Despite expecting to field an unchanged line-up in 2014, McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh says that the Woking squad would not hesitate to snap up Fernando Alonso if the Spaniard gets cold feet at the thought of partnering Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari.
Both Jenson Button and Sergio Perez have intimated that extensions to their current deals are on the verge of being completed, but rumours continue to suggest that Alonso is not happy at Maranello and, following the recent confirmation of Raikkonen's return, could be looking to move on. With the door at Red Bull – once thought to have been left open following talks between Christian Horner and Alonso's manager – having been slammed shut behind Daniel Ricciardo, only Lotus and McLaren offer similar levels of potential for the Spaniard.
The double world champion – and his links to sponsor Santander - have already been mentioned in connection with a return to the Enstone bosom, having enjoyed two stints at the team in its Renault guise, but the Singapore Grand Prix weekend opened with suggestions that McLaren may be a more realistic destination, despite both the situation with its current drivers and the fact that Alonso left in far from amicable terms at the end of 2007.
Whitmarsh refused to dismiss the speculation when confronted with it in the Marina Bay paddock, insisting that any team in F1 would jump at the opportunity to sign a driver of the Spaniard's calibre.
"Yes, [I would] if I could," he told Sky Sports News
, "Most teams up and down the pit-lane would happily sign Fernando Alonso, he's a very talented driver.
"I expect our driver line up for next year to stay the same, but we are open to anything and, in the long-term, he would be a great asset. "
Alonso's current deal supposedly ties him to Ferrari until 2016, and Ferrari's confirmation of Raikkonen effectively reinforced that, but there has been notable friction between the Spaniard and chairman Luca di Montezemolo in recent weeks, and the signing of Raikkonen – despite platitudes on all sides – will be seen as a threat to the dominance the driver has enjoyed alongside Felipe Massa since 2010.
"Fernando is in charge of his own destiny, but we'll see," Whitmarsh teased, aware that the previous barriers to Alonso's return – namely former team boss Ron Dennis and team-mate Lewis Hamilton – have both moved on, "It's wrong for me to comment on what's going on in Ferrari, but people were surprised with the recruitment of Kimi, not because Kimi isn't massively talented or through surprise that Kimi would want to go to Ferrari, but whether it is a sustainable line-up.”
Santander, of course, is a former partner of McLaren, which bids farewell to Vodafone as title sponsor at the end of 2013. With Mexican backing for Perez looking unlikely to grow next season, and Button not bringing a major sponsor to the team, neither of the current line-up is entirely safe from the threat of Alonso.
“Let's be frank, people want to sign Fernando Alonso because he is one of the best motor racing drivers in the world at the moment,” Whitmarsh concluded, “He is an asset to any team. In all probability, we will have the same line-up next year. Being realistic, that's what I think will happen, but we'll see...”