WHERE ARE WE ALL GOING? Ferrari F1 driver Fernando Alonso smiles through his beard while sitting in a classic car during a drivers' parade ahead of the 2014 Japanese F1 GP at Suzuka, 2014. Image: AFP / Toru Yamanaka
SUZUKA, Japan - McLaren says it has yet to sign any driver for 2015 despite a widespread belief that Fernando Alonso is set to return to the team - a move that could end Jenson Button's F1 career.
Red Bull announced on Saturday morning that its four-times Drivers’ champion Sebastian Vettel would leave the team at the end of 2015 to join Alonso's current employer, Ferrari.
The news set off a chain of events likely to result in Alonso's return to a team he left acrimoniously at the end of 2007 - an outcome that would once have been unthinkable.
McLaren Group head Ron Dennis, intervening in a regular media session with reporters before handing things over to McLaren racing director Eric Boullier and the two drivers, said:
"Basically the inevitable question is about drivers. You're going to ask the drivers, you're going to ask Eric. They're not going to respond - I’m going to tell you a simple fact: we do not have a contract with any driver at this moment of time."
Although there has been no official word from Ferrari to confirm Vettel's arrival or double Drivers’ champion Alonso's departure it has become evident that the relationship between the latter and F1's glamour team is at an end.
HONDA POWER FOR McLAREN
Alonso is in his fifth season with Ferrari and has grown increasingly frustrated by the lack of success of a team which hasn't won a GP in more than a year and is facing its first winless season since 1993.
With Red Bull promoting Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat to replace Vettel in 2015, McLaren now looks to be Alonso's best bet - barring even more dramatic developments.
McLaren will switch from Mercedes to Honda power units for the 2015 season and the Japanese car giant is said to be particularly keen to secure a driver of Alonso's calibre. Both the team's current drivers (2009 Drivers’ champion Button and Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen) will be out-of-contract at the end of 2014.
Despite Alonso now free to move, Dennis said building a winning team and car were the immediate priority. "Of course we talk, we do all the things you'd expect us to do, but at this moment in time we don't have a contract, strict, no.
“We have no activated contracts."
IN THE 'LION'S DEN'
If Button has to give way to Alonso the curtain will come down on a 15-year career that started in 2000 and culminated in the championship with Brawn GP – ironically, after Honda pulled out.
Button, winner of 15 races, moved to McLaren at the start of 2010 despite being warned by many against entering the 'Lion's Den' alongside Lewis Hamilton.
He won eight times for McLaren but the partnership has more recently fallen on hard times. The former champion team has not won a race since Button's last in Brazil in 2012.
The 34-year-old, who expressed surprise at Vettel's move, reiterated on Saturday (Oct 4) that he wanted to stay on and batted away rumours that he could switch to Porsche's sports-car programme.
"That's the first I've heard of it," Button said. "It's a good rumour to add to all the other rumours. No, my aim is to be racing here next year. I've spent five years with this team and been through some really good times.
“The last couple of years have been difficult but we've worked hard and I would really like to see all that hard work come to something. It would be great if that was 2015."