“I just finished qualifying, I don’t know if you noticed,” deadpanned Fernando Alonso as he faced press questions immediately after the session today for tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix. The truth is no one had noticed. The news was immense, earth-shattering – that Sebastian Vettel will leave Red Bull Racing for Ferrari next season, with Alonso presumably the man to vacate the seat at the Scuderia. Daniil Kvyat is in for Vettel at Red Bull, while Alonso is either destined for McLaren Honda or a sabbatical.
There was little else to talk about, even as Nico Rosberg produced a near-flawless lap to take pole and the psychological edge on his rival Lewis Hamilton going into tomorrow’s race. Vettel’s move was similarly a smart one. Unexpected this year at least, in announcing it this morning, he has decisively put one over on his 2015 rivals and is a winner from today’s driver market machinations.
The other people to come out of this smelling of roses are Red Bull, who got not only to say a swift and financially painless goodbye to a man they couldn’t sack but was beginning to look like he wasn’t cutting the mustard, but also to announce Ferrari’s driver line-up before the Italian marque could. (Rather unbelievably, as forumula1.com goes to press, Maranello are still yet to put out a press release). Daniil Kvyat will also be grinning from ear to ear tonight, sitting as he is on the fast train.
But there are also some who have lost out. As noted Ferrari have been caught napping. Their man Alonso, who has fallen out of love with his dream team, now looks like a ditherer with only two credible options, neither optimal. A sabbatical could see him irrelevant in 2016, such is the pace of change, and McLaren Honda are extremely unlikely to be the finished article in their first year of re-collaboration. Jenson Button will no longer be required at McLaren if Alonso parachutes in. Finally, Jean-Eric Vergne is rather ludicrously being elbowed out of the Toro Rosso equation as the son of a rally driver and a two-year-old nab the seats. If STR can find the booster seats, that is.
Amongst all this, there will be a race tomorrow which will be the next instalment in a thrilling, tight championship battle. As long as the typhoon doesn’t hit that is. We have been hit by a storm already this weekend in Suzuka!