As Ferrari finally confirmed their contract with Sebastian Vettel and the release of the disgruntled driver Fernando Alonso, both men expressed individual need for “fresh challenges”, while Jenson Button listened quietly before putting the Spaniard on the spot.
Alonso, who has been heavily linked with a move to McLaren next season, admitted that Ferrari’s poor level of performance had led him into discussions dating back to 2013, with Red Bull.
“It was not a special moment of the year that I opened my eyes,” he said of his decision to leave Ferrari at the end of this season. “Last year I had some doubts about 2014. I knew that it was a big change of regulations, so I thought the best thing was to check how the 2014 new turbo era was going for Ferrari.
“I had a very close relationship with president [Luca] di Montezemolo. We talked every week and we more or less agreed that if this year we were not competitive again we could think of different options. In the summer break it was time to sit with him and say, ‘OK, I would like to go’.”
Without a grand prix win for the first time since 2009, Alonso had simply had enough. “Only time will tell if it is a good one or bad one,” he said of his decision.
Vettel, meanwhile, said it also felt like the right time to leave Red Bull, even though he had won four consecutive world titles over the past four seasons.
“I think it’s not an easy decision to make. Obviously, I’ve been with Red Bull for more or less my entire life, since I was 12 years old,” the German said. “Later on I had the opportunity to race for both of their Formula One teams, and the success we’ve had, especially with Red Bull Racing over the last four years, has been an incredible journey.
“But at some stage you feel that you want to take on a new challenge and do something different. I don’t have to mention the history of Ferrari, and it’s probably the greatest team to drive for. Ultimately, you need to listen to your heart and go with that.”
Later Alonso was asked the $64m question: whether he would choose Button or Kevin Magnussen, McLaren’s current driver partnership, as his team-mate, supposing he were to go to that team in 2015.
He has been enjoying playing with the media on that very subject, but it has been an open secret that the prodigal Spaniard will return. This is in spite of the fact that Alonso fell out with the team’s chief executive, Ron Dennis, after the then McLaren driver helped Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, uncover the Spygate saga in 2007, when McLaren were found to be in possession of Ferrari technical data.
The deal for Alonso to spearhead the new McLaren-Honda partnership will be confirmed on 1 December. That is when Button will know whether he still has a place in the sport, or whether Abu Dhabi is to be his final race in a 15-year career that ranks him the third longest-serving Formula One racing driver of all time.
As Button leered into his face, smilingly advising him to take his time, Alonso countered: “I don’t know where I’ll be. We’ll see…”
The Englishman looked remarkably cheerful and composed, considering his future is unknown.
“It’s been an interesting few months,” he said, with commendable understatement. “When you’ve been put in uncomfortable situations your eyes are opened to other possibilities and there are a lot of challenges out there. I’m open to many things but I love racing in F1 and I love racing for McLaren. Will I wait for their decision? That’s something I can’t comment on.”
Both Audi and Toyota may have opportunities for him in sportscar racing in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Caterham team has struggled back to life under the leadership of administrator Finbarr O’Connell after missing the previous two races.
The team will give Briton Will Stevens his grand prix debut this weekend. “I’m absolutely thrilled and very grateful to everyone involved at Caterham F1 team,” said the 23-year-old from Rochford in Essex, a winner in the 3.5-litre Renault junior series.
“I feel ready for the challenge and look forward to working in a race environment after all the work we’ve done together previously in the simulator at Leafield.”Reuse content