It may not be crystal clear but Fernando Alonso’s explanation of why he moved to McLaren makes sense to me. I think I understand his reasoning. Many have wondered why he would leave Ferrari—especially now that they look to have made much progress—and how he could go back to the team that he had such a public and major fall out with.
Those are both good questions but Fernando’s answer seems to resonate with me on some level:
“I want to be in pole position, not second,” he said. “It’s a long way to go for us, we start now quite far behind, but I have so much trust and confidence in this team, we have such a talented team and engineers inside McLaren, and we saw the progress in the last two weeks. To beat Mercedes you need to do something special, not to follow them, because if not you will be behind all the time.”
If he were at Ferrari now, he would most likely be placing the car in similar positions as the man who took his seat, Sebastian Vettel. Alonso spent the last few years being second or worse in the driver’s championship. He’s been there and done that.
He also has the insight to Ferrari’s abilities and perhaps even some view of the likelihood of them overhauling Mercedes any time soon. On the contrary, McLaren are a blank slate with a returning boss in Ron Dennis, a new engineering mindset and a new engine partner. They are at the nucleus of rebuilding their Formula 1 machine.
What I appreciate about Fernando is that he is under no illusion that McLaren will start winning races or titles any time soon but it’s the long game they are playing. In all honestly, I believe it is the same perspective he had when he originally joined McLaren and that went pear-shaped quickly with the advent of Lewis Hamilton’s talent and McLaren’s inability to manage the situation as well as Spygate.
So now it is McLaren redux and the gloves are off. Alonso is playing the long game and was growing tired of being second with a lack of confidence that Ferrari could develop anything over the next 2-4 seasons that would overhaul Mercedes. McLaren—rolling the dice with a new engine—could conceivably get a leg up on Mercedes if they have the core of their engine correct and can develop it over the next season or two.
Coming in to F1 with a new sheet of paper and not having to try to squeeze performance out of an engine that was already cured in the development cycle kiln with Mercedes showing a baked-in advantage, seems like the best shot he had for more titles prior to retirement.
As the engine format gets more mature and the amount of development slows down, aerodynamics and smart chassis building may be able to reel in a 5 to 10bhp advantage but right now, Mercedes are said to be carrying at least 50bhp performance lead over the rest of the field. Due to the development program, that is baked-in and will only become irrelevant at the end of the engine format’s lifecycle when no development is allowed or actually gained having reached the limits of the specification.
Conceivably, McLaren and Honda could have an advantage in a season or two when Mercedes has reached the end of their development rope and perhaps, just perhaps that is what Alonso was thinking when he returned to McLaren.
Hat Tip: The delightful Adam Cooper