Fernando Alonso refuses to rule out full World Endurance Championship season in 2018

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Fernando Alonso has revealed he is still keen on competing in a full World Endurance Championship (WEC) next year but his team McLaren effectively ruled out that possibility in Abu Dhabi.

The two-time Formula One world champion, who last weekend drove a Toyota LMP1 car during a WEC testing experience in Bahrain, has made it clear he wants to pursue the format in 2018.

McLaren are likely to grant Alonso permission to make his debut in the famed Le Mans 24 Hours next year as part of the nine-part WEC series, much like they did back in May, when the 36-year-old skipped the Monte Carlo Grand Prix to partake in the famed Indy500 race.

While it has not yet been confirmed the Spaniard will drive at Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe next June, a full season in WEC looks to be out of the question given potential clashes with his F1 commitments.

“We would need to study the calendars carefully. It would be nice. Probably. I would like it,” said a coy Alonso, when asked about the possibility, during a media debrief at the team’s hospitality villa at Yas Marina Circuit.

Following up on Alonso’s answer, McLaren team boss Eric Boullier said: “First of all, as you yourself pointed out, the calendars still intersect, so he would not be able to do the full season.

“Of course, we all know that Fernando likes to race every weekend. I think 52 weekends a year would not be enough for him.

“We know that one day he wants to race at Le Mans, but we have not received any official requests yet. Nobody has asked us. So I cannot comment on these rumours.”

After a disappointing campaign with McLaren Honda and a ninth-placed finish in the Constructors’ Championship, Alonso is fully focused on the next 12 months which will also see him race in the 2018 Daytona 24 Hours – his first-ever endurance event – for outfit, United Autosports sportscar.

“We didn’t meet the expectations (at McLaren this year) but it’s a good feeling to finish the season – turning the page for the next goal, next target and clearly for next year we have high expectations,” said Alonso.

“Different goals, designing the car (during testing next week) – many things are ongoing that make us quite optimistic and we can concentrate on next year.”

McLaren will end their disastrous tie-up with Honda and will have a Renault engine starting 2018.

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Bits from the Pits: Sharapova, Rosberg and others take in Abu Dhabi GP qualifying

Reem Abulleil 26/11/2017

The stars were out in full force for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday at Yas Marina Circuit and the paddock was buzzing all day.

Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova had her first Formula One experience, where she was making an appearance for Mercedes sponsors UBS.

She got to meet last year's world champion, the now-retired Nico Rosberg, and reminded us why they each chose their respective sport.

Sharapova spent a couple of days in the UAE capital, where she visited the recently-opened Louvre Museum on Saadiyat Island. A tanned and relaxed looking Rosberg did the rounds, saying hello to everyone from his former rivals to the journalists and TV crews. It's hard to believe that just 12 months ago he was on the eve of the greatest day of his career -- the day he became a world champion for the first time. He retired from the sport soon after. Former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia was also in attendance as a guest of Mercedes, while Lebanese superstar singer Ragheb Alama was at the Ferrari team hospitality area. Cycling's sprint king and Abu Dhabi regular Mark Cavendish was seen strolling through the paddock while Mumford & Sons, who performed at Du Arena on Saturday night, watched qualifying from the Mercedes garage.

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Daniel Ricciardo will take his time before deciding on his future

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In demand and 'desirable': Dani Ricciardo.

Having to choose between several decent options is what you may describe as ‘a good problem to have’ but in Daniel Ricciardo’s situation, it also poses a unique challenge he’s never been faced with before in his career.

The Aussie driver grew up in the Red Bull set-up, getting promoted from Toro Rosso to the main team in 2014, as a replacement for the departing Mark Webber, and he’s been with the Austrian UK-based outfit ever since.

Ricciardo has claimed five grand prix victories with Red Bull Racing over the past four seasons and has finished third in the world championship race twice. The 28-year-old’s contract will run out next year and it’s likely he’ll have interest from the sport’s current big three – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

While securing a ride for 2019 early can offer peace of mind and stability, Ricciardo insists he won’t be making any decisions during the winter break and says he won’t be lured by any big money deals.

Double world champion Fernando Alonso – one of the most talented drivers on the grid – left Ferrari for McLaren at the close of 2014 and the Spaniard ended up driving a non-competitive car for the past three seasons.

Ricciardo is wary of making a similar mistake.

“That’s I think another reason why I’m a bit afraid to rush the decision. Because whatever I sign it’s unlikely going to be a one-year – it’s probably a multiple-year deal, I’m assuming,” Ricciardo told reporters in Abu Dhabi after qualifying fourth for Sunday’s grand prix.

“That then is probably the peak years of my career, is the next deal I sign, so I want to make sure I maximise that with my driving ability then, so that’s why I’m going to take my time and try to figure it out.”

Ricciardo is aware he’s facing this kind of predicament for the first time in his career, but he’s embracing it. He’s also clear on what his priorities are when making that decision.

“I highly, highly doubt I’ll be signing any dotted lines over the next month. Probably not event if I get a ridiculous offer. I think right now it’s not about the offer, it’s about who’s going to have the best car in 2019,” he said.

“It’s worth me just seeing how the start of the year goes. I don’t want to be too clever and think I’ll have every option possible but I think I’ve got enough time on my side to still sit it out a little bit.”

On the possibility of talking to all three powerhouse teams, Ricciardo said: “Talking to Red Bull is easier, because I know them already, the other two I guess if they’re interested they’ll need to make the approach.

“I don’t want to come across as desperate. Doesn’t work with the ladies either,” he added with a laugh.

Ricciardo sees “no merit” in deciding now but also believes he won’t leave it until late next year.

He knows there will be some discussions with Red Bull over the next couple of weeks but he wants to switch off during Christmas time and enjoy the Australian summer Down Under.

Does the uncertainty surrounding his future affect his driving? The Perth-native responds with confidence: “I mean, today I drove alright so… no it doesn’t!

“I think it would if I didn’t have a drive, if you know what I mean – I’d like to think there’s still some offers, even though I’m out of contract, I think there’s still some demand, whether it’s from Red Bull or others.

“I know Red Bull is certainly keen, at least from the small initial talks we’ve had. Obviously the longer I leave it, then I need to make sure I’m performing well into next year to still be desirable. But obviously if anything I’m confident I can get better.

“This year was at times challenging but I definitely feel that every year you get better, you progress, and I feel I’ve continued with that.”

Ricciardo enters Sunday’s final race of the season lying fourth in the championship standings, just seven points ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

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