In a development that could shake the very foundations of Formula One, rumours are swirling about the possibility of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso making a sensational move to Red Bull Racing. Could we see Alonso teaming up with three-time world champion Max Verstappen for the 2024 season, replacing the currently inconsistent Sergio Pérez?
The 2023 Formula One season has proven to be a revelatory year for many drivers, but for Sergio “Checo” Pérez it has been a sobering experience. Once regarded as one of the most versatile drivers in the paddock, his ongoing struggles against Red Bull Racing teammate Max Verstappen have become increasingly apparent.
As Verstappen continues to cement his status as one of F1’s elite, dominating races and leading the championship battle, Pérez finds himself in the unenviable role of ‘second driver’, and even as that, he appears to be failing.
The statistics don’t lie. Verstappen has claimed multiple pole positions and race wins this season, while Pérez has struggled for podiums, often finishing well behind his Dutch teammate. It’s not just about the raw numbers, it’s also about the overall demeanour on and off the track. Verstappen exudes confidence; Pérez, on the other hand, seems burdened by the struggle to keep up.
With this setting, Red Bull is actively looking for a stop gap and it could well be Fernando Alonso, a multiple champion who has had discussions with Red Bull on many occasions before. Most telling was an interview with Sky Sports F1 just before the Spaniard retired in 2018 where he reveals all the discussions had with Red Bull’s Christian Horner.
The early years: A missed connection
The first rumours date back to the mid-2000s, when both Red Bull and Alonso were rising stars on the F1 scene. Alonso, fresh from his 2005 and 2006 world championships with Renault, was a hot property, while Red Bull was an emerging force. There were initial discussions, but the timing was never right; Alonso opted for a tumultuous year with McLaren in 2007 before returning to Renault.
The Vettel era: A potential superteam?
Another significant moment came during Sebastian Vettel’s dominant reign at Red Bull. Imagine a team with Vettel and Alonso, both in their prime. The very thought should send shivers down any F1 fan’s spine. Yet Alonso chose to stay with Ferrari, citing the allure of the Prancing Horse and his desire to win a championship in red.
The post-Ferrari years: A partnership that never materialised
Even after Alonso’s somewhat disappointing tenure at Ferrari, the talks resumed. By 2015 and 2016, Alonso was looking for a new challenge. Red Bull, meanwhile, was in transition, parting ways with Vettel and promoting the young Max Verstappen. The idea of a wily veteran like Alonso paired with a prodigious talent like Verstappen was tempting, but ultimately the Spaniard took his talents to the struggling McLaren project.
Why not Red Bull?
Why have these talks never resulted in a Red Bull seat for Alonso? There are several factors to consider, from team dynamics to timing. Red Bull has traditionally been a team that promotes young talent from its junior programme, making Alonso an outlier as a potential candidate. In addition, Alonso is known for his strong personality, which may not have sat well with Red Bull’s existing team dynamics, or with a rising star like Verstappen.
The genesis of the most recent rumours
The newest whispers began in what’s been described as an extension of F1’s ‘silly season’, which is usually confined to the summer months. The rumour mill has been set in motion by none other than Flavio Briatore, former F1 team principal and close associate of Michael Schumacher.
Briatore, who is also credited with discovering Alonso, continues to serve as the Spaniard’s manager. In particular, he orchestrated Alonso’s recent move from Alpine to Aston Martin at the end of last year.
It was in this context that Briatore’s recent sighting at the Qatar Grand Prix caught the attention of the media. Spotted by the Daily Mail, Briatore was seen in deep conversation with Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner on a terrace in the Red Bull paddock.
Dissecting the speculation
The immediate question that arises from this meeting is whether Alonso could replace Pérez as Verstappen’s team-mate next season. It’s a tantalising thought, especially given that Pérez’s contract runs until 2024, but is widely believed to be his final year with the team.
According to unnamed Red Bull insiders quoted by the British newspaper, the chances of Alonso joining Red Bull are “completely impossible”.
Certainly at 42, Alonso doesn’t quite fit the profile that Red Bull typically looks for in its drivers. Furthermore, the team would probably not want to risk the potential for internal discord by pairing two titans such as Verstappen and Alonso.
However, as a stop-gap measure, Red Bull could well go for it as a limited contract and a last hurrah for the Spanish driver who has so nearly joined the Red Bull team over the past two decades on several occasions. An Alonso-Red Bull alliance was also dismissed as “impossible” at the time, only for Alonso to reveal in the Sky interview in 2018, when he first retired from F1, that a partnership had come very close on several occasions.
Future prospects: Who’s next for Red Bull if not Alonso?
At the moment, it seems likely that Pérez will stay on through 2024 but under the caveat that he has to improve, but his seat beyond that is very much up for grabs at least on the face of it. Several young drivers are reportedly being considered as potential future teammates for Verstappen.
Among them, New Zealander Liam Lawson is attracting particular attention. Lawson recently impressed while filling in for the injured Daniel Ricciardo at AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s sister team. Most likely we will see Ricciardo back with the main Red Bull team as soon as the incumbent Mexican slips up further.
While the Alonso-Red Bull connection is an intriguing subplot in the theatre of F1, it seems unlikely to materialise in a contract – at least according to some inside sources. But in the unpredictable world of F1, surprises can never be completely ruled out.
After all, the sport thrives on confounding expectations, and strange alliances have been forged throughout its storied history.
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