It's official: Fernando Alonso won't be driving next year for McLaren. The double world champion just completed a tumultuous first season out of his contracted three years with the British team, but it was clear for all to see that the driver wasn't happy, and the team wasn't happy with its new driver. As was widely speculated, the unhappy couple has split faster than a Hollywood divorce, which may be the fastest performance McLaren and Alonso have pulled off all season long. Because the feelings were mutual, Alonso won't have to pay the team anything to be released from his contract.
Follow the jump for more analysis and the press release from McLaren, including quotes from Alonso and team principal Ron Dennis.
Following the announcement, the flood gates have opened wide for an endless stream of questions. Chief among them is the question of whose car Alonso will drive next year. Renault chief Flavio Briatore has made a long-term offer to bring Alonso back to the team where he won his two world championships, but Fernando reportedly wants a one-season contract. Toyota is also in contention; Alonso's former team-mate Jarno Trulli is reportedly in discussions with the team for a possible reunion, and reports suggest that Alonso named the hiring of former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn as a precondition to his signing. Red Bull remains another strong possibility, joined as well by Williams and, well...just about everyone else.
The next big question remains who will take Fernando's seat alongside Lewis Hamilton for next season. Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button are being touted as potentials, among others, and team test driver Pedro de la Rosa recently renewed his contract with McLaren. But former McLaren champion Mika Hakkinen's announced departure from DTM (German touring car racing) shouldn't go unnoticed, either. Hakkinen stressed that he will continue to be involved with Mercedes, and will announce something soon.
Another question mark looms over McLaren's partnership with Spanish financial firms Santander and Mutua Madrilena, which very well might jump ship alongside their national star. The biggest question, of course, is how the shift will upset the line-up for next year's season, and we'll be watching attentively to see how it all unfolds.
Woking, 2nd November 2007: Following a meeting between Fernando Alonso and McLaren, it was agreed that it would be in the best interests of both parties to bring the relationship to an end.
The mutual parting of ways has not been discussed until now, since it was felt that any such discussion could have seriously disrupted the team's and Fernando's 2007 Formula 1 World Championship challenge. Both parties believe that this was the right decision.
"Since I was a boy I had always wanted to drive for McLaren, but sometimes in life things do not work out. I continue to believe that McLaren is a great team. Yes, we have had our ups and downs during the season, which has made it extra-challenging for all of us, and it is not a secret that I never really felt at home. I know there have been suggestions of favouritism within the team and people say a lot of things in the heat of battle, but in the end I was always provided with an equal opportunity to win. Today's decision allows all of us to focus on 2008, and I wish the team, Vodafone, Banco Santander, Mutua Madrileña and all the other team Partners who I have worked closely with during the year, the best for the future."
"Everybody at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, especially McLaren's Spanish Partners Banco Santander and Mutua Madrileña and the team's title partner Vodafone, want to wish Fernando all the best for the future. He is a great driver but for some reason the combination of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and Fernando has not really worked out, and in the end we reached a stage where none of us could find a way to move forward. We all believe that our joint decision to part company is for the best, and we will now continue to focus on our 2008 World Championship challenge."
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes will announce any additions to its existing driver line-up in due course.