It may seem silly to some that Fernando Alonso is likely to join McLaren next season, given the team is currently sixth in the championship. Honda’s arrival as an engine parter is certainly an attraction for the Spaniard, but with the incoming of the Japanese manufacturer, McLaren loses its biggest asset at the moment - the mighty Mercedes power unit. Not to mention the teething problems the two outfits are likely to face at the start of next season.
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In such a situation, why did Alonso choose McLaren who are yet to win a race since Brazil 2012? A lowdown on the technical restructuring at his current team, Ferrari, F1’s previous pace setters Red Bull, and of course, McLaren provide us with some suitable explanations.
First of all, Ferrari are themselves in the middle of a restructuring process that has seen the ousting of team boss Stefano Domenicali and company president Luca di Montezemolo. In comes Marco Mattiacci with absolutely zero experience of running a racing team. On the technical side, engine boss Luca Marmorini has been fired and James Allison has returned to the squad as technical director with former technical head Pat Fry taking a horizontal position to Allison, as engineering director. Nicholas Tombazis stays as chief designer, having re-joined the squad in 2006.
Alonso has closely seen the technical reshuffle at his current squad and is reportedly not satisfied with it. At 33 years of age, time isn’t on his side and if he can’t see light at the end of the tunnel at Ferrari, he will be forced to jump ship for that elusive third title.
As things stand, Red Bull and McLaren are the two best option for the Spaniard. However, both teams themselves have made changes to their technical and managerial line up, for varied reasons.
First up is Red Bull - the team that has dominated the sport for last four and a half years until Mercedes took the reins at the beginning of this season.
In the middle of a difficult season where Red Bull find themselves second in the standings thanks to an underpowered Renault power unit, technical boss and widely acclaimed engineer Adrian Newey announced that he would be stepping down from his position with the 2015 car being the last one he’d design on his old school drawing board. F1’s restrictive technical regulations have been cited as the main reason behind Newey’s lurch for new challenges outside of the sport but within the Red Bull family.
Newey’s right hand, Peter Prodromou, who was with him during McLaren championship winning years in late 90s, and also played an instrumental role in building Red Bull to the team that it is today, has rejoined the Woking based outfit. Furthermore, Vettel’s chief mechanic Kenny Handkamme’s days at Red Bull have also come to an end, with a move to rivals Ferrari already been announced.
With key top level staff lost, Red Bull has come up with a new technical structure with four different heads at the top of the hierarchy. This structure is somewhat similar to that of Mercedes with responsibilities being shared between chief designer Rob Marshall, head of vehicle performance Pierre Wache, chief engineer Paul Monaghan and head of aerodynamics Dan Fallows who stayed at the squad, despite signing a deal with McLaren for 2015.
Despite losing so many key members, Red Bull have simply promoted members to fill the void, instead of hiring some from rivals.
In stark contrast, McLaren have done directly the opposite of their Milton Keynes based rivals. Having earlier promoted Tim Goss to the position vacated after Paddy Lowe’s move to Mercedes, the Woking squad has got top level engineers from up and down the pitlane.
Changes have also been made on the managerial and sporting side with the multiple championship winning outfit ditching the concept of team principal. Martin Whitmarsh, who held this job until last year, alongside his duties as Group CEO, was burdened with responsibilities outside of F1, with the company starting its road car division independent of Mercedes, and diversifying its operations to other fields.
Under the new structure, Ron Dennis returns to the helm of the group with Jonathan Neale acting as chief operating officer of the company and interim CEO of McLaren Racing, until a new person has been hired for this role. The latter’s job is to manage the factory back at Woking. Eric Boullier has been lured from Lotus to manage all things racing.
On the technical side, the aforementioned Peter Prodromou has already started working with the team. Matt Morris arrived from Sauber as chief engineering director last year while two people from Ferrari and one from Lotus have also been successfully poached by the Woking squad.
With a number of members joining the squad, there’s hope that McLaren will only go forward while Red Bull might be doomed if the new structure can’t fill the shoes of Adrian Newey.
Further, Honda’s is not returning to Formula 1 as a mere engine and ERS supplier of McLaren. The Japanese manufacturer will be injecting money into the squad apart from separately paying half or even the full amount of drivers' salary. Alonso has reportedly been offered $50 million per year by Honda.
The fact that Alonso is ready to renew his relationship with Ron Dennis after a tumultuous 2007 season forcing both of them to mutually end their contract after just one year. The two will have to find a way to work together in a harmonious way . But at the end of the day, they both are fighters with only one aim - winning the championship. Eric Boullier will have an integral role to play here, as team’s racing director.
It would be interesting to see whether Alonso does win a third title he desperately wants at McLaren-Honda, if he does make the switch to the British outfit. Also, we’ll have to wait for a couple of years to see whether Vettel can emulate Schumacher at Ferrari and whether Red Bull can return to their glory days.