Honda Racing F1 Team

7. Jenson Button (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
8. Rubens Barrichello (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
T. Christian Klien (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. James Rossiter (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Honda announced earlier this year that their race driver line-up will remain unchanged.

BMW Sauber F1 Team

9. Nick Heidfeld (2007 drivers) | biography | articles
10. Robert Kubica (expected 2008 driver) | biography | articles
T. Timo Glock (2007 driver) | articles

BMW also announced earlier this year that their race driver line-up will remain unchanged.

Toyota Racing

11. Ralf Schumacher (dropped for 2008) | biography | articles
12. Jarno Trulli (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
T. Franck Montagny (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Kohei Hirate (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Kamui Kobayashi (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Several drivers could conceivably plug the gap at Toyota left by Ralf Schumacher.

Kazuki Nakajima, who has been backed by Toyota for several years, will make his debut for Williams at Brazil this weekend, and if he does well may even end up in the ‘factory’ team.

GP2 champion Timo Glock has also been linked to a drive at the team. Toyota have shown an interest in nabbing Nico Rosberg off Williams, to whom they supply engines and thus have a degree of power over. Rosberg’s statement earlier this year that he wants to drive for Williams in 2008 could be interpreted as a warning to Toyota not to bother.

Red Bull Racing

14. David Coulthard (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
15. Mark Webber (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
T. Robert Doornbos (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Michael Ammermuller (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Red Bull will run Mark Webber and David Coulthard once again next year.


16. Nico Rosberg (expected for 2008) | biography | articles
17. Alexander Wurz (dropped for 2008) | biography | articles
T. Kazuki Nakajima (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Narain Karthikeyan (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Rosberg has said he wants to say – but if McLaren came knocking with a large cheque for Williams he surely wouldn’t turn up the chance of a championship winning car?

Wurz, sadly, has called an end to his comeback year one race short of a full season. If Nakajima does well at Brazil next week he stands a good chance of taking the seat. But even if he does the top GP2 rookie of this year would surely benefit from a second year in the category with a top team to polish off the rough edges and make a title bid.

An outside chance for the seat might be Ralf Schumacher, who drove for the team for several years, and Toro Rosso refugee Vitantonio Liuzzi.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

18. Sebastien Bourdais (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles
19. Sebastian Vettel (confirmed for 2008) | biography | articles

Toro Rosso will partner three-time (soon to be four-time) Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais with Sebastian Vettel having dropped both the drivers it started this year with.

Spyker F1 Team

20. Sakon Yamamoto (2007 driver) | biography | articles
21. Adrian Sutil (on a multi-year deal) | biography | articles
T. Markus Winklehock (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Adrian Valles (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Giedo van der Garde (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Fairuz Fauzy (2007 driver) | biography | articles
T. Roldan Rodriguez (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Spyker will once again be transformed as it has been sold to Indian businessman Vijay Mallya. Adrian Sutil has had a decent rookie year and picked up a point (appeal pending) and deserves a second year.

If the new owners want a home driver in the team pronto the GP2 race winner Karun Chandhok would be a good choice, but giving him another year in GP2 before putting him in the F1 pressure cooker would be smarter.

Narain Karthikeyan has a season’s experience and might also get a look-in. Interestingly, Ralf Schumacher has been named in connection with the team as well – could he be thinking of building a team around himself as Michael did at Ferrari?

Super Aguri F1 Team

22. Takuma Sato (2007 driver) | biography | articles
23. Anthony Davidson (2007 driver) | biography | articles

Super Aguri’s driver plans are likely to revolve around Takuma Sato. Anthony Davidson has impressed on several occasions – not least of which his mighty qualifying effort in Istanbul – and deserves a second season. But will the team have to drop him for a paying driver?


24. TBC
25. TBC

What Prodrive’s plans might be now the McLaren deal is off is anyone’s guess. David Richards suggested they were in discussions with two other teams about a supply of chassis for next year, which may influence their race driver plans.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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25 comments on “Alonso and Prodrive central to 2008 driver market”

  1. Ralf Schumacher is never going to go back to Williams – Frank and Patrick would surely never have him. Patrick has gone on record as saying that Ralf was never the same driver after his big Indy shunt.

    If Toyota had any sense at all they would be offering Ross Brawn a multi-million dollar team boss position, with carte blanche to hire any drivers and technicians he wanted – surely all the money they will be saving by not have Ralf in the car would be better spent on a Ross Brawn.

    Seriously, Brawn, Alonso, and the faithful Trulli in support, stick de la Rosa in the test position (he’s bound to be out of Mclaren)

    Expensive but effective.

  2. I don’t think Rosberg wants to go to McLaren. Like his father has said, it could ruin his career: he is currently a hot prospect in a mid-pack car, but at McLaren he could easily end up as No. 2 in a top team. Once a Number Two, always a Number Two, right Felipe?

  3. I’m not sure Rosberg would be thinking like that at all. If you are in one of the best cars, then you’ve already eliminated most of the competition in the race for the title – if you get a really good car, it’s entirely possible it’s just between you and your teammate. If you already have the defeatist attitude that you’re not going to be able to beat your teammate in a straight fight, that’s what gets you marked out as a perennial number two.

    Besides, you only have to look at Jenson Button’s career progression to see that it does not matter how good you are, if the cars you drive are all midfield or worse, you’re not going to be world champion. It’s very easy to ruin your career with a misplaced sense of loyalty to your current team who aren’t going forwards. It’s so difficult to get a top drive these days anyway you can’t turn it down just because you think you might be beaten. A different example here is Fisi. He was regarded as one of the best drivers not to get a top drive, finally made it to Renault when they were at their peak and got his ass kicked. But at least he got the opportunity to drive for the best team of the day. He still got a few genuine wins out of it – better that than racing cruddy Jordans and Bennettons for your whole career hoping for a fluke.

    If Rosberg did get offered the second Mclaren seat I’d bet he’d take it. More than that, I think he’d be a fool NOT to.

  4. Alonso to renault, with piquet jr, as second pilot. Is what autopista magazine in spain are saying.In japan the renault team, already shown the 2008 car, and the presindent gave green light for a two year deal with the spanish driver. Fisico to williams. And kovalainen? they did not say. May be toyota, or mclaren!!. Anyway, the months after the las race are going to be some of the most interesting i can remember.

  5. I agree with Robert. The most important reason Alonso has been upset this seasaon is that he assumes that McLaren have been being biased against him. He has no evidence of this except for the fact Lewis is beating him. Alonso *knows* in himself that he is the best and so Lewis must be cheating (or being unfairly helped).

    I think all of the best drivers think like this, Nico is no different. He would have no fear going and joining Lewis. He similarly *knows* that he’s better than Lewis.

  6. I think nico rosberg is not yet experinced enough to race for mclaren and it should be jenson button who takes the second seat. I think because it is a british team it should have british drivers.

  7. If all the British-based teams only fielded British drivers there wouldn’t be many non-British drivers in F1!

  8. It was reported the other day that Williams’ finances took a pretty big hit in 2006. Supposedly some new sponsors this year have made up for at least part of that but if they’re still a bit low letting Nico go or hiring Nakajima would be viable ways of getting some cash in.

    And as pointed out above, Nico would probably jump at the chance of a McLaren drive unless he’s got a real good reason that Williams will be competitive soon (as in next year or 2009 at the latest).

  9. Fisi is never going to go to Williams! Frank Williams has had the opportunity to sign him several times, but has never thought him a good enough driver. He certainly wouldn’t want to take a driver who is clearly about to end his career.

    Nico would probably jump at the chance to go to McLaren, but Ron and Frank have never stolen drivers from each other who were still under contract and I don’t expect them to start now – McLaren would have several cheaper options and at the moment Nico just isn’t worth it – after all they’ll still have the World Champ in the other car! :-)

  10. I think the team to watch next year is Toro Rosso. Vettel has demonstrated that he can drive and Bourdais has dominated CART for the last two years he proves he has what it takes. This is a growing team that will score points in 2008.

  11. “Frank Williams has had the opportunity to sign him several times, but has never thought him a good enough driver.”

    Maybe, though you have to take into account the relative position of Williams now as well as Fisi. Williams are not really a major power in F1 at the moment, and thus have to lower their driver expectations a bit. I think Fisi is actually a good bet for them at the moment. I think he’s better than Wurz as a race driver. And I bet that the whole thing will depend on whether he (Frank) hangs onto Rosberg – have one relatively young star driver, and take on a more senior campaigner with plenty of experience who is struggling a bit for a drive and thus probably quite cheap. Lose Rosberg and that might affect who you plump for for the second seat.

    Having said that I think Nakajima will get a Williams seat in ’08 for political reasons with Toyota.

  12. Keith:

    If all the British based teams fielded only British drivers, they may have to run the Formula Ford engines

  13. Let me apologise for Nick Clews, I told him about the website and he is a bit slow.

  14. AmericanTifosi
    10th October 2007, 22:17

    Call me cruel, but I want to see Coulthard, Fisichella, Barrichello, Webber, Sato, Schumacher, and Yamamoto out. Bring in some new talent. It would be great to see 3 or 4 top teams again, not just McLaren and Ferrari.

  15. Ah Oliver, with our technical genius & flair, we’d still win! Unless, of course, uncle Max took a dislike to us.

  16. “they may have to run the Formula Ford engines”

    Don’t worry. If MadMax has his way that’s basically what an F1 engine will be anyways, with 300 pounds of energy recovery systems attached. ;)

    But back on topic. I honestly hadn’t thought of Alonso and Kovalainen swapping seats. I just assumed Alonso would replace Fisichella, who’s bound to be on his way out. Maybe Renault’s 2008 line-up could be Alonso-Piquet Jr.? I imagine Kovalainen would fit in well at McLaren.

  17. The most important reason Alonso has been upset this
    season is that he wanted to get number one status
    and non equal status. Alonso *thinks* in himself that he is the best and obviously is not. This makes him
    look for excuses for his poor performance. This is
    very bad sportmanship indeed.

    I think Alonso was lucky to be in a fast car in the
    last two years. He also had a crap team mate Fisi who supported him a 2nd driver.

    I wish Lewis wins so that Alonso can be punished by
    being recorded as the 1st double world champion to
    be beaten by a rookie. That would teach him a good

    Hope he leaves McLaren and join a mis-fielder team for the rest of his F1 career.

  18. Eric, Alonso has always had prefarential treatment at Renault, Flavio’s golden boy remember, Flavio even had high praise for Fisichella, because according to him, he has no ego problem, and what that means is that he is willing to play supporting role. Heikki on the other hand may not want to be number 2 in that team especially if it means getting substandard equipment.

    I believe Flavio can handle Alonso very well, there is no way he will put up with what Ron has had to these past few months.

  19. There are so many variables , it is definitelly going to be interesting off season :-) With 2 Prodrive seats pretty much gone for 2008 and so many current drivers + Nelson Piquet in a hunt for a seat, I do not see to many brand new faces on the grid in 2008 … Piquet I think will get the drive either in Renault or he or Kovalainen will be offered to McLaren in exchange for Alonso.
    The other new name may appear in Spyker or whatever the team will be called as they may go for an Indian driver.
    Another new name may be in Super Aguri. I agree with Keith that Davidson’s position may be in danger if the team is in need of extra cash from a pay driver.

    All the other teams I expect to be choosing from the current drivers.

    Back to Prodrive – Yes, they may have been talking with 2 other teams besides McLaren, but all their talks I believe were about purchasing customer cars. Richards placed all his eggs to the same basket without even contemplating to build his own cars. There are no 2002 Arrows chassis to be bought in a last minute, I can’t how could he still be able to make it on the grid next year unless there is some last minute breakthrough in the talks about new Concorde Agreement. This all Prodrive thing raises a question, based on what was this team awarded the 12th slot …

  20. “Heikki on the other hand may not want to be number 2 in that team especially if it means getting substandard equipment.”

    Which is why I suggested that Kovalainen would be a good option to replace Alonso at McLaren. I do believe that McLaren try to give their drivers equal treatment, more so than most teams anyways, despite the fact Ron sometimes may have favorites. Such an environment would be ideal for a young driver like Kovalainen, as opposed to a reigning and two-time world champion. And McLaren’s equipment isn’t exactly substandard either. No matter how you look at it, going to McLaren can only be a step up for Heikki.

    As for the number 2 at Renault, I think it’s almost a certainty that Fisichella is on his way out. He was been out-performed by a rookie team mate, and if that’s the case, why not gamble on another rookie to replace him, especially if Alonso returns? Enter Nelson Piquet Jr.

  21. I saw Nelson Piquet Jr talking quite a bit with Christian Horner on Sunday evening in Shanghai. Not sure what could have these 2 be talking about. Red Bull’s line up is set for 2008. Perhaps just a casual chit-chat

  22. Ah but what engines do Red Bull use…

  23. Maybe Christian has had enough of Whinging Webber?

  24. When talking about Webber – anyone seen an official confirmation of Webber in Red Bull for 2008 ?

  25. Of course Webber is confirmed for 2008, the team have said so and you even said “Red Bull’s line up is set for 2008”.

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