They’re building to something
It does now seem that things have moved on swiftly in the last few days in the battle for the top seats in F1 next year. Firstly came Luca di Montezemolo’s apparent Freudian slip in a press conference in Spain, where he said ”I’m happy with the five year deal with Banco Santander. I’m happy to have a Spanish sponsor and I’m pleased with my team with Alonso”. Domenicali then said in the press conference on Friday “in the last couple of days the [driver] situation has changed.” Steve Robertson, Kimi Raikkonen’s manager, was quoted as saying “Kimi has a contract with Ferrari, but as everyone knows, contracts can be broken”, suggesting his contract will be “broken”. Today, there was more – Jean-Francois Caubet, Renault’s new MD, suggested that Alonso was leaving the team by telling French TV channel TF1 “Renault will remain his family. We will miss him but he will miss us”, whilst after the race, McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh refused to answer a question directly asking him if Raikkonen was to rejoin the team next year. All of this points to the Alonso-Ferrari and Raikkonen-McLaren deals having now been completed, with an announcement possibly before the Japanese GP next weekend, or at least before Abu Dhabi. Alonso is rumoured to be unveiled as a Ferrari driver for the first time at the Ferrari World Finals at Valencia (!) in November.
It seems that Santander have been pretty instrumental in this, with rumours suggesting they will be paying McLaren 25 million Euros to take Raikkonen off Ferrari’s hands. This goes with previous rumours that they would be contributing towards Alonso’s salary at Ferrari. Santander of course confirmed after the Italian GP that they would be continuing to sponsor McLaren next year as well as Ferrari – possibly linked, perhaps?
As for Alonso’s replacement at Renault, it now looks likely that Robert Kubica will move to Enstone after all, despite rumours linking him with Williams and another year at Sauber. He was said to be waiting for the conclusion of the Singapore 2008 saga before making his decision, and the paddock rumours suggest the deal has now been completed. This would free up a Williams seat for Rubens Barrichello, who would do a straight swap with Nico Rosberg as a result. As for the other drive, despite rumours saying it would be confirmed this weekend, as yet there has been no announcement to confirm Nico Hulkenberg in the team for next year, but it is widely expected that the young German will replace the other Nico and Kazuki Nakajima in the team.
The current expected line-up is as follows:
Brawn – Button/Rosberg
Red Bull – Vettel/Webber
Ferrari – Massa/Alonso
McLaren – Hamilton/Raikkonen
Toyota – Glock/Trulli, Kovalainen or Nakajima?
Williams – Barrichello/Hulkenberg
Renault – Grosjean/Kubica
Sauber – Heidfeld/Fisichella
Force India – Sutil/Liuzzi
Toro Rosso – Buemi/Alguersuari
Campos – de la Rosa/Petrov
Virgin – 2 from Klien, Davidson, Carroll and di Grassi
US F1 – Wurz or Montagny?/Summerton
Lotus – Fauzy/unknown