Spaniard argues he was always treated equally within team as increasingly fractious relationship comes to a premature end.
Fernando Alonso has explained why he has decided to leave McLaren with immediate effect, in the same breath dismissing any prior suggestions of favouritism within the team that have dogged the British outfit's 2007 season.
Rumours had been swirling around the Formula 1 paddock for months that Alonso's position within the team had become untenable, following an acrimonious campaign during which he had frequently accused the team of favouritism towards his rookie team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The trouble first flared up following the Monaco Grand Prix back in May, when the drivers were allegedly told to hold station in the latter stages of the race.
The row between the pair really became public, however, in Hungary just over two months later, when Alonso and Hamilton fell out during qualifying as both attempted to hamper the other's effort in a tit-for-tat encounter. In the wake of that, Alonso allegedly tried to blackmail Ron Dennis over the spy saga, and from there on his relationship with his team boss never recovered.
“Since I was a boy I had always wanted to drive for McLaren,” Alonso admitted after the separation had been announced, “but sometimes in life things do not work out. I continue to believe McLaren is a great team. Yes, we have had our ups and downs during the season, which has made it extra-challenging for all of us, and it is not a secret that I never really felt at home.”
The 26-year-old admitted it had been a fractious year with the team – one he had believed back at the start would yield him his third straight championship title – but on his departure, he insisted he had always been treated as an equal to Hamilton.
“I know there have been suggestions of favouritism within the team and people say a lot of things in the heat of battle,” he stated, “but in the end I was always provided with an equal opportunity to win. Today's decision allows all of us to focus on 2008, and I wish the team, Vodafone, Banco Santander, Mutua Madrileña and all the other team partners who I have worked closely with during the year, the best for the future.”
Alonso will not have to pay any compensation for leaving the team two years before his three-year contract was up, and the question now is where he goes next. Renault have long been touted as the favourite to land his services, after team chief Flavio Briatore confessed he would welcome his former charge back with open arms should he wish to return. If that does indeed happen, it is likely that Heikki Kovalainen will travel in the opposite direction.
Other suggestions that have been made include Toyota, Williams, Red Bull Racing, Honda and Ferrari, though the chances of him ending up at the latter took something of a dive when Felipe Massa was reconfirmed at the Scuderia in the lead-up to the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.