Race Weekend Central

F1 Midweek: Will Fernando Alonso Stay in F1 Beyond 2018?

Fernando Alonso has been a notable name in Formula One for the last 12 seasons. The Spaniard made history for Renault by winning world championships in 2005 and 2006. But why is the Spaniard now driving in a lot of other formula series?  Is it possible that if things do not work out for Alonso this season at McLaren, he will no longer be around in F1 by season’s end?

Alonso began his F1 career in 2001 at the age of 19. He started by driving for Minardi for his manager Flavio Briatore and transferred to Renault at 21. He won his first race in 2003 at the Hungaroring in Hungary and became world champion two years later.

But his dream was to race for McLaren, and in 2007, Alonso made the switch. There was only one problem; his teammate was the young upstart, Lewis Hamilton, a wheelman molded by McLaren since childhood.

Entering the team sitting second on the totem pole, Alonso was doomed from the start. The season was a disaster, as the two fought both on the track and off it. It was a re-creation of the earlier Aryton Senna/ Alain Prost debacle from years ago, two superstars incapable of sharing the same turf. It was also a fight then Team Manager Ron Dennis, who had gone through this before, could not tolerate. Alonso tore up his contract and returned to Briatore and Renault.

Controversy followed Alonso in his 2008 return. The entire Renault team was penalized for what has been termed ‘crash-gate’ at the first F1 night race in Singapore. There, Renault teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. was accused of a forced accident, an intentional wreck that put Alonso in position to win.

One year later, Piquet Jr. was replaced due to bad finishes and the Brazilian spilled the beans about the Singapore incident. Briatore was banned for life in the sport, and Alonso only stayed one more season with Renault before he left for Ferrari. Renault was then replaced on the grid by Lotus, temporarily departing F1 in disgrace.

Alonso’s results with Ferraris that struggled to keep up with Red Bull were middling. He and the organization ended their relationship after just five seasons.

But since rejoining McLaren, his current home, Alonso has continued to struggle. He’s not even been close to claiming a world championship, underperforming against the sport’s top talent. The management team has also been one in turmoil. Head Ron Dennis was terminated last year by McLaren’s top investors and the team hasn’t even earned a podium.  McLaren does have a right to blame Honda, whose parts have failed many times in competition, but that’s not a full excuse.

This season, there is no Dennis, who was replaced by American Zak Brown. There’s no Hamilton, who has found employment at Mercedes. And there’s no Honda, replaced by a Renault powerplant.

Brown, in his first season as manager, tried to appease an impatient Alonso by allowing him to attempt the Indianapolis 500. It’s a 2017 start that might have resulted in victory if his Honda engine did not fail towards the end of the race. However, the race happened to fall on the same weekend as the legendary Monaco Grand Prix. Since the team was performing poorly, Alonso was permitted to race at Indy, but it showed you where his interests lied.

Alonso, at this point, has become little more than a midpack driver with McLaren. This season, the problem is not with the engine but the chassis. It’s a long-term fix that requires patience for all involved. Alonso says he’s committed yet continues to dabble in other series. He is driving in the WEC World Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, both when there are no F1 races on the same weekend.

Since the Spaniard has no chance to win five or more world championships in F1, his goal is to do what only Graham Hill did: win Monaco, which he has done, along with Indianapolis and Le Mans. And if Alonso is not happy at McLaren, where will he go? Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull want nothing to do with him. Could he return with Renault, who is back in F1? Since this team has a few more years to improve, the 36-year-old might not want to wait that long.

Attempting Hill’s record might be the only option for racing immortality. But will Alonso be willing to change gears and leave F1 full-time in the process?

Only time will tell.

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Alonso finds himself in this position because of a very simple miscalculation. He had become disenchanted with Ferrari, not thinking he could win another championship with them. However when he decided to leave there were no better options. Mercedes wasn’t going to replace one of their drivers, nor was Red Bull. So he was left with Mclaren as his best option. That they haven’t delivered was too a large degree masked by the Honda engine problems. But now with a different power plant, they are third best of that group. So despite his undeniable talent, which come at a hefty price tag,he now has run out of options in F1.

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