• Oct 23rd 2007 at 7:05PM
  • 19
With the 2007 season of Formula One racing now neatly tied up, the last few remaining seats for next year are filling up fast.

Following Mercedes' release of Fernando Alonso from his contract with McLaren and his earlier reported letter of intent with Renault where he won his two world titles, Alonso looks all but completely assured to be leaving McLaren a season early. That leaves McLaren with an open seat, and few available drivers to fill it.

The question no one seems to be asking is who will fill Alonso's seat at the British team next year. Never shying away from the difficult questions, Autoblog looks at the different options available for McLaren for 2008. Follow the jump to read more.

[Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty]

Although many observers scoffed at McLaren's purportedly premature placement of Lewis Hamilton in the race seat without a buffer year as a test driver in between, team principal Ron Dennis' decision has by now been vindicated with the rookie's astonishing talent and effort this season, even if he didn't actually clinch the title. McLaren could opt to focus purely on Hamilton next season by partnering him with an less talented teammate.

While that could be just about anyone (given the mince meat he made out of just about everyone in the field this season), the likely choice could be Pedro de la Rossa, who has remained quietly on the proverbial side lines as the team's loyal test driver since McLaren gave the race seat to Hamilton. The Spanish driver was looking at moving to Prodrive next season, but with the McLaren farm-team now unlikely to make its debut next season, Pedro announced he intends to honor the remaining two years on his contract with McLaren. While that ostensibly means as a test driver, 2008 could easily be the season for de la Rossa's jump to the race seat.

Alternatively, the team could recruit another rookie driver to drive alongside their title contender Hamilton, easily attracting a test driver from another team or looking back into a lower series for a race seat.

McLaren would, however, clearly benefit from the presence of a more experienced driver to counterbalance Hamilton and provide valuable feedback into the development of the car. So who's available? Ralf Schumacher, recently departed from Toyota and is looking for a competitive drive, but that would seem a highly unlikely choice for McLaren given Schu Jr.'s unfortunate track record.

Far more likely, and speculated upon last year following the departure of Kimi Raikkonen to Ferrari and Juan Pablo Montoya to stock cars, could herald the Return of the Hakk. Former world champion Mika Hakkinen has been keeping his skills honed by driving in DTM, and has kept close relations with McLaren, even pitching in to test drive the team's cars in the off season. He was even seen in the McLaren paddock when they disappointingly and narrowly lost the race and the championship in Brazil, and if Ron Dennis was looking for a solution, he didn't have to look far to find Hakkinen. Mika won back-to-back world championship in 1998 and '99, but critics widely agree that his career was hampered only by the dominance of Michael Schumacher. Now a full year into his retirement, Schumacher is out of the way, and despite a prolonged absense from F1 and a relatively advanced age, now could be Mika's time once again.

McLaren recently recruited another experienced talent, as F1 Racing magazine editor Matt Bishop left journalism to head up communications for McLaren. While he clearly won't be driving next year, we will look to him for the announcement of who'll take over Alonso's seat next year. As for us, our money's on Hakkinen.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago

      Alonso said in an interview the other day that Renault is not the first place he would look for a ride in 2008.

      That's what was reported...along with the letter of intent and his release by McLaren.

      I say that there is a chance Renault could buy the contract from Dennis and Co. But, I think it depends on change in Renault share in Spain in the last year.

      Toyota will offer big bucks and "Fred" would move them forward albeit not to the front and I don't think he wants to be the next Villeneuve.

      Who'll replace him @ McLaren?

      Perhaps young Piquet! More likely Kovalienen with Nelsino partnering with Fred in the French cars.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Mika Hakkinen? :p Do you know what you're saying? In F1?
      One year out of the circus is already too much. 7 is just crazy talk.
      Besides, he's almost 40: F1 isn't nascar. :)
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's obvious. Nico Rosberg is his replacement. Williams needs money and they have a talent. Dennis has the money to pay.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Noah, you ABers must be smoking some pretty good stuff. During last year's winter testing, Hakkinen was consistently 2-3 seconds (IIRC) of the other McLaren drivers' pace. I doubt he will be able to make that time up even with more practice. So he is definitely out of the equation.

      In my mind, these are the possibilities in order of likelihood:
      1) Alonso and Heikki swap
      2) Alonso back to Renault, new driver at McLaren - possibly Rosberg, or someone else with some experience (Pedro?).

      Personally I think unless McLaren are willing to just let Alonso go without any penalties for breaking his contract, Renault will be hard pressed to get him without doing a driver swap. They are financially a pretty tight operation, and Alonso did go to McLaren with a salary significantly higher than the one he had at Renault. So, I would think Ron would push to make some of that money back.

      While BMW might be an option, I doubt McLaren would want to let FA go there. Toyota have tons of money, but little hope of success, and even FA is not foolish enough to choose purely on salary. Ferrari is obviously not an option anymore. Honda is tied down to both their drivers, and performance wise they are very middle of the grid. Williams is solidly in the middle of the grid and looks like they will stay there (They can't afford him anyway). That leaves the Red Bull teams, Spyker and Aguri and we all know pigs will fly before FA ever goes that way (although the RBs are getting better all the time).

      Anyway, that was my 2c on the topic.
      • 7 Years Ago
      If Alonso does go to Renault, then where does that leave Nelson Piquet Jr.? Would McLaren possibly take Kovalainen and that would leave Alonso/Piquet Jr. at Renault?

      I would love to see Alonso end up at Toyota. Let's see him try to get that car to the front. Serves him right.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Hakkinen seems like a stretch. I think Heidfeld or Rosberg would probably be more likely candidates.

      Adrian Sutil has got a lot more talent than his Spyker ride has allowed him to demonstrate. He also could be a good candidate.

      If Alonso doesn't end up at Renault, I think he could end up at Toyota. People are always talking about how much Toyota spends on F1 - perhaps they would be willing to buy Alonso to finally get some results?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Alonso has already demonstrated he will do anything on/off the track to win the championship.

      Doesn't that extend to him biting his lip and staying with the only team in F1 capable of doing that apart from Ferrari?

      Having said that, Ron probably could do with a few million from an early transfer out...
        • 7 Years Ago
        The only thing that Alonso hasn't demonstrated is that he can shut up and drive! If he spent half the time he spent on complaining about the team and his teammate actually driving to the front, the season would have been wrapped up long ago

        Likewise if Hamilton would have spend half the time listening to Alonso he too would have gotten the job done.

        The only driver to shut up and drive was Kimi and he got the job done.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Nico Rosberg seems logical choice given his German nationality and Mclaren's Mercedes connection. However, if things don't work out, I'd like to see Pedro de la Rosa in Mclaren's seat who replaced Montoya back in '06 and had a decent run. He'd be a good second driver (although I think he's little underrated and may give a decent competetion to Hamilton)
        • 7 Years Ago
        Williams isn't going to let Rosberg go. Unless Ronzo dips into the kitty, and in light of his $100m fine, and having the brilliant Hamilton on the books, why would he?

        Because he's Ron Dennis, that's why! Seriously, I don't see that happening.

        My money is on some sort of swap deal with Heidfeld for Alonso. I think the Bimmer is the only car Alonso would consider 'stepping down' into. It very likely will be race winning caliber next year. Alonso could help bring the speed it's missing. But would BMW want to subject itself to a regular ride 'under the bus?'

        Heidfeld was a contracted McLaren driver years ago. Until he was passed over in favor of The Iceman, who coincidentally is also now a World Champion.

        Yea finally!!!

        If it was up to me, I'd swallow Alonso's salary and make him sit out for the next two years. Little bastard. Clearly noone ever told him about sh*ting where you eat.
        • 7 Years Ago
        As much as Mclaren-Mercedes dislikes Alonso, why would they give up the former world champion and a pretty damn good driver to their biggest corporate rival who are getting more and more competetive year after year? From Mercedes' point of view, last thing they want to do is giving their German rival an advantage. Also I don't think BMW would give up on a German driver unless they replace it with another German (Vettel perhaps)
      • 7 Years Ago
      This is a serious matter, maybe they should use Ferrari's test driver?
        • 7 Years Ago
        I'd like to see Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg, or Jensen Button in a better car to see what they can do.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I would love to see Mark Webber in the McLaren next year in a rumoured straight swap with RBR (FA to RBR). He's a brilliant driver who is seriously underestimated and in a decent car (ie one that wasn't blowing up all the time!) he could be world champion. The only problem I can see is that Hamilton might not like it, knowing (from Fuji) that Mark is a better driver than he is.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Mark Webber is a joke and he should have been purged from F1 years ago. How many opportunities and excuses do you give him before you give up Mate??

        He is a competant jouneyman driver and nothing more. On his day he can qualify the car higher than it deserves. What else can you say about him? You could interchange him with Ralf, Trulli, Fisichella, Coulthard, or Rubinho and not see any difference.

        Even Rosberg had the measure of him in his rookie season.

        Trust me, Heidfeld is on his way to McLaren.

        Although, make of this what you will, Shumacher FINALLY drive the F2007 today...
      • 7 Years Ago
      None of this is official yet...
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