Two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso will retire from the pinnacle of motorsport at the end of the season to pursue other racing challenges.
The Spaniard, who beat title-winning rivals Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher to the 2005 and 2006 championships respectively, will be replaced at McLaren by Renault driver Carlos Sainz.
“After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport, it’s time for me to make a change and move on,” he said. “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.”
Alonso is widely regarded as one of motorsport’s foremost talents and will leave Formula One with 32 grand prix victories and 22 pole positions.
However, the 37-year-old’s last race win came while driving for Ferrari at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix. He left the Scuderia at the end of a winless 2014 season in an ill-fated move to McLaren, which has been anchored to the bottom half of the grid ever since.
The team’s switch from the problematic Honda engine to Renault power this season has done little to improve its competitiveness, and Alonso’s frustration with his lack of options at teams higher up the grid was a factor in his decision.
“I’m having one of the happiest times ever in my life but I need to go on exploring new adventures,” he said. “Let’s see what the future brings; new exciting challenges are around the corner.“
Though Alonso hasn’t yet publicly committed to another racing series, his goal to win the unofficial motorsport ‘triple crown’ — the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix, the World Endurance Championship (WEC) 24 Hours of Le Mans and the IndyCar Indianapolis 500 — will logically take him to IndyCar to check off the famous 500-mile race, the only leg left for him to complete.
The Spaniard tried his hand at the American open-wheel series when he entered the 2017 Indianapolis 500, which he led for 27 laps before retiring with an engine failure 21 laps from the finish.
A full IndyCar series entry would presumably be conducted in tandem with the final three rounds of the 2018–19 WEC season, which Alonso currently leads with his Toyota teammates after victory at the first two races at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans earlier this year.
But though Alonso is broadening his motorsport horizons, he has deliberately left the door open to a Formula One return with McLaren should the historic English team recover its competitiveness.
“My heart is with the team forever,” he said. “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.”
McLaren finds itself with enormous shoes to fill in Alonso’s wake, with the Spaniard providing a dependable bar against which the team’s recovery has been measured.
In Sainz the team has a highly rated replacement, but the younger Spaniard cannot be expected to perform at his best in his first season with a team roiling with internal turmoil.
Further, the identity of Sainz’s teammate is unknown, with current driver Stoffel Vandoorne out of contract and leaving management unimpressed in his sophomore F1 season.
The sport will also feel the loss of Alonso’s star power. The Spaniard is a motorsport drawcard with a worldwide following, and though his failure to find a team able to provide him with a race-winning car highlights the inequality rife within the sport, the absence of his raw competitiveness will be felt regardless in 2019.
Formula One will be undoubtedly poorer without Fernando Alonso.