Yes, it's that time of the year again and the press is bored. We have a three week break between the British and German Grands Prix, and the political war between the FIA and the teams seem to be over in spite of some recent comments by Max Mosley, the FIA president, and the teams have not responded and are instead continuing with their plans to shape up the regulations for next season's FIA Formula One World Championship. All this means that at this moment, motorsport journalists have got nothing to write about as far as Formula 1 is concerned. So what can they talk about in such a situation? It is of course the potential driver line-ups for next year.
Ever since double World Champion Fernando Alonso left McLaren at the end of 2007, after just one season with the Woking based team, there has been rumours going around of Alonso joining Ferrari. Before the end of the 2007 season however, the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team - who are based in Maranello in Italy - confirmed that they have extended the contracts with their current drivers Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen to keep them at least until the end of 2010. Since Raikkonen won the World Driver's Championship by 1 point in 2007, there has been a real lack of performance from him that has caused many of his critics to even doubt his motivations and his commitments towards Formula 1. That has meant that the Spanish media, who are seen by some to absolutely worship Fernando Alonso, have been reporting about an alleged contract that guarantees Alonso a drive for Ferrari from 2011 with a certain clause in the contract that apparently allows Alonso to join Ferrari a year earlier in 2010. Although even many Spanish Formula 1 fans question the validity of such rumours, what has kept these rumours fuelled all along is the fact that they have never been denied nor confirmed by Maranello.
Along with Alonso's native Spain, the Italian media also had a part to play in all these rumours. Famous Italian motorsport journalist Pino Allievi, who writes for La Gazetta dello Sport, is known to have good trustworthy contacts in Ferrari. Allievi has been saying since the end of last year that Alonso will be driving for Ferrari from 2011, and may be even a year earlier from 2010 if any of the current Ferrari drivers underperform. This is crucial because long before Ferrari officially confirmed that Kimi Raikkonen (who used to drive for McLaren-Mercedes before) will be replacing Michael Schumacher from 2007 following the legendary German's retirement at the end of 2006, Pino Allievi did say that Raikkonen will be joining Ferrari. Just like with Alonso now, back in 2006 those rumours of Raikkonen joining Ferrari was never denied nor confirmed until the official announcement came from Maranello. Given that since winning his one and only World Championship with Ferrari in 2007, Raikkonen has been outperformed by his younger Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa time and time again, rumours are suggesting that it is the Finnish driver who will have to make way for Alonso. So from next year onwards, we could potentially see a Felipe Massa-Fernando Alonso pairing for Ferrari.
Now it is a fact that Ferrari traditionally announces its driver line-ups for the following year at every year's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, that being Ferrari's home race. If rumours are anything to go by, then apparently Ferrari will officially announce the contract with Alonso on the Friday of this year's Italian Grand Prix weekend. What is fuelling this rumour even more is the fact that Spanish banking group Banco Santander has signed up a sponsorship agreement with Ferrari starting from next year. The last time Santander sponsored a Formula 1 team was in 2007, and the team was McLaren-Mercedes. When Alonso left McLaren, Santander also ended their sponsorship arrangements with McLaren. On top of all these, the fact that Kimi Raikkonen is seen to be getting interested in rally racing more and more rather than Formula 1, it will not come as a big surprise if he does announce his retirement from the pinnacle of world motorsport at the end of the current season. Although his contract with Ferrari runs through to the end of 2010, if he so chooses, he could still drive for Fiat (Ferrari's parent company) in the World Rally Championship!
Only time will tell who is driving for the legendary Italian marque next year. For now though, we can look forward to Round 9 of the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship that will take us to the Nurburgring in less than a week's time for the German Grand Prix. The last time Formula 1 visited the Nurburgring was back in 2007 and it was a very eventful race with lots of rain, then a red flag, then a re-start of the race and lots of incidents in between. But guess who won the race eventually? It was none other than McLaren-Mercedes and their Spanish driver Fernando Alonso. It is going to be a very exciting race weekend and whatever you do, do not miss it! Until then, drive safely!