Martin Whitmarsh has opened the door on what could become one of the most extraordinary heists in Formula One history - bringing Fernando Alonso back to McLaren.
Asked by Sportsmail if he would hire Alonso, McLaren CEO Whitmarsh said: “Yes, if I could.”
The astonishing admission - indeed statement of intent - came as it emerged that one of McLaren’s existing drivers, Sergio Perez, has not yet re-signed for next season. Perez said they were “finalising the dots.”
Whether the dots are ever inked in could depend on Alonso’s willingness to leave Ferrari to drive alongside Jenson Button.
Whitmarsh’s comment shows that he harbours no grudge against Alonso after his one ill-starred year at McLaren in 2007. The animosity was largely between Alonso and Whitmarsh’s predecessor as team principal, Ron Dennis. Dennis was angry at what he saw as Alonso’s disloyalty during the Spygate controversy and has never forgiven him.
Dennis, who is coming to the Singapore paddock, is no longer involved in motor racing but remains non-executive chairman at McLaren. Would that give Alonso, 32, enough distance from his nemesis? Would Ron be waving him a welcome from his opulent office above the factory in Woking?
Alonso is contracted to Ferrari until the end of 2016 but, as Scuderia history bears out, that counts for little.
Triggering a release will depend on Alonso’s dissatisfaction with Ferrari. Once-loving relations foundered badly when Kimi Raikkonen was lined up to replace Felipe Massa, the Spaniard’s unchallenging No 2, next season. The Ferrari-Alonso dynamic has since improved but not to its previous tender peak.
Alonso would also have to weigh up whether he will have a winning car at McLaren, a possibility that increases once the financial and engineering might of Honda go into partnership with the team from 2015.
McLaren would certainly have no problem matching Alonso’s salary of about £25 million (R389-million) because Santander, the Spanish bank, fund his wages and would simply switch their allegiance to McLaren to do the same there. He is effectively a ‘pay driver’.
It is understood that Button, 33, has signed a new McLaren deal for next year at least, though both team and driver are reluctant to confirm the news because it might embarrass Perez over his delay.
Should Alonso not be enticed back, Whitmarsh could stick with Perez, try to lure Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg from Lotus’s clutches, or chance one of their two young drivers from Formula Renault 3.5, Dane Kevin Magnussen or Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium.
But it is Alonso who would buttress Whitmarsh’s position, showing him as a leader of vision and clout to redress having lost his star driver (Lewis Hamilton), his star engineer (Paddy Lowe, to Mercedes), and shareholders (Mercedes).
Meanwhile, Ferrari-bound Raikkonen confirmed that Lotus are in arrears with his pay, saying: “They haven’t got my salary.” -Daily Mail