McLaren open to Fernando Alonso return but Spaniard stays put at Ferrari

Driver pledges to remain with Ferrari ‘to the end’ but speculation refuses to die down

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The Independent Online

They have just made one movie about McLaren called Rush; if they were to make another they could call it Never Say Never Again, as rumours abound that Fernando Alonso might return to the team. The Spaniard left under a dark cloud at the end of the acrimonious 2007 season. But now, just as we’ve got used to Kimi Raikkonen making a prodigal return to Ferrari after his acerbic farewell to the team’s president, Luca Di Montezemolo, four years ago, Martin Whitmarsh refused to rule out welcoming Alonso back.

“I think most teams up and down this pit lane would happily sign Fernando Alonso,” the McLaren team principal said. “Let’s be frank. He is one of the best racing drivers in the world, an asset to any team.”

Alonso, perhaps predictably, scorned the suggestions. “I repeat it more or less every weekend and I keep repeating it, I love Ferrari and I will stay until the end,” he insisted, meaning for another three years. “It’s nice to hear comments from all the team principals every year saying they  respect my job and personality, especially McLaren.”

But right now his management would be remiss not to contemplate possible bolt-holes should his relationship with Raikkonen next season work out as well as the one with Lewis Hamilton did six years ago, and Honda would be keen to have him when they re-enter the sport in 2015. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Sergio Perez could be signed to a short-term contract at McLaren, which gives them the option to chase Alonso next year.

Whitmarsh admitted McLaren are close to re-signing Perez and Jenson Button, though he left himself a little wriggle room. “There’s a lot of froth and excitement around these issues but, being realistic, I expect next year our driver line-up to stay the same,” he said. “But we are open to anything.”

Tellingly, however, he added: “And in the longer term, then, Fernando would be a great asset. I think he’s in control of his own destiny.”

Never say never, right? This is a great time for paddock chatter, as another surprise story broke yesterday when it was revealed that prosecutors in Munich have delayed making any decision on whether Bernie Ecclestone should stand trial on bribery charges as they await more information from his lawyers in response to their bill of indictment. The composition of the judging panel will also be changed, though main judge Peter Noll remains. Ecclestone said that far from being pleased he was disappointed. “I want this cleared up and out of the way.” A decision is not now expected until next year.

On the track, Red Bull dominated proceedings overall, after Hamilton had been fastest for Mercedes in the first practice session.

“Sebastian has the best package and he’s done the best job with it,” said Hamilton, who needs a win to stay in the hunt. “He’s got a great car, so he must start favourite. But in any case I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”