Fernando Alonso quits McLaren

Fernando Alonso’s stormy year with McLaren came to a shuddering halt on Friday with the announcement that the Spaniard was leaving the team just one year into a three-year contract.

The deposed world champion will quit the British team immediately even though his current contract had two years to run until the end of the 2009 season.

The McLaren team announced the news, saying in a statement on their official website that it had been “in the best interests of both parties” to part company at this stage.

“The mutual parting of ways has not been discussed until now, since it was felt that any such discussion could have seriously disrupted the team’s and Fernando’s 2007 Formula One world championship challenge. Both parties believe that this was the right decision,” the McLaren statement said.

The 2005 and 2006 Formula One king has been involved in intense contract negotiations with the team in England over the past two days, but the two sides were unable to reach an agreement for next season.

The 26-year-old Spaniard has had a controversial year with McLaren after joining them from Renault, the French team with whom he won his two world titles.

He has been consistently at loggerheads with team chief Ron Dennis and with his rival McLaren driver, English rookie Lewis Hamilton, over his role and position in the team for much of the season. It had been widely expected he would move on.

Matters came to a head at the final grand prix of the year in Brazil last month when Alonso and Hamilton were sensationally pipped to the world drivers’ title by the Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.

Alonso said in a statement: “Since I was a boy I had always wanted to drive for McLaren, but sometimes in life things do not work out.
I continue to believe that McLaren is a great team. Yes, we have had our ups and downs during the season, which has made it extra challenging for all of us, and it is not a secret that I never really felt at home.

“I know there have been suggestions of favouritism within the team and people say a lot of things in the heat of battle, but in the end I was always provided with an equal opportunity to win.”

For his part, Dennis paid tribute to the skills of Alonso, calling him “a great driver”.

“But for some reason the combination of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and Fernando has not really worked out, and in the end we reached a stage where none of us could find a way to move forward,” he said.

It remains to be seen which team Alonso will join for next season and who will replace him alongside Hamilton in the McLaren line-up.

Alonso spokesperson Luis Garcia-Abad said that the driver is free to choose which team he will join, but there have been suggestions that part of the deal to allow him to leave was that he not join one of McLaren’s main rivals in Formula One.

His former employers at Renault have expressed their interest in taking him back, but Spanish sports daily Marca said Alonso might prefer to sign up for a smaller team with a view to eventually finding an opening at Ferrari.—Sapa-AFP

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