The likelihood of Fernando Alonso joining Ferrari next season took another step forward today [Tuesday], when it was revealed that the Scuderia expects to confirm the capture of Santander as a principal sponsor at next month's Italian Grand Prix.
The arrival of the Spanish banking giant is expected to go hand-in-hand with that of the double F1 world champion, who would be reunited with a backer that he shared a brief dalliance with at McLaren in 2007. Since then, of course, Alonso has been saddled with largely uncompetitive Renault machinery, heightening suggestions that he would be on his to Maranello at the earliest opportunity.
With Felipe Massa injured and facing an uncertain F1 future, and Kimi Raikkonen having one eye on a long-term switch to rallying, there are potentially two openings at the Scuderia, despite both existing pilots having deals that take them through to the end of 2010. Santander president Emilio Botin, however, remains keen to see Alonso in scarlet next season, unperturbed by the Asturian's petulant year at Woking, and is understood to have agreed terms with Ferrari based on his compatriot's arrival.
Alonso has long been rumoured to have signed to ride the Prancing Horse, with Spanish newspaper Marca
repeating claims that a deal may have been struck more than six months ago, with only confidentiality clauses and deference to Renault sponsor ING preventing the silly season from starting earlier than ever before.
Monza has long been a favourite location for Ferrari to make announcements of importance, and would give Alonso - due to be back in the fold should Renault not succeed with its appeal against exclusion from the European GP - a chance to be feted by the tifosi
. Renault is hoping that it will be allowed to race in Valencia next weekend, however, preventing Alonso from fulfilling speculation that he might make a surprise switch to Ferrari as replacement for the injured Felipe Massa.