- Dan Knutson
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While most of the seats have been filled in next year's Formula One driver lineup, two major things are causing a logjam and preventing the rest of the lineup from being finalized.
The two keys to the whole thing are (1) which team will Fernando Alonso for drive next year, and (2) who will partner with Lewis Hamilton at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in 2008?
As expected, the fractured relationship between Alonso and McLaren is over.
They announced their split on Nov. 2 after the first year of what should have been a three-year deal. Thus a two-time world champion is on the market.
And there's the lusted-after seat that Alonso vacated at McLaren, a team that earned eight wins and 16 other top-three finishes in 2007.
Many teams have determined who their drivers will be next year, but some would be happy to open the door if Alonso came knocking. Other doors remain firmly closed to Alonso, and then there are some doors he has no interest in opening.
Starting from the back of the grid, here is a team-by-team analysis of the
2008 driver lineup, where Alonso fits into it all, and what McLaren's options are.
Force India (Formerly Spyker)
2007 drivers: Christijan Albers, Adrian Sutil, Sakon Yamato, Markus Winkelhock.
Confirmed 2008 drivers: None.
2008 possibilities: New team owners, Holland's Michiel Mol and Indian entrepreneur Vijay Mallya, are keen to hang on to Sutil. The rookie had too many accidents in 2007, but he is a talented driver. The team has enough funding to not need paying drivers, and Tonio Liuzzi and Christian Klien are the top candidates for the second seat.
The Alonso factor: Alonso has no interest in driving for a team at the back of the grid, and they couldn't afford him anyway.
The McLaren Mercedes factor: Lewis Hamilton raced against Sutil in the lower ranks and says he would welcome him as a teammate at McLaren next year.
Super Aguir Honda
2007 drivers: Takuma Sato, Anthony Davidson.
Confirmed 2008 drivers: None.
2008 possibilities: The team was very happy with Sato and Davidson and wants them back next year.
The Alonso factor: None.
The McLaren Mercedes factor: None.
2007 drivers: Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello
Confirmed 2008 drivers: Button, Barrichello.
The Alonso factor: Honda had a miserable season in 2007, so it's highly doubtful Alonso would want to go there in 2008, even if there was an open seat. But it remains a very slim possibility.
The McLaren Mercedes factor: If things were different, McLaren might be interested in Button, but the British driver says he's committed to Honda for the long term.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
2007 drivers: Scott Speed, Tonio Liuzzi, Sebastian Vettel.
Confirmed 2008 drivers: Vettel, Sebastien Bourdais.
The Alonso factor: Another small team off his radar.
The McLaren Mercedes factor: Don't expect to see any of Toro Rosso's drivers in a McLaren in the near future.
Panasonic Toyota Racing
2007 drivers: Jarno Trulli, Ralf Schumacher.
Confirmed 2008 drivers: Trulli.
2008 possibilities: Timo Glock, Fernando Alonso and others. Newly crowned
GP2 champion Glock is at the top of Toyota's list to replace Schumacher, but Toyota has been in contact with Alonso.
The Alonso factor: Toyota could easily afford Alonso's $20 million a year price tag, but does he want to drive for a team that still has to win its first Grand Prix after six seasons in F1? It's said that, if he signed, Alonso wants Toyota to beef up its technical team, possibly adding former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn.
The McLaren Mercedes factor: Schumacher's manager approached McLaren officials, who said they were not interested in the now-former Toyota driver.
Red Bull Racing
2007 drivers: David Coulthard, Mark Webber.
Confirmed 2008 drivers: Coulthard, Webber.
The Alonso factor: Red Bull is another team that can afford Alonso, and owner Dietrich Mateschitz has not ruled out the possibility even though Coulthard and Webber have signed contracts for 2008. The ever-improving Red Bull team has potential, but if Alonso goes there, he won't be a championship contender in 2008 like he was in 2007.
The McLaren Mercedes factor: Coulthard spent nine seasons at McLaren, and that relationship is over. Webber raced for Mercedes-Benz in sports cars, so there is a small chance he could end up at McLaren if Alonso moves him out of Red Bull.
AT&T Williams Toyota
2007 drivers: Nico Rosberg, Alex Wurz, Kazuki Nakajima
Confirmed 2008 drivers: Rosberg, Nakajima.
The Alonso factor: Privateer Williams has a huge budget for a team not directly connected with a car manufacturer, but couldn't afford Alonso.
And Alonso had to be leery of joining a team that still has to regain its former championship-winning glory.
The McLaren Mercedes factor: Rosberg was on McLaren's 2008 list, but Williams owners Frank Williams and Patrick Head had no intention of letting him go. On Wednesday, Williams officially confirmed Rosberg and Nakajima for next year.
2007 drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella, Heikki Kovalainen.
Confirmed 2008 drivers: None.
2008 possibilities: It all depends on Alonso. If he joins, he will probably partner either Fisichella or rookie Nelson Piquet Jr. Without Alonso, Renault's top picks are Kovalainen, Piquet and Fisichella, in that order.
The Alonso factor: As reported earlier on ESPN.com, Renault has made an offer to Alonso to rejoin the team with which he won the championship in 2005 and 2006. But the team wants a long-term deal while Alonso is angling for a one-year contract. It's also said that Alonso wants veto rights over who his teammate will be. All in all, Renault is Alonso's best option, even if the team did not win a race in 2007.
The McLaren Mercedes factor: If Renault doesn't sign Kovalainen, then he is a top candidate for McLaren. He's another driver Hamilton would welcome as a teammate.
2007 drivers: Nick Heidfeld, Robert Kubica, Sebastian Vettel.
Confirmed 2008 drivers: Heidfeld, Kubica.
The Alonso factor: Sauber BMW boss Dr. Mario Theissen is very happy with his lineup of Heidfeld and Kubica, and the team signed them early to send a message that they were not interested in Alonso.
The McLaren Mercedes factor: Kubica and Heidfeld have one-year contracts for 2008. McLaren has passed over Heidfeld before, so the team is not likely to be interested in him even if he was available next year. And there is no way BMW would release the talented Kubica to a rival top team.
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
2007 drivers: Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton.
Confirmed 2008 drivers: Hamilton.
2008 possibilities: If things had gone differently, McLaren would be looking forward to next season with the impressive driver lineup of Alonso and Hamilton. But instead the team is looking for a replacement for Alonso.
McLaren says it is in no hurry to make a decision because it knows the driver market will have to wait on them.
Team boss Ron Dennis says McLaren always goes for the two best drivers available. The list includes McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa, who stepped in to replace Juan Pablo Montoya when the latter moved to NASCAR in 2006, Adrian Sutil and Heikki Kovalainen.
Will McLaren go for a rookie? Doubtful, as the team rarely hires rookies, Hamilton being the exception. Perhaps McLaren will go for a veteran who can bring in a steady haul of points and then reassess things for 2009.
The Alonso factor: Was Alonso's sometimes-petulant behavior in
2007 caused by the McLaren environment, or was this a part of his personality that was mostly hidden while he was at Renault? Either way, Alonso's stock is not as high now as it was a year ago.
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
2007 drivers: Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen.
Confirmed 2008 drivers: Massa, Raikkonen.
2008 possibilities: Raikkonen has a contract until the end of 2009, and Ferrari recently extended Massa's deal through 2010.
The Alonso factor: Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo says his team has the best lineup in F1, and he emphasized that by extending Massa's contract. Still, rumors persist that Alonso could join Ferrari as early as 2009.
The McLaren Mercedes factor: Raikkonen, who had five up and down years at McLaren, says he has never been happier than he is now at Ferrari. No way is he going back to his old team. Massa and McLaren seems an unlikely mix even if he didn't have a long-term contract with Ferrari.
Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
Where will Fernando Alonso end up? Who will join Lewis Hamilton at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes? F1 hot-stove chatter is heating up, writes Dan Knutson.