Ferrari reaches deal with Fernando Alonso to replace Kimi Raikkonen

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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SUZUKA, Japan - Ferrari signed Fernando Alonso a year earlier than originally planned, reaching an agreement Wednesday with the two-time Formula One world champion for three years beginning next season.
After announcing the deal, both team and driver revealed they had an agreement that Alonso would sign with Ferrari for the 2011 season, only for the Italian team to reach a legal settlement with ousted driver Kimi Raikkonen in recent days and bring that date forward.
"We already had an agreement this summer starting in 2011, but then, the last days, the picture changed," Alonso said on the Ferrari website.
"I'm very happy and very proud to become a Ferrari driver. Driving a single-seater from the Prancing Horse is everybody's dream in this sport and today I have the opportunity to make this dream come true.
"Above all I want to thank Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo, who really wanted this three-year contract."
The move, the biggest in the sport since Michael Schumacher signed with Ferrari in 1996, had the blessing of F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.
"It's good for Fernando, good for Formula One, good for Ferrari," Ecclestone said. "It's looking good isn't it. Next year will be a good year."
The Alonso signing is a bold statement by Ferrari of its intention to get back to the pinnacle of Formula One, having not won the drivers' title since Raikkonen in 2007.
"His contribution will be very important to bring Ferrari back to the level where it has to be, to fight at the top," team principal Stefano Domenicali said.
"As chairman Montezemolo said recently, all the great champs want to come to Maranello sooner or later."
Alonso will see out the rest of this season with Renault, with his proud record with the team ending in disharmony after team principal Flavio Briatore received an indefinite ban and chief engineer Pat Symonds a five-year sanction for their role in Nelson Piquet's deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.
Renault said Thursday that a replacement driver would be announced next week. BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica is thought to head the list of candidates.
Alonso will partner Felipe Massa, who is recovering well from life-threatening injuries at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
"I'm sure that, together with Felipe, we'll offer Ferrari and the fans from all over the world some great satisfaction," Alonso said. "I can't wait to start working with my new team."Alonso had a fractious time in his one season at McLaren when he was not the undisputed top driver, and Ferrari risked another in-team struggle with Massa unwilling to cede his status to the new arrival.
"If he handled Kimi, he should be able to handle Fernando," Ecclestone said. "They're the same type of driver aren't they. He'll be all right."
Raikkonen was widely tipped to return to his old team McLaren to partner Lewis Hamilton, with out-of-contract Heikki Kovalainen to make way.
"We'll see him in a good car," Ecclestone said. "It'd be good to see him in a McLaren wouldn't it."
It was a rapid fall from grace for the Finn, who was Ferrari's undisputed top driver after claiming the 2007 title, but was eclipsed by Massa in 2008.

Organizations: Hungarian Grand Prix

Geographic location: SUZUKA, Japan, Maranello

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