Fernando Alonso has shown time after time the past three years that he is quite possibly the best driver of his generation. But he has probably had enough of Formula 1. And it would appear to be Honda’s fault…
Fernando Alonso has not won a race since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix. He has not stood on the podium since Hungary 2014. He has not taken pole position since Germany 2012. But he is still considered by many as the greatest driver in Formula 1 right now, and potentially one of the greatest drivers in the history of motorsport. But it looks like he could well be driven away from Formula 1 after this season. Why? Well the answer comes in the form of one word. Honda.
Okay, let’s be clear. There is nothing official yet from anyone that he is set to leave. He may well stay on for another year or maybe more. Renault appear to be interested in taking back the Spaniard. McLaren may well convince him to stay for another year at least in the hope Honda improve. Or, if recent reports in Germany are anything to go by, Mercedes may well supply the Woking team next year which will surely convince Alonso to stay. He wants a Mercedes engine and the McLaren MCL32 chassis is developing very well so far this year. In Monaco, where having the right car is key, both of them got into Q3 for the first time this year. Stoffel Vandoorne may have crashed at the end of Q2 there and Jenson Button had not been in a car since Abu Dhabi 2016, but they proved what the car is capable of.
But there are spanners in the works for all of those solutions to Alonso’s 2018 problem. Robert Kubica recently tested the 2012 Lotus E20 with Renault. Not only did the Polish star complete 115 laps, according to Renault, he “has the pace” to make an F1 comeback. The French team are increasingly frustrated with Jolyon Palmer’s performances. They are relying heavily on Nico Hulkenburg. Whilst Alonso would certainly solve that problem, the feeling is more tests could well be undertaken with Renault and Kubica. In short, they seem very keen to sign him up for 2018. At 32, he has a decent amount of time left in the sport and Renault are making great progress. If Kubica has the speed and Renault keep improving, he could yet be a real factor at the front. So if Renault are this keen on signing up Kubica and with Hulkenburg doing a great job on a multi-year deal, Alonso might not get the Renault seat.
“All race long the [lack of] speed we had on the straights was impressive.”
Fernando Alonso, 2017 Spanish Grand Prix
Then of course there’s McLaren. Reports in Germany suggest they have indeed broken from their Honda contract and signed a new deal with Mercedes. For how long, who knows? But if so, it’s big and may entice Alonso to stay on…if it’s signed. Mercedes may well not want McLaren to get their engines. Even more so as McLaren seem to be on the up with their chassis.
McLaren might not want to be treated like a customer team, they might not be able to afford the engine deal and Alonso’s contract, etc. It is not that easy. There is of course the chance Alonso and McLaren will keep faith in Honda. But that would be very brave. After making solid progress in 2016, the situation is almost akin to 2015 right now. They have gone backwards. Massively. Anything they produce in 2018 will surely be worse than Mercedes, Ferrari and probably Renault as well.
“How long can the great McLaren team keep waiting for Honda to get their act together? They are going to have to make a decision soon.”
Martin Brundle, Sky F1 at the 2017 Spanish Grand Prix
All this could well mean Alonso will leave F1, thanks to McLaren’s woeful engine supplier. To go backwards into the third year of the project, after showing great signs of progression in the second year is insane. Impressive, as Alonso so often says. His frustration has been clear for all to see and it may well have driven him away from the sport for good. I don’t think anyone could blame him for going either. He has been deprived of any chance of victory for four long years. 2014 was just another disappointing year at Ferrari. 2015 onwards has been a failure by Honda. So, what next for motorsports’ current superstar?
Probably where he went over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend. IndyCar. Alonso clearly enjoyed his experience and gained many fans among race goers and fellow drivers alike whilst competing at the Indy 500. His performance was incredible and had it not been for…ahem…a Honda engine failure, he could well have won the race. McLaren want a full time IndyCar entry, but not for a couple of years yet. The most likely scenario is that they will again partner up with Andretti Autosport and field a McLaren Honda Andretti entry for the full season, before a potential works entry in 2019 or 2020 by McLaren. Going to IndyCar, he would finally have a chance to win again every weekend and would be once again racing against some of the best drivers in the world. Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden. Even former F1 guys like Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato have shown how good they really are in IndyCar. Alonso will thrive once again. Honda may keep him involved with them despite his leaving of F1, but they may have deprived the sport of its ultimate superstar…