Alonso's options for next season narrow

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SHANGHAI, Oct 2 (Reuters) Fernando Alonso's options for next season have narrowed after Ferrari closed the door and the Spaniard himself ruled out taking a break from Formula One.

The double world champion has a contract with McLaren for 2008 but has become increasingly estranged from the Mercedes-powered team.

If not McLaren, then a return to Renault looks most likely although Toyota have the money and the vacancy after Ralf Schumacher announced yesterday that he was leaving.

Renault's Flavio Briatore has made no secret that he wants to lure Alonso back to the team that took him to his two world titles and has also assured him of number one status if he did return.

''I told Fernando that the moment he is free from McLaren, we would be pleased to have him back,'' he told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. ''It would be stupid to deny that.'' The rise of 22-year-old rookie sensation and team mate Lewis Hamilton, who could dethrone Alonso in this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, has unsettled a champion who had hoped to be undisputed number one at McLaren.

Hamilton, who has a 12-point lead with two races to go, said in Japan at the weekend that he would rather see Alonso in a Ferrari than a McLaren next season but that possibility was ruled out by the Italian team.

Ferrari boss Jean Todt told reporters there was ''zero percent'' of that happening because both of his current drivers had contracts.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone also suggested that the 26-year-old might opt for a year on the sidelines but Alonso shook his head.

''That's not in my plans. I want to race, I'm 100 per cent sure,'' he told Spain's Cadena Ser radio station after crashing out of the race at Fuji. ''Next year there will be an important change in the rules, removing all driving aids and it's a season you have to race,'' he added. ''It's important to adapt to the cars, which will basically be completely new.'' It may be that McLaren, no strangers to feuding team mates since the days when Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna were at loggerheads, insist on holding Alonso to his contract and he said he would accept that.

''I'd also be delighted not to have him (Hamilton) alongside,'' the Spaniard said. ''If we are not together next year and I have a competitive car, fine.

''And if we have to continue together, then we'll have another good fight.'' While Hamilton's future at McLaren is assured, team boss Ron Dennis said at Fuji that no contractual discussions would take place until after the end of the season with either of his drivers.

REUTERS BJR HS1148

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