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GP Week : Issue 211
22 GPWEEK.com // 22 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: There was some serious beard- scratching in the TV pen at suzuka after qualifying on saturday when the BBC's lady interviewer started to grill Fernando Alonso about a possible return to McLaren next year. No doubt F1's favourite Spaniard didn't even realise that he was doing it, but the moment he started unconsciously raking the chin-fluff, he couldn't avoid acknowledging, albeit not in so many words, that she was on the right track with her question. It was all rather charming, and certainly justified the BBC's choice of a female inter viewer for such encounters, because I can say from personal experience that when his inquisitor happens to be male it takes a lot more effort than that to melt Nando's famous Asturian grumpiness. Alonso made much of the fact that while, yes, he was parting company with Ferrari, he now had the luxury of deciding where to take his talents in 2015 and would be making up his mind about things in due course, blah-blah. Arriving in Japan, he certainly held all the cards, for he is widely recognised to be the most complete driver in F1 and one for whom all the major teams would be ready to roll out the welcome mat, not to mention the $20 million or so that would be expected to go with it. Unfortunately for the man who is walking away from Ferrari, the guy who will be replacing him chose to blurt out the news of his own departure from Red Bull on Saturday morning. Sebastian Vettel handles his own management – no omni-present agent, no lawyer at his side in the garage – so no sooner had he texted his decision to Christian Horner than he released the information to the press. Even though we news-hounds have been speculating for weeks about just such a move, it came as jolt to learn that Seb would be invoking an early-break provision in his contract to depart the organisation that has supported his career for the past 15 years and delivered four world championships in as many years. When Red Bull almost instantly announced that Daniil Kvyat would be moving in to Vettel's seat next year, one of the only two logical destinations for Alonso was closed. Either he moves back to McLaren or he takes a sabbatical year away from the sport, a tactic which is seriously unadvisable for a man who is already 33 years old and who readily admits that he has his eye on a couple more titles before he retires. Writing (as I do) before any official confirmation about the recruitments of Vettel or Alonso arrives either from Ferrari or McLaren, I note that there is still plenty of speculation whirling around about how the moves will be handled. It is surely safe to imagine that Vettel sees himself filling the role in red that his hero Michael Schumacher occupied when he moved to Maranello in 1996. There must be doubts, though, whether Marco Mattiacci and James Allison have the talents to lift the Scuderia out of its current swamp that Jean Todt and Ross Brawn exercised almost 20 years ago in helping Schumacher to five successive titles. Alonso, of course, has already spent (squandered?) five years at Ferrari attempting to do exactly what Vettel now has in mind, with just 11 victories and three runner-up WC positions to show for it. At least he knows the set-up at Woking, and he commands great respect there among the engineers. Hanging over his return, however, is the dark shadow of the altercation with McLaren strongman Ron Dennis that he himself triggered in 2007, and which led to the $100 million fine that was levied on the team by the FIA's then-President, Max Mosley. While Dennis was anxious at Suzuka to deny that Alonso had been signed, he made no attempt to deny that negotiations were in hand. He stepped down from his previous close rôle in the management of the team after the 2007 scandal, but resumed a supervisory position this year. Although he is a proud man, and regards himself as having been blackmailed by Alonso seven years ago, the experience and consistency of the Spaniard make him an irresistible asset for new engine partner Honda. And although Alonso has never gone so far as to admit contrition for what happened in 2007, he has shown that since then he has acquired a level of maturity which is rarely to be found in a driver whose dedication to winning remains at the same level that he offered when he made his F1 debut in Melbourne back in 2001. It remains to be seen, of course, how closely Dennis will want to retain his links with the racing team when Alonso moves in. There has been a suggestion that he might call upon his friend and former driver Gerhard Berger to accept a position alongside the excellent Eric Boullier, but any such appointment might lead to the impression in the paddock that he, Dennis, had accepted that Alonso was too much for him to handle. That, I am sure, is not an image that he, a major shareholder in the group, would be willing to offer the world. Assuming that Alonso does re-join McLaren in due course, there would have to be an accommodation with Dennis that enables them both to work together comfortably. But I see no reason why the two of them should not reach such an arrangement, which would be in their own interests. It will, of course, depend on Alonso becoming convinced that Honda's new-for-2015 powerplant has the potential to win races. If that doesn't work out, Alonso's only escape route would lie with Mercedes. If the Hamilton/Rosberg conflict should flare up again, then if Toto Wolff's threats from Spa are to be believed, one or the other them would have to be defenestrated from the team. All most unlikely, of course. But does anyone fancy a resumption of the Hamilton/Alonso sparring partnership which kept us all on our toes last time they were together? has fernandO bet his career On Mclaren? OPINION OPINION MIKE DOODSON ABOVe The Alonso/Dennis relationship was pretty much a disaster in 2007. Will bridges have been mended?