When Fernando Alonso left Ferrari for the newly formed McLaren-Honda collaboration at the end of the 2014 Formula 1 season, it was thought the historically successful partnership would inevitably ‘return to glory’ and subsequently reward Alonso with the third World Drivers Championship he’s always yearned for.
But, three years after that decision, Alonso has become well-known for his increasingly comedic radio messages and audacious Indycar sabbatical over dominant race wins and hard-fought world championships.
The book of success McLaren and Honda wrote together in the late 1980s has long since been closed – and with constant unreliability and almost no pace throughout the 2017 season – it begs the question, just how much more can Fernando Alonso take?
Will Formula 1 be a priority?
When the Spaniard decided to join the renewed McLaren-Honda partnership in 2014, he commented multiple times that he would be dedicated to ensuring success in the project.
“McLaren and Honda are in the process of beginning what is sure to be a long and successful partnership,” he commented, “And I intend to give 100% effort to help make it exactly that.”
However, 2017 has shown Alonso’s focus is sometimes elsewhere when he decided to compete in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Unlike the last three years of Formula 1, Alonso actually had a major chance of winning the prestigious Indycar race and even led portions of it, but an engine failure just 20 laps from the end finished his day, unfortunately.
Despite this, seeing Alonso constantly in the top-ten throughout his first ever oval race was a such a considerable effort that several journalists and media questioned if a full-time Indycar drive was on the horizon for 2018, amidst his Formula 1 struggles.
But, he was quick to close-down these allegations, and following the Indy 500, Alonso reaffirmed his long time goal, telling the Daily Mail, “My first priority is Formula One and to win my third world championship.”
So, if a third world championship is still the goal for Alonso – does he still think McLaren are capable of bringing him it? Or, would he prefer a drive with another team who is already tasting the champagne?
The grim reality about Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull
Realistically speaking, there are only three options who could bring success to Alonso faster than McLaren-Honda: Mercedes-AMG, Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bull Racing.
But, even then, Christian Horner has already confirmed that both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will drive for Red Bull in 2018 – which eliminates two of the six potential seats for Alonso.
Ferrari is the same; in the week leading up to last weekend’s Belgium Grand Prix, the Scuderia confirmed both Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel would continue driving for the team in 2018.
That, realistically, leaves just two seats open for Fernando Alonso, those of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. The Mercedes pair have impressed this season with six wins between them and consequently spent the summer break with a 39 point advantage in the Constructors Championship.
But, neither driver is completed secured for the 2017 season; Hamilton has hinted he may retire soon whilst Valtteri Bottas’ contract is up for renewal at the end of the current season.
Spanish newspaper Marca asked Toto Wolff at the Spanish Grand Prix if he would consider Fernando Alonso for his 2018 driver line up, the Team Principal admitted, “You can never say no, that would be silly.”
During the same race weekend, Alonso told media during the Thursday press conference, “I will be more than happy to talk to anyone [about a seat].”
So, would Mercedes sign Alonso?
According to https://www.mytopsportsbooks.com/, the odds of Fernando Alonso staying with McLaren in 2018 sits at a strong 66% (2/3). That outcome now looks quite likely now as, quite honestly, it would seem awfully strange if Mercedes did not resign Valtteri Bottas after his blistering 2017 season. Similarly, if Hamilton pulled a ‘Rosberg’ and retired at the end of 2018, it would truly come as a shock to everyone.
Autosport is one major news network who’s already called that the pair will stay together – Lawrence Baretto writing in a recent article (funnily enough about Fernando Alonso’s future), “Mercedes [are] set to re-sign Valtteri Bottas to partner Lewis Hamilton.”
With this Mercedes driver lineup quickly becoming an agreed view of the situation, rumors, reported by Motorsport.com, began to circulate the Belgium Grand Prix paddock that Alonso could join Williams to serve as a mentor to the young Lance Stroll.
“I did have offers in June, in July, in August,” Alonso told Autosport during the weekend, “60 percent of them I said no already and the other 40 is still on the table.”
However, with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull completely ruled out as options for the 2018 season at least – you wonder if Alonso can really win that third Drivers World Championship anyone else?
Not points today but great team effort all weekend, great qualy and mega start running P7 the… https://t.co/pzl6jtufrF
— Fernando Alonso (@alo_oficial) August 27, 2017
With the current monetary structure of Formula 1 biased toward established teams, including McLaren-Honda, it’s unlikely any other team would offer Alonso the Championship he wants quicker than McLaren themselves, even if that looks so far away at the moment.
So, the prediction of a 66% chance for Alonso staying at McLaren in 2018 is pretty damn accurate then – McLaren is still the logical, most likely and predicted option, but you just can’t rule out Alonso seeing something special in a team such a Williams.
So, what’s the only thing we do know? Alonso has put a time on when we can expect a decision; he told Autosport in Belgium, “I will have a think and take decisions in the next month.”