Renault has announced its driver line-up for 2008 – Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet Jr – but there’s no indication that the double world champion intends to remain at the team for more than a year.
The news follows last week’s World Motorsport Council hearing into claims that Renault had made use of confidential data about the specifications of the McLaren car.
The team was found to have been in possession of the data, but escaped unpunished, thus allaying fears that a huge fine would drive it out of the sport altogether.
Alonso has reportedly negotiated himself a fat fee and lead driver status – but the team is refusing to confirm for how long they’ve actually tied him down.
The move leaves Heikki Kovalainen without a drive for next year – potentially signalling a move to McLaren and a spell as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate.
The start of the endgame was signalled yesterday when Williams announced that it had formally signed existing driver Nico Rosberg, once considered a hot prospect for a McLaren drive.
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO at McLaren, has indicated that the team would be happy to go into 2008 with either of its test drivers, Pedro de la Rosa or Gary Paffett, at the wheel.
But he also said: “We’ll see how it unfolds. Obviously, Fernando will have some impact on the driver market at some point in the future.”
The finalised McLaren driver lineup will be, of course, the last piece in the puzzle.