LONDON, Nov 2 (Reuters) The race to sign up Fernando Alonso swept into overdrive today after McLaren formally ended their troubled relationship with the double world champion.
Alonso's manager Luis Garcia Abad told Spanish media the Formula One driver was ''free to sign for any team next season'' and there will be no shortage of offers for the 26-year-old Spaniard.
His former employers Renault, led by flamboyant Italian Flavio Briatore, have already made it very clear that they want him back.
However, the French team may not be Alonso's first choice, even if they are prepared to pay the many millions he will surely demand as the hottest property on the market.
Renault, who took him to titles in 2005 and 2006 and have yet to confirm their driver lineup for 2008, were miles off the pace this year and there are no guarantees their new car will be any better.
Asked 10 days ago if that remained his favoured option, Alonso told Spain's Cadena Ser radio station: ''No, right now I'd say no''.
Toyota, with one of the biggest budgets in the paddock, have a declared vacancy following the departure of Germany's Ralf Schumacher.
But the Cologne-based team have yet to win a grand prix, let alone mount a serious championship challenge, since their debut in 2002.
FERRARI PRAISE Ferrari would be the most attractive proposition but they have newly-crowned world champion Kimi Raikkonen and Brazilian Felipe Massa under contract to the end of 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo lauded the Spaniard last week, calling him ''world class in every sense, an extraordinary driver'' but that does not mean Alonso is Maranello-bound any time soon.
''I have to disappoint all of Fernando's fans -- I don't think anything will happen in that direction in the next three years,'' Ferrari's former champion Michael Schumacher said last week.
BMW Sauber, runners-up to Ferrari in the championship after leaders McLaren were stripped of all their points after a spying controversy, also have plenty of potential.
The German team are targeting wins in 2008 but have Germany's Nick Heidfeld and Poland's Robert Kubica under contract.
BIG AMBITIONS Red Bull, with Renault engines and top designer Adrian Newey, are bankrolled by Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz and have big ambitions.
They have been talked of increasingly as a potential short-term home for the Spaniard before he focuses on broader opportunities from 2009.
Red Bull have Mark Webber and Briton David Coulthard under contract for 2008 but the Australian is managed by Renault's Briatore and could find himself caught up in the merry-go-round.
That same driver shuffle, according to paddock pundits, could also see Renault's young Finnish rookie Heikki Kovalainen head to McLaren.
Williams, former champions and more competitive than Red Bull this season, have also been mentioned -- particularly if their highly-rated German Nico Rosberg takes the Spaniard's place at McLaren.
The Toyota-powered team have a vacancy, with Austrian Alexander Wurz retiring, but have not won a race since 2004 and would have to dig deep into limited resources to secure a driver of Alonso's standing.
After the mutual split with McLaren, the decision will be Alonso's to make and he will want to do it with more calm than he has had in recent months.
''I have some idea of what I want to do, a plan or a hope,'' he told Spain's Telecinco at the weekend. ''I know what I'd like to do next year but I don't know if it's possible.'' Reuters AB GC2028