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GP Week : Issue 211
23 GPWEEK.com // 23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: all chanGe please, all chanGe OPINION Anyone shocked by the news that sebastian Vettel has elected to take premature leave of his Red Bull contract can’t have been watching much Formula One this season. For a four-time world champion to be blown away by a recently promoted team mate who was widely expected to slip comfortably into the size number two shoes once worn to death by Mark Webber is something of a humiliation. And one thing competitive animals (also known as racing drivers) hate even more than losing is losing to a team mate they expected to trounce with ease. The minute it became clear that Daniel Ricciardo’s Melbourne podium appearance was not a fuel flow fallacy, Vettel’s Red Bull departure was on the cards. And by the time Seb had suffered the indignity of seeing the ex-Toro Rosso upstart standing on the top step of the podium three times - by which point Captain Pointy Finger had managed only two podium appearances, both on the bottom step - it was time to put the exit strategy into play. And what an exit strategy! After weeks of (false) rumours that the Japanese Grand Prix weekend would see Honda announce that they had signed Fernando Alonso for 2015, Vettel only went and stole the Spaniard’s thunder, and with it any chance Alonso had of staying with the Scuderia until he had evaluated McLaren-Honda’s progress and weighed up his best options for 2016 and beyond. Whether or not Vettel will be able to do a Schumacher and restore Ferrari to their formerly winning ways remains to be seen. But the German racer has time on his side, much as Schumacher did when he made the move from Benetton. As a quadruple world champion at the tender age of 27, Vettel can afford to spend a couple of years helping Maranello develop a winning car. All that he needs is to secure one more world title with a different team and his place in the history books will be assured. Of course, as a racer, as a fighter, Vettel wants to collect as many trophies as he can. But five world titles split between two teams is enough to confirm his status as one of the F1 greats. In contrast, Alonso - acknowledged by all and sundry to be the most complete driver on the grid - has but two titles to his name, and no chance of adding to his tally until 2015 at the earliest, nearly a full decade since his last championship with Renault. And at 33, Alonso is on the downwards slope towards retirement. However strong his desire to win, in his heart of hearts the Spanish racer knows he does not have the time to turn a losing outfit into a winning one. Which is why the widely rumoured move to McLaren for 2015 would be something of a gamble. While rumours of difficulties with the Honda power unit started circulating in force this weekend, it was a year ago at Suzuka that whispers of bureaucratic inefficiencies hampering the engine project first started doing the rounds of the paddock. Alonso was not deaf to the chatter then, and he will not be deaf to it now. And then there’s McLaren’s recent form to consider. While Woking had a competitive car in 2012 - arguably the best of the field in the early part of the season - they threw away their championship chances with a series of botched pit stops and poor pit wall decision-making. In the two years since, the MP4s designed by McLaren Racing have been rather lacklustre, in contrast to the excellent machines being churned out by McLaren Automotive. Red Bull aero whizz Peter Prodromou may have made the move to Woking, but there is no guarantee that his arrival will be the magic bullet the team need to return to their winning ways. The wisest thing for any title-seeker to do is to wait, watch, and wonder. Alonso’s best bet right now is to hope that intra-team relations in the Mercedes garage collapse to such an extent that either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg elect to throw in the towel at the end of this season - contracts be damned - and offer himself to Brackley as a world champion keen to collect trophy after trophy for the Silver Arrows. OPINION KATE WALKER