McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh confirms interest in re-signing Fernando Alonso
"I would if I could," McLaren chief tells Sky Sports News
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 20/09/13 4:30pm
Martin Whitmarsh has admitted that he would like to sign Fernando Alonso for 2014 and refused to confirm that Jenson Button and Sergio Perez will continue to drive for the team next season.
Although the Spaniard is contracted to Ferrari until 2016, Alonso's position at Ferrari has been cast in doubt after a couple of high-profile public spats with the team and the potentially-destabilising appointment of Kimi Raikkonen as his team-mate.
Alonso's solitary season at McLaren in 2007 ended in bitter acrimony and a swift divorce, but the two perceived catalysts for the friction, Ron Dennis and Lewis Hamilton, are no longer based at McLaren, and, despite this year's downturn in form, the team have considerable appeal in the shape of Mercedes engines for 2014 and a long-term deal with Honda thereafter.
While the prospect of Alonso opting out of Ferrari remains unlikely, Whitmarsh has reignited the F1 rumour mill by openly acknowledging that McLaren would welcome Alonso back with open arms if the Spaniard could be persuaded to return.
"Yes, if I could," the McLaren chief confirmed to Sky Sports News when asked if he would bring the two-time World Champion back to Woking. "Most teams up and down the pitlane would happily sign Fernando Alonso, he's a very talented driver.
"I expect our driver line up for next year to stay the same but we are open to anything and in the long-term he would be a great asset.
"Fernando is in charge of his own destiny, but we'll see."
On Thursday, both Button and Perez assured reporters that they would be staying on at McLaren. Button's reassurance was particularly emphatic with the 2009 World Champion telling Sky Sports News "it's done". Yet far from muting speculation, the absence of official confirmation from McLaren that both Button and Perez had signed contract extensions instead sparked a fresh wave of transfer gossip as talk of Alonso returning to McLaren swept up and down the paddock.
With Whitmarsh now openly declaring his interest, the ball would seem to have been firmly thrust back in Alonso's court.
"It's wrong for me to comment on what's going on in Ferrari but people were surprised with the recruitment of Kimi, not because Kimi isn't massively talented or through surprise that Kimi would want to go to Ferrari, and one can see that it is an exciting line-up, but whether it is a sustainable line-up I don't know," Whitmarsh commented.
"Let's be frank, people want to sign Fernando Alonso because he is one of the best motor-racing drivers in the world at the moment. He is an asset to any team.
"In all probability, we will have the same line-up next year. Being realistic that's what I think will happen, but we'll see."
But never say never in F1. After all, Raikkonen's return to Ferrari seemed all-but inconceivable just a month ago.
What is for certain is that, even if Alonso can be lured back to Woking, Button will stay on with the team for at least another year. "What Jenson said is accurate," confirmed Whitmarsh in reference to the Englishman's announcement on Thursday.
Instead, just a year after replacing Lewis Hamilton alongside Button, it is Perez whose position is under threat. The young Mexican has failed to impress convincingly this term, and the bountiful sponsorship money Perez has brought to McLaren is perhaps not quite as valuable as it was a year ago following the reunion with Honda which will save the team a small fortune in fees to Mercedes.
"We have a strong line-up but the question I was asked yesterday was 'would you fancy hiring Fernando Alonso?' and I honestly answered that, which is 'yes, as any team would,'" Whitmarsh ratified.
Alonso has yet to comment directly on the speculation, although he certainly didn't sound like a driver on the verge of quitting Ferrari when he addressed the press corps in Singapore. Yet the old adage that appearances can be deceptive is never truer than in F1.
"There's no doubt about it that the relationship between Alonso and Ferrari has soured these past few weeks and months, and we know he's been looking around at options," mused Sky F1's Martin Brundle.
"Maybe Ferrari felt they needed to cover that off with Raikkonen; I can't believe that has pleased Alonso enormously - although he'll obviously say differently, because he clearly wants the team all to himself.
"Maybe Honda's an option? McLaren have got to stop the rot of this year really. They need to come back. Jenson's still a world-class driver, no doubt about that, but they need to be able to demonstrate to future sponsors that they've got a grand plan."
Re-signing Alonso would certainly do that.