I’ll leave all the navel-gazing editorials and news pieces like “Why Alonso left” and “Why Alonso fell short of being an F1 superstar” and “How Alonso sabotaged his own F1 career” and “Why Alonso is one of F1’s greatest” type stories for those who do such things. What I’d like to focus on is the reality of Alonso’s departure.
Fernando Alonso, regardless of what you think about him as a person, is arguably one of the best drivers on the grid since entering F1 back in 2000/2001. His friction at McLaren in 2007, the odd departure from Ferrari in 2014 and even his two titles for Renault in 2005 and 2006 were well documented.
What may be less transparent is what he plans to do now that he has won the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and has the Indy 500 left to conquer. Many expect an announcement that he will drive in Indycar for 2019 and that wouldn’t surprise me in the least for many reasons—least of which is a shot at the Indy 500.
Indycar is unabashedly focused on racing and while a spec car, they are not following the path of Formula 1’s ideologies with regards to a host of currently popular social causes. Indycar is clearly looking to grow and buttress their efforts with competitive cars and good on-track action. The spec nature helps control costs and perhaps in time, with growth, the series will expand the technology innovation element of the sport as well. That will take time and growth.
Growth, as it turns out, is exactly what Alonso’s presence in the series would give them. In fact, it would be a real coup for the series as it would siphon F1 fans worldwide to the series to see what Alonso can do. I think two years ago, we saw what he can do and this may make things very interesting.
Up until now, McLaren were willing to make things happen in order to keep Alonso happy and driving for the team. This is a departure from the team and that tells me that the flexibility either stopped or what Alonso really wanted to do would not allow him to drive for McLaren as well.
A full season of WEC and Le Mans didn’t present a conflict but perhaps a full season of Indycar would? Maybe he has something else in mind completely but whatever it was, it does seem that it didn’t fit McLaren’s program.
If Alonso feared that the 2019 season and looming 2021 regulation changes weren’t going to flatter McLaren, then finding a competitive ride in which to win titles was going to be very difficult to do. Mercedes is locked up, Ferrari isn’t an option and Renault just signed Daniel Ricciardo. We know what Red Bull’s Christian Horner thinks of Alonso so that wasn’t an option either. There are no top rides available and it’s an odd situation that, arguably, the best driver on the grid can’t get a top ride in F1. It leads one to consider Horner’s comments with more gravitas as he said that Alonso tends to make things chaotic wherever he goes.
It’s that lingering character trait that is most likely the thing that beached him at two titles and no more given his penchant for leaving teams at the wrong time. A shame for the man who ended Michael Schumacher’s 5-year dominance of the sport. One wonders if he was still at Ferrari now if he wouldn’t be putting an end to Lewis Hamilton’s 4-year dominance of the sport?
At 37, Alonso is about the age drivers tend to step out but Kimi Raikkonen is pushing that envelope. It seems to me that Alonso is leaving a door open for a return in 2020 and that also tells me that a year in Indycar could be on his mind. Then again, he’s fast in anything he sits in and perhaps, while he’s at it, he should win the Indy 500 and then go win the World Rally Championship (WRC). I wouldn’t put it past this man’s mega talents.
Official Press Release from McLaren:
McLaren Racing today confirms that double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso will not race in Formula 1 in 2019.
Fernando, who turned 37 in July, is competing in his 17th F1 season, his fifth with McLaren, and has amassed 32 wins, 22 pole positions and 97 podiums to date. Beyond his two titles – in 2005 he became the then-youngest world champion in F1 history – Fernando has been championship runner-up three times.
Zak Brown, Chief Executive Officer, McLaren Racing, commented:
“Fernando is not only an outstanding ambassador for McLaren but also for Formula 1. His 17 years in the sport, as arguably the pre-eminent driver of his generation and undoubtedly an F1 great, have added another layer to Formula 1’s rich history.
“There is a time for everyone to make a change and Fernando has decided the end of this season to be his. We respect his decision, even if we believe he is in the finest form of his career. Our open dialogue with Fernando has meant we could plan for this eventuality.
“While evaluating his future during the past months, Fernando’s competitiveness has been undimmed. He has continued to perform at the highest level throughout, as we know he will do in the remaining nine races of this year’s championship.
“I know that the entire team joins me in paying tribute to Fernando’s enormous contribution to McLaren; he is a legend both for the championship and for the team. Fernando is an important part of our story and will join an illustrious line of McLaren drivers. On behalf of Shaikh Mohammed, Mansour and our entire board, we wish Fernando every success in the future.”
Fernando Alonso commented:
“After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport, it’s time for me to make a change and move on. I have enjoyed every single minute of those incredible seasons and I cannot thank enough the people who have contributed to make them all so special.
“There are still several grands prix to go this season, and I will take part in them with more commitment and passion than ever.
“Let’s see what the future brings; new exciting challenges are around the corner. I’m having one of the happiest times ever in my life but I need to go on exploring new adventures.
“I want to thank everyone at McLaren. My heart is with the team forever. I know they will come back stronger and better in the future and it could be the right moment for me to be back in the series; that would make me really happy. I have built so many great relationships with many fantastic people at McLaren, and they have given me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and race in other categories. I feel I am a more complete driver now than ever.
“I made this decision some months ago and it was a firm one. Nevertheless, I would like to sincerely thank Chase Carey and Liberty Media for the efforts made to change my mind and everyone who has contacted me during this time.
“Finally, I would also like to thank my former teams, team-mates, competitors, colleagues, partners, journalists and everyone I have worked with in my F1 career. And, especially, my fans all over the world. I am quite sure our paths will cross again in the future.”