For Fernando Alonso, the last few years have undoubtedly been the worst of his career. Formula 1 fans have had to endure the pain of watching one of the sport’s great racing drivers race in an uncompetitive car since 2015. When Alonso joined McLaren, he will have been aware that his first and maybe second season at the team would not bring much success, which they certainly did not. However, he would have expected to be fighting for wins by now, but the reality is that the team are arguably further away from achieving victory than ever before.
McLaren and Honda have failed to replicate the glory years of the 1980s and 90s, where their partnership won them four world titles. In fact, Honda have failed to even provide a reasonable engine for the third season now, and have shown very little signs of improvement. The team finished ninth in the constructor’s standings in 2015, sixth in 2016, and currently sit in ninth this season with a meagre 11 points. This simply isn’t good enough for a team of McLaren’s calibre, and such results are not what Alonso will have expected when he put pen to paper in 2014. The 36-year-old is understandably losing patience with the team, and has consequently been strongly linked with a move away from McLaren.
The Spaniard has a few options for 2018, both in and out of Formula 1. Where might he land?
F1 fans across the globe would love to see Fernando back in a competitive car for 2018, and challenging for the driver’s championship. Many, including myself, still firmly believe that he is the best driver on the grid, and if he was given the right car, he would win his third driver’s title which he has spent so very long trying to achieve. Unfortunately, the likelihood that he will indeed have a car to challenge for the championship next season is slim.
Mercedes are looking set to retain their current driver line-up for 2018, and have already expressed that they do not wish to sign Alonso for next season. This is for two reasons, and the first of which is Lewis Hamilton. Toto Wolff does not want a repeat of 2007 where one of the most heated rivalries the sport has witnessed emerged. Alonso and Hamilton were ‘teammates’ back at McLaren, and weren’t the best of friends, to say the least.
Even though their relationship has improved, Mercedes are not willing to risk a similar situation occurring as it did in 2007, and as it did with Nico Rosberg and Hamilton. Furthermore, why should Mercedes get rid of Valtteri Bottas? The Finn is having a brilliant season, and exceeding the expectations of many. He is only 19 points behind Hamilton in the standings, and has seemed to have developed a healthy relationship with the Brit. It really is a no-brainer for the Silver Arrows to keep him for 2018.
A switch to Ferrari in 2018 would be the dream move for fans, and probably Alonso himself. The Spaniard was unlucky to not win the driver’s championship with the Scuderia in 2010 and 2012, where he narrowly missed out on both occasions at the last grand prix. In relative terms, Ferrari arguably have a superior car this season than they did during Alonso’s spell a few years ago, which means that there is no reason to suggest that Fernando would be unable to secure his third world title, if he was to earn a seat at the Prancing Horse for 2018.
Yet, a move to Ferrari is just as unlikely as a move to Mercedes, providing Sebastian Vettel remains at the team, which he most likely will. The Italian team operate on a #1 and #2 driver basis, and they would have great difficulty implementing this if their two drivers were Alonso and Vettel. Neither would accept the position of the team’s number two man, and as it has been so many times in the past, when both drivers are fighting for the championship, it is a disaster waiting to happen. The prospect of Hamilton vs Vettel vs Alonso for the 2018 world driver’s championship is mouthwatering, and it would be a mammoth battle between the three greatest drivers of our generation. We can at least dream…
Here is a more realistic, and more probable switch for Alonso next season. Renault are the team where the Spaniard won his two world titles, and it seems like the only team where both Fernando would be happy racing, and the team would be willing to offer him a drive. Jolyon Palmer’s chances of being a Renault driver next season are bleak, to say the least, so there will be a seat to fill, and I doubt the French team would turn away Alonso if he wanted to race for them.
The problem with this move is that the Spaniard would not be returning to the same team where he ended Michael Schumacher’s dominance in 2005. Despite Renault making solid improvements in 2017, and projected improvements for next season, they are still light years away from challenging for the championship, which is ultimately what Alonso still desires. Sadly for Fernando, it may just be his best option in Formula 1 for 2018.
Of course, Alonso will prefer and aim to remain in Formula 1 next season, but if he cannot find a team where he is challenging for victories, then he may look outside of F1. Some will see this as an outside shot, but the possibility of Alonso as an IndyCar driver next season cannot be ruled out. The Spaniard missed the Monaco Grand Prix this season in order to take part in the Indy 500, which is considered one of the most prestigious motorsport events in the world.
He drove exceptionally well in both qualifying and the race, where he was challenging for the lead in large parts. It was brilliant to see Alonso at the front of the grid, something which he has been deprived of in F1 for a few seasons, and he was clearly joyous throughout the weekend, as he loved it just as much as we did. Even if he doesn’t make the permanent switch over to IndyCar, be prepared to see him at Indy 500 again at least.
After all the speculation and rumours linking Alonso away from McLaren, will he just end up staying with the team for 2018? His contract is up at the end of this season, but despite this, a contract extension is looking increasingly on the cards.
The team’s dismal start to the season was infuriating for the whole team, especially for Alonso, who seemed that he’d had enough. However, Fernando seems to be less frustrated with the car as he was compared to at the beginning of the season, at least in public. Racing director Eric Boullier and executive director Zak Brown have also less frequently made public comments about their frustration with Honda. Does this suggest that they both realise that they may actually have no option but to continue their partnership with the Japanese engine manufacturer? Alonso will wish for McLaren-Mercedes next season, but even if their current partnership remains, he will still probably find himself at the team next season.
After closely assessing the options for Alonso next season, it is still challenging to say where exactly he will end up. What does seem clear is that he will not be in a championship-winning car next season, which seems outrageous given his immense talent even at 36 years of age. Outrageous it maybe, but understandable. The reasons why neither Ferrari nor Mercedes will take on Alonso are coherent, and he will know that too.
Personally, I think after 16 years in the sport, he should move on from Formula 1 to IndyCar, where he will be at least challenging for victories. That said, to lose him from the sport would be a big loss for everyone involved in it. Perhaps, what will be the toughest for fans and Alonso himself to accept, is that he will retire from Formula 1 only a two-time world champion.
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