The Inside Line #79: Running to stand still?

TILI Logo PrintThe only thing better than Jacques Villeneuve and an open microphone is Jacques Villeneuve stuck in a bus full of journalists in the pouring rain in a traffic jam. With a captive audience and a chance to talk about his favourite subject – himself – the 1997 world champion had us all grinning as we inched along the one road out of Suzuka after the Japanese Grand Prix earlier this month, and there was nothing that was off-limits.

Villeneuve’s thoughts on celebrity girlfriends, his dad, the sound of modern-day F1 cars and Mark Webber’s transition to the Le Mans series [1] all had an airing, but things went very quiet when the subject turned to Fernando Alonso’s likely destination for 2015. It was the topic de jour after Sebastian Vettel’s announcement that he was leaving Red Bull the previous day, and with the reigning world champion set to wear red, Alonso was on the move – and most likely running to McLaren, and a McLaren with Honda engines as the Japanese manufacturer returns to the sport. People tend to forget that Villeneuve and Alonso were briefly teammates at Renault for the final three races of 2004 [2], but everyone remembers the Canadian’s association with Honda, in the early days of the British American Racing experiment with Craig Pollock, ingenious double-liveried cars that were short-lived, and a whole lot of money spent for few results.

With Alonso’s tenure at Ferrari petering out as the Prancing Horse looks set for its first season without a victory in 21 years, Villeneuve wondered openly if things would get worse before they got better for the Spaniard if he joined a Honda-powered McLaren outfit. Honda would be behind the eight-ball, he reasoned, and the company’s way of working when he was involved a decade or more earlier would make it hard to catch up. Some off-the-record tales of his own experiences were touched upon. Later, he wondered if the man regarded as, at the very least, one of the three best drivers on track along with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel [3] had been out-manoeuvred off it. “Sometimes in F1 you also have to know how to pull the strings, and (Alonso) doesn’t always do that as well,” Villeneuve reasoned.

Alonso’s future plans – McLaren, a 2015 sabbatical or perhaps a move to Mercedes in the medium-term – are given the once-over in Episode 79 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week, while we also preview the upcoming US Grand Prix in Austin and touch on Nico Hulkenberg’s contract extension at Force India [4].

You can watch ‘The Inside Line’ on SPEED TV Australia (Foxtel/Austar channel 512) at 7pm on Wednesday October 29, and/or on ESPN (Foxtel/Austar channel 508 in Australia) at 8.30pm on Thursday October 30.

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[1] This was a very, very interesting topic – and one I’ll delve into another time. Short summation of Villeneuve’s assessment: ugh.

[2] Alonso came fourth, fifth and fourth in those three races and amassed 14 points (34 points in today’s money); Villeneuve’s best result was 10th for zero points. I’m not surprised you forgot …

[3] In whatever order you choose, I still have Hamilton-Alonso-Vettel as the best three drivers in F1, despite two of those three destined not to win a race this year. As for the others, Pastor Maldonado makes the top 22, just.

[4] Hulkenberg has fallen off the face of the earth in the second half of the season after being so impressive in the first half, a contrast to his 2013 season where he did the complete opposite. He’d still surely do a better job at Ferrari than the driver that team will retain between this season and next, but the German seems destined to only drive for mid-grid teams, which is a shame but probably justified.

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