Guest Author - Christine Blachford
For the second year running, it looks like Fernando Alonso is the key to the driver's market. Last year, as defending champion, and looking to distance himself from a bad move to McLaren, Alonso was an asset that many teams wanted to sign up. That left plenty of other drivers waiting to hear about their own chances of a race drive.
This year is exactly the same. Alonso has shown that he still has the passion and skill to drive at a top level, but back at Renault for 2008, he hasn't had the machinery underneath him to fight for any wins. Now the question is: where will he go for 2009?
There's a good chance he may remain at Renault. All teams have ups and downs, and Fernando won't be likely to forget what happened the last time he left his favoured team. With Renault he has won two championships, and he has been quoted in the past as saying team boss Flavio Briatore is like a father to him. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him remain at Renault, but he has admitted that he needs to know the car is going to get faster. He doesn't want another year floating around in the mid-field, and unless Renault can pull something major out of the bag, this might be the only option they can offer him.
Honda seems an unlikely option for Alonso at first glance, as they have been rock bottom this year. Button and Barrichello have struggled in qualifying, the car has been slow, and development doesn't seem to have gone as expected. But next year brings with it some brand new regulations that are going to change things drastically, and Honda does have the added advantage of a certain Ross Brawn as principal. Brawn has already turned round the fortunes of two ailing teams in his career, and he's looking to do it again. He would certainly like Alonso on board, and the Spaniard, I'm sure, would consider working with the man who won so many championships with Ferrari.
The option that seems most likely at the moment is BMW. They have won a race this year, and have a strong base to build on for 2009. The team are established and working well, and Alonso and Kubica would make a good pairing. The extra experience Alonso could bring to the team might help them make the jump from third best team to fighting for the championship. The only downside is that BMW does seem quite a sterile environment to work in, and Alonso has been known to be quite fiery and vocal in the past. Would he fit in with the German/Swiss work ethic?
It looks like we, along with half the grid, will have to continue to wait for Alonso to make up his mind. But when he does, we will start to see the driver market settle down and next season begin to take shape.