Alonso won’t rule out a sab­bat­i­cal

The dou­ble cham­pion might take a year out if McLaren’s 2016 car isn’t up to scratch – ac­cord­ing to his own boss

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

McLaren chair­man Ron Den­nis has raised the prospect of Fer­nando Alonso tak­ing a year away from For­mula 1 in 2016. Den­nis made the com­ments dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the sea­son-end­ing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when asked whether there was any pos­si­bil­ity Alonso might not race next year if Honda’s en­gine re­mains se­ri­ously un­com­pet­i­tive.

The ques­tion arose from the events of the Ja­panese GP, af­ter which Alonso said he “didn’t know” if he would race for McLaren next sea­son, but later put out a se­ries of Tweets, end­ing with: “No­body should be un­der any doubt I have three years with McLaren and will end my ca­reer with this team, hope­fully win­ning ev­ery­thing.”

The fact that Alonso did not spec­ify which three years left open the pos­si­bil­ity of a year off. This was pointed out to Den­nis, who replied: “He will definitely fin­ish his ca­reer in a McLaren. I have an open mind to any­thing.

“Some of the ideas have in­volved those sorts of con­sid­er­a­tions, sab­bat­i­cal years, etc, but at this mo­ment in time I would say we be­lieve we know where we’ll be and we nav­i­gated a dif­fi­cult week­end in re­spect of our driv­ers.

“I took a high level of flak out of that week­end. It was a chal­lenge to nav­i­gate through it.

“We have a num­ber of driver op­tions. We have two of the best driv­ers in the world in our cars. When we have to take the de­ci­sion, we will take it to­gether and at this mo­ment our driv­ers next year are Fer­nando and Jenson But­ton.”

The men­tion of a year off, and the equiv­o­cal tone, caused an in­evitable storm – and huge con­ster­na­tion within McLaren, where se­nior team mem­bers won­dered what on earth Den­nis was play­ing at. The way Alonso re­sponded to the is­sue be­ing raised hardly damp­ened down spec­u­la­tion ei­ther. He de­scribed Den­nis’s com­ments as “weird”, and said it was his “in­ten­tion” to race in 2016. But he also ad­mit­ted that he and Den­nis had dis­cussed what he de­scribed as a “crazy” idea “three or four months ago” and when in­vited to com­pletely rule out the idea of a year off, he re­fused.

Con­fus­ing the mat­ter fur­ther, the fol­low­ing day Alonso ab­so­lutely ruled it out, say­ing: “I will be rac­ing, that is 100 per cent. It’s very clear.”

Den­nis, mean­while, also en­gaged re­verse gear. On Sun­day in Abu Dhabi, he gave a BBC TV in­ter­view in which he blamed the me­dia for “spin­ning” his com­ments, and claimed he had said things in the news con­fer­ence that he had not – namely that other driv­ers had taken sab­bat­i­cals, and that he had fin­ished his an­swer by say­ing “there is no ques­tion that Fer­nando and Jenson are our driv­ers for next year”.

So what was go­ing on? By char­ac­ter, the McLaren chair­man is no strate­gist, but rather a tac­ti­cal op­por­tunist. He must have seen a chance to put the idea out there, and the only rea­son to do that could be that he thinks it is a pos­si­bil­ity, how­ever dis­tant. Plus Den­nis never likes to ap­pear as if he is not in con­trol. So the most likely ex­pla­na­tion is that Alonso and Den­nis did dis­cuss the idea of a sab­bat­i­cal given that Alonso ad­mit­ted it when asked di­rectly.

So when did this take place? In Abu Dhabi, Alonso said: “All our in­ten­tion and our minds are into next year and we feel now much more pos­i­tive than three or four months ago with the re­cent pace of the car. So it is some­thing we didn’t dis­cuss for four or five months al­ready.”

That sug­gests mid-sum­mer – an aw­fully long time ago for Den­nis to be bring­ing it up now. So they must have dis­cussed it more re­cently than that. And the sus­pi­cion has to be that was at the Ja­panese Grand Prix.

For a start, that was the last race Den­nis at­tended be­fore Abu Dhabi. Fur­ther­more, it was a week­end when there was spec­u­la­tion swirling about Alonso’s fu­ture – which the driver him­self only height­ened with his post-race com­ments.

Could Alonso have raised the idea with Den­nis, then said some­thing along the lines of: “I’m still com­mit­ted to the McLaren-Honda project, but I can’t face an­other year of this. If the car’s still un­com­pet­i­tive in 2016, why don’t we de­lay the fi­nal two years of my con­tract un­til 2017 and 2018 in­stead?”

That may never come out, of course. But if noth­ing else, McLaren’s pre-sea­son test­ing pro­gramme is now guar­an­teed even more at­ten­tion than it would al­ready have re­ceived.

Alonso: “No­body should be un­der any doubt I have three years with McLaren and will end my ca­reer with this team”

Ron Den­nis: “We have a num­ber of driver op­tions… When we take the de­ci­sion we will take it to­gether”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.