By David de Winter – Sports Editor
The recent announcement by McLaren that Fernando Alonso would be returning to the team he left in such acrimonious circumstances seven years ago came as no surprise. Once Alonso confirmed he was leaving Ferrari, McLaren was the obvious choice after it was clear that Mercedes (his first choice) had no space on their team. They have the resources to afford the Spaniard’s hefty salary but, more importantly, with Honda on board from next season, McLaren are tipped to be competitive after two seasons in the wilderness. The question is, after such a public falling-out in 2007 can Alonso and McLaren bury the hatchet and form a successful relationship this time around?
In my eyes, Alonso and McLaren need each other. At 33 years old, Alonso is in the twilight of his career but he still has a burning ambition to win another world title. For a man of his undoubted talents (he is widely acknowledged to be the best driver in Formula 1, and probably has been for the last decade), he still feels that two World Championships would not elevate him to the pantheon of greats alongside the likes of his idol Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost. Alonso needs a fast car and he knows that he is running out of time to win that elusive third title – he sees McLaren as the best fit for his ambitions.
So why have McLaren taken an admittedly calculated risk on re-signing Alonso given his behaviour in his last stint at the team? Simply, McLaren need a world class driver and Alonso was available. For a team of their stature, the past two seasons have been nothing short of a nightmare. The decision to employ a pay driver (Sergio Perez) in 2013 raised eyebrows and contributed to their worst season in a generation and, despite Jenson Button’s best efforts, 2014 was a similar story.
For 2015 McLaren have teamed up with Honda, a partnership that had so much success in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Indeed Honda were desperate to have Alonso on board and this seems to have swayed the two-time World Champion. Alonso has seen fit to commit to McLaren for at least two seasons with the option of a third and is evidently influenced by Senna’s spirit and his connection to McLaren and Honda.
“I have never hidden my deep admiration for Ayrton Senna, my favourite driver, my idol on track, my reference.
“I still remember, as a kid, the posters in my wardrobe, my toy cars in which I dreamed I would one day emulate Ayrton, and the kart that my father built for my older sister, and that I ended up falling in love with. That kart had the livery of one of the most legendary partnerships in the history of Formula 1, McLaren-Honda, the car that Ayrton drove, the same partnership to which I am now honoured to join, to take part in the next Formula 1 world championship.”
The man clearly means business. He added: “McLaren-Honda’s repeated and open desire, perseverance and determination in making it possible for me to join their exciting renewed partnership, have been some of the main factors that made me take this decision, not forgetting the most important factor of all: we share a common objective and expectations, and there is a very solid future, with confidence, ahead.”
This PR blurb is all well and good. But how do McLaren know that the arguments from 2007 will not rear their ugly heads again? Firstly both parties know what is at stake. McLaren can’t afford to have another season languishing in the midfield. Alonso knows he has to be challenging for the title – both driver and team know that each other’s individual goals can be mutually beneficial and spur the team on to greater heights. Secondly, unlike with Lewis Hamilton in 2007, Button is clearly the number two driver and McLaren are certain to plough all their efforts and resources into getting Alonso as high up on the grid as possible.
Fernando Alonso and McLaren have a lot to lose but also a lot to gain. Can their marriage work second time around? The 2015 season suddenly looks a lot more exciting.