By Charlie Bennett
The sleeping Formula One giant that is McLaren is seeking a world class driver for next season. But the only two world class drivers who are potentially available, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, are not fully on board with the idea. How could they be seriously tempted by a move to a team who have been in the sport’s doldrums for two years?
2015 will see McLaren reunite with Honda, their engine supplier through the glory period in the 1980’s, which saw both Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna win multiple titles.Honda is, understandably, pushing for a big name to lead the team next year. Alonso and Vettel are the target. Current
Button, the 2009 World Champion, is in his fifth season with the team. His consistency and reliability are admirable, but he isn’t going to drag an average McLaren to the world title. However, dumping him would be rather cruel. If given the car, there is no doubt Button will compete with the best.
The Englishman is 34 though. Age, sadly, is starting to creep up. Just two weeks after Toro Rosso announced that a 17-year-old will drive for them next season, the saying ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ has been ringing round. Perhaps, Button should add an extra twist ‘if you’re good enough, age doesn’t matter’. Sadly, this is unlikely to have much of an effect.
Magnussen, the young 21-year-old, has quietly impressed in his debut season. After a shaky first few races, aside from a brilliant second place on his debut in Australia, the Dane has got to grips quickly and his ability is starting to show.
Previously, retaining Button alongside Alonso or Vettel would have been a no brainer, but that horrible Elephant is starting to make itself noticed in the room. Father time.
This week, Button has said he may retire if he is not racing for McLaren next year. What a loss to the sport he would be. Realistically though, he should still have another year left in him. Why? Because the two drivers who McLaren are courting would be taking a huge career risk if they decided to move to the Woking based team.
McLaren is a team in the middle of a re-building process. Martin Whitmarsh, the ex-team principle who has recently left , couldn’t deliver a World Championship despite having the drivers and personnel. Lewis Hamilton got fed up and left, and the emergence of Mercedes has hit McLaren hard. This year has seen a new management structure put in place. Has it worked? Well, maybe. The car is poor by McLaren standards. The jury is still out.
In an age where engines are so important, it would represent a huge risk for Vettel or Alonso to take a step into the unknown. Who knows if Honda will produce an engine capable of competing against Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault immediately? They will be a year behind in their development. Hitting the ground running would be a big surprise.
For Alonso, you get the feeling that his flirtation with McLaren is nothing more than a stark warning to Ferrari. He is under contract until 2016, but there is nothing stopping him walking out this year. Ferrari, like McLaren, has continued to produce disappointing cars for years. The gifted double champion has become very frustrated. He is chasing the third world crown that has eluded him, and that he so richly deserves. Alonso is widely seen as the best in F1 for a reason.
Finally though, Ferrari looks like they could be on the verge of a break through. A new design team, headed by the brilliant James Allison, are expected to produce something capable of winning races next season. Alonso has only had this luxury twice in his five years at the team, and even then they weren’t the best.
Despite his obvious frustration, the 33-year-old has come too far and waited too long to pass up a chance to race a good Ferrari again. And, as McLaren is another team in transition, the grass is not greener on the other side. If Alonso was five years younger then maybe the opportunity looks better. But father time is rearing its ugly head again.
Sebastian Vettel is much younger. 27 to be precise. At Red Bull he has won the last four World Championships. He is a Formula One legend already. For him, a move to McLaren might be more tempting. Red Bull is no longer the dominant force in the pack.
Design genius Adrian Newey is leaving this year. He has a new, younger team mate who is beating him hands down. And leading McLaren back to an era of dominance would help him cement his reputation as a great driver.
However, Vettel still has something to prove at Red Bull. Critics suggest that the German is only a four-time champion because of Newey’s designs. Now the car is poorer than the Mercedes, Vettel is struggling. The fact he is getting well beaten by his new and young team mate, Daniel Ricciardo, is not helping.
It has always been expected that Vettel would one day, leave Red Bull for pastures new. But, his new home has always been expected to be Ferrari. Not an ailing McLaren.
In addition, Vettel needs to stay at Red Bull. He has a point to prove. Only by beating Ricciardo next year and proving he can hack it when things aren’t easy, will be truly cement his legacy. Racing for a lowly McLaren? It allows him to make a fresh start, but there are better opportunities than Ron Dennis’ team.
So where could this leave McLaren? If Alonso and Vettel spurn their advances then their only choice is retaining Button and Magnussen. With Ferrari adamant that Alonso will stay and Vettel’s loyalty to Red Bull, that might be what they have to do.
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