Friday, January 2, 2009

Driver Contracts

So F1Fanatic has it on good authority that Fernando Alonso has signed to drive for Ferrari starting in 2011. This is not inconsistant with the current contracts that Ferrari has, as both Massa and Raikonnen's contracts are good through the end of 2010.

This isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened. Alonso did his last championship-winning season with Renault, all the while having a McLaren contract in his pocket for the following year. At the same time, Raikonnen did his last season with McLaren while knowing he was going to drive a Ferrari the following year.

I would bet, though, that both Alonso and Raikonnen were a bit concerned through that season, seeing as how the relative paces of the McLaren and Ferrari was not exactly competitive. Ferrari was especially disappointing given that Micheal Schumacher was still driving the Ferrari, and only being able to snag a win under extremely unusual circumstances at Indy.

But this is the first time I can remember a driver being signed two years in advance. To me, this seems like an extremely strange risk to take. While Alonso is clearly in the top rank of drivers, it is not assured that he will still be after two more years of racing. Similarly, while the Ferrari is a competitive car and the team is still likely to enjoy a crushing budget advantage over the bulk of the field, the 1990s proved that budget alone is no guarantee of competitiveness for this team.

I am sure that the contract has numerous exit clauses that will permit either side to get out of it should Alonso become undesirable or the Ferrari team fails to maintain their status. And in that sense, the contract probably means that Alonso's place at Ferrari for 2011 is little firmer than anyone else's at this point, fodder for nothing more than media and weblog discussion.