Ross Brawn has given the firmest indication yet that Honda is holding out to sign Fernando Alonso for the 2009 campaign – by revealing that the team is 'just waiting' for 'the best driver in Formula 1 at the moment'.
Brawn has never made any secret of his admiration for the former double F1 World Champion – the only man in the field with more than a single title to his name in the top flight – previously insisting that the Spaniard is the only 'totally complete' driver on the current grand prix grid [see separate story – click here
Now the former Ferrari tactical genius has made it crystal clear that the 27-year-old is in his opinion not only the main man in F1, but also the main man on Honda's radar – whilst seeming to offer little source of encouragement for present incumbents Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, former grand prix winners both but one of whom would necessarily have to make way should Alonso choose to jump ship to Brackley.
“We are just waiting,” Honda team principal Brawn told reporters at Spa-Francorchamps ahead of this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix. “My view is that he's the best driver in Formula 1 at the moment, and we're happy to wait and hope that he makes a positive decision for us.”
Indeed, Alonso knows he must make a decision soon, with a number of teams – Honda and BMW-Sauber most prominently amongst them – understood to be delaying their announcements for next season until he has chosen where he wishes to drive.
It is also strongly rumoured that the 19-time grand prix winner is set for a Ferrari switch in 2010, thereby muddying the issue somewhat by rendering any commitment he makes for 2009 a one-year deal only.
“The reason I think he's the best driver in Formula 1 is [his] balance of experience and ability,” continued Brawn, who joined Honda from Ferrari last year and has high hopes for the future of the distinctly underperforming Japanese outfit, with a substantial budget in place and the raft of technical regulation changes due to sweep the sport as of next year.
“To me there are three very quick drivers who have established themselves so far in Formula 1. There's Lewis [Hamilton], there's Kimi [Raikkonen] and Fernando – and Felipe [Massa] is coming up very quickly and closely behind.
“If you look at those three drivers for a team in our position, where we have a strong rebuilding process going on, then we need a driver with strong development capacity, experience and absolute speed. For me, Fernando has all of those things.
“Lewis is clearly very quick [and] a super guy, but he doesn't have the experience yet. Kimi doesn't have the reputation of being a person who can develop a car strongly, but is very quick. That's why I think [Alonso] is the best driver in Formula 1, because he has a combination of those things.”
Alonso's present employers Renault currently sit three spots and 17 points ahead of Honda in the 2008 constructors' standings, with both teams having notched up just a single podium finish from the opening twelve races, Nelsinho Piquet for the former in Germany and Barrichello for the latter at Silverstone.