Peter Windsor on the loss of Alonso to Formula 1
Although Fernando might say that he made his decision to quit F1 “months ago”, I’ll bet my autographed copy of Jim Clark at the Wheel that he made up his mind only when Renault told him they weren’t interested.
In other words, the second-biggest name in F1 would be racing in 2019 if only some of the powerbrokers had found the time to stop munching their lunches in dark-windowed motorhomes and for once done something useful.
I note that Fernando has thanked Chase Carey of Liberty for trying to persuade him not to leave F1. I don’t doubt that Carey used his best endeavours – but trying to convince Fernando to spend another year in the midfield with Mclaren is very different from getting your hands dirty and brokering a deal for Fernando to drive the lead, factory Renault.
Because that’s what should have happened. The new owners of F1 should have realised that the “influence” needed to place Fernando at Renault and Daniel back at Red Bull would have been chicken-feed relative (a) to the uplift this would have given the championship and (b) to the money that no doubt will be spent on new engines and new car regulations over the next few years.
And let’s not forget the words of Renault’s President, Carlos Ghosn, to Nigel Roebuck, a year ago in Paris: “We would kill to have Alonso….”
There are those who say that Bernie Ecclestone would have made it happen. I don’t buy that. We knew how Bernie’s brain was working when Seb Vettel left Red Bull at the end of 2014. That was the perfect time to place Fernando at Red Bull – yet Bernie did nothing and left Mclaren to do their worst.
In fairness to Bernie, we should remember that he never made driver placement his thing. Yes, he once put Jacques Villeneuve in a Sauber when he felt the midfield needed a boost; and he was always sympathetic to the odd Brazilian driver or two. Generally speaking, however, Bernie’s approach to racing drivers was pretty raw: they were dispensable and they could be re-created overnight.
Liberty, though, are different. Their mandate from the start has been to make F1 The Greatest Show on Earth. Liberty’s John Malone didn’t start life in second-hand car yards; his empire grew directly from the media business – from radio, TV and cable.
Which is why The Show is so critical to Liberty. As an organisation they’re clearly not cut out for under-the-table deals. They crave a nice, clean, globally watched show that generates billions in sponsorship and TV revenue.
Which brings me back to Fernando. You would have thought that a driver line-up that includes Ricciardo-verstappen and Alonsosainz (I suspect Fernando would have loved to have had Carlos in the other car) would be much better for The Show than will be Verstappen-gasly/ricciardo-hülkenberg?
And please don’t think that the teams are not open to persuasion. It’s just that it’s easier, as I say, to focus on the gravlax and the second glass of Château Lafite than it is to sit down with Renault and Red Bull to see how they can work together to make an Alonso deal happen. It would have involved serious influence – but it would have been influence well-spent at a time when pay-tv audiences are continuing to decline and Alonso himself is going to be generating major viewing stats elsewhere. And as a double-whammy you would still have had Daniel scoring a win or three at RBR.
“But Renault didn’t want Alonso – and vice versa!” I hear you say. Nonsense. Of course Fernando’s difficult. You’d have to be a cretin, though, not to appreciate how good he is on race days. As for Fernando: don’t make me laugh. You’re telling me that he would have refused a number-one drive at Renault for the right money? Maybe, if he was retiring… but he’s not. He still wants to race. It’s just that he doesn’t want to race where he is….
Bottom line: leave it to the teams and, generally speaking, it’ll be a mess. They will act only in their own interest and not in the interest of F1 as a show. Ergo, Liberty should be the only game in town when it comes to seeing the bigger picture.
Problem is, they haven’t been watching it. No previous commercial rights holder “interfered” with team-driver negotiations, so why should they?
“Why shouldn’t they?” is the better question. A few years ago, I suggested in a Christmas edition of F1 Racing that an F1 of
the future should feature a driver auction before every race. And I still think it’s a great idea: no driver can be hired by the same team for two consecutive races; the auction becomes a huge TV event – watched globally, live, with teams saving wild cards or hiring jokers as they wish. The build-up is full of unknowns and suspense. Every driver at some point races quick cars and back-of-the-grid makeweights. The best drivers are paid the most – but the salary scale (auction price), in effect, is based on results – and the total amount of money spent is self-regulating, so there is no need for dead-end concepts such as budget caps. Such a format would be perfect for Liberty Media. It is about marketing, promotion, pay-tv, social media and huge numbers.
We’re a long way from that; indeed, given the way most F1 people think, it will probably never happen.
The Alonso move, however, would have been do-able and great for the fans. More fans mean more TV viewers, more sponsors and more revenue – in Spain where pay TV and Alonso’s poor car performance in recent years have been killing the country’s F1 profile, but also worldwide, for the Fernando name is still that big.
Most of all, though, it would have seen a promoter actually promoting. Not wasting loot on unimportant peripheries or over-complicated technology. Just ensuring that we have the best possible drivers in the best possible seats. Simple.
YOU’RE TELLING ME THAT HE WOULD HAVE REFUSED A NUMBER ONE DRIVE AT RENAULT FOR THE RIGHT MONEY? MAYBE, IF HE WAS RETIRING… BUT HE’S NOT. HE STILL WANTS TO RACE
Alonso and Sainz might have made a good partnership at Renault; now Sainz will replace Fernando at Mclaren
Fernando Alonso wasn’t tempted by another season in a Mclaren
Could or should Chase Carey and Liberty try to persuade the top teams to keep the top drivers in the sport?