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Vettel and Alonso: The next McLaren dream team?Maurice Hamilton October 8, 2014
I have it on good authority that both Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso recently flew into Farnborough on different days. On each occasion, they were scooped up by Mercedes vehicles and whisked away without ceremony. The McLaren Technology Centre is 15 miles east of the private airport.
Do you see where I'm coming from? Or, more to the point, where they might have been going to? To the best of my knowledge, neither Seb or Fernando have relatives or mates in Surrey they might have been calling on for afternoon tea.
The obvious implication is that McLaren were/are talking to the drivers individually. But here's a thought: An Alonso/Vettel partnership in the mould of Senna/Prost is the sort of thing Ron Dennis dreams of and perhaps explains what I thought to be a contented look during his interview with Martin Brundle for Sky F1 last weekend.
Thinking about it further, Vettel has not actually said he's going to Ferrari; Christian Horner has done it for him - but mainly through innuendo. On the other hand, Ferrari's Marco Mattiacci made no comment, which suggests discussions with Vettel are on-going. Were that not the case and a McLaren/Vettel deal had been done, Mattiacci would surely have issued a strong rebuttal, if only to take the heat off the inference that Sebastian would be replacing Fernando.
Forget the thought that Alonso wouldn't want to return to McLaren after the debacle over Spygate. Fernando is, above all, a ruthless pragmatist, as is Dennis. The 2007 season was a long time ago in racing terms and, as Sir Frank Williams used to say when a fib had been exposed: "circumstances change".
The biggest change, of course, is the return of Honda in 2015. This may not be 1988 when Honda arrived at McLaren and swept all before them; the competition is ten times stronger for a start and the power unit package infinitely more complex. But word has it that the work done so far in Japan is mighty impressive and Honda have had more technical freedom than Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari to incorporate the latest know-how into the 2015 power unit. As Dennis said in the Sky F1 interview: "Honda's commitment is mind-blowing. The engine is a piece of jewellery. It's performing better than expected by this time in the development programme. The competitiveness of the engine is going to be, without question, for 2015."
In any case, McLaren-Honda has to be a better potential bet than Ferrari in its current state. Which leads to the obvious question: why on earth would Vettel want to go to Maranello right now? Personally, I don't believe the cache of racing for Ferrari is a strong enough incentive, although I do agree there would be some merit in wishing to get away from the smiling and very quick Daniel Ricciardo at the other side of the Red Bull garage.
So, how about a move to McLaren-Honda instead, even if Alonso is in the other car? Racing drivers being racing drivers, Vettel will believe he can beat Fernando just as surely as Alonso thinks he could see off Seb. You have to say it was 50-50 when they were at each other's throats during that terrific struggle at Silverstone.
"We want the most competitive drivers available," Dennis told Brundle in response to a question about Alonso. "Of course, Fernando is one of them. I've talked to every driver in the pit lane - well, let's say, at the top end of the pit lane. There is no impediment to Lewis coming back, Fernando coming back, Jenson and Kevin staying. We have options."
Dennis then rounded off his interview (the full 42-minute version is well-worth watching, by the way) with a telling comment when discussing McLaren drivers past and present.
"What a privilege to work with so many world champions, share the successes and see them win in a McLaren car," said Ron. "It's just great." Then a brief pause, before adding with that wolfish grin. "And it's going to happen again in the future."
Alonso and Vettel? You can bet it's crossed Ron's mind more than once.
Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.