Depsite finishing sixth at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso has not been able to challenge for a world title since winning the championship in 2006.
Now with his McLaren contract due to expire at the end of the year, do you think he should retire from F1?
Let us know what you think as two of our writers debate on the topic.
CHRIS BAILEY, SAYS YES
Fernando Alonso turned 36 over the weekend but it is a sign of the times that a sixth-place finish was considered a worthy birthday present for a legend of the sport.
It is the highest position the Spaniard has achieved with a moribund McLaren car aside from a handful of fifths. After three sorry years, a lesser competitor would have called it quits by now and no one would question his fight if he does just that when his contract expires this winter.
A return to the Scuderia was brutally slammed shut earlier this month by Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne. “Maybe he might have some interest for us, but not for him.” Ouch.
Valtteri Bottas only has a one-year deal at Mercedes but he has proven a perfectly capable driver and pairing Alonso with Lewis Hamilton again, though the pair have matured across a decade, would risk upsetting a very stable applecart.
Top teams could be wary just for the fact he rubbed people the wrong way after his McLaren spat with Hamilton in 2007, and in walking away from Ferrari at the end of 2014.
Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda implied he has not been impressed by some of the Spaniard’s actions, too. “I do not think Ferrari wants to have him again,” he said. “He left with a contract, which is the same as what happened with him and McLaren Mercedes.”
Therefore staying with McLaren is his only realistic choice in F1, and that would mean betting his future on a new engine making a world of difference.
As disastrous as Honda have been, that McLaren could make a quantum leap in 2018 is wishful thinking. Alonso was down 58 seconds on fifth-place Max Verstappen Sunday and he may as well have been a world away from the podium.
And of course McLaren are willing for him to participate in races like the Indy500 – they have to make a whole heap of concessions because their car is terrible.
But he should not have to keep hanging on. His best bet is to take a year out for other pursuits, and let McLaren prove themselves. If they don’t he’ll quickly find there is more to racing than F1.
MATT MAJENDIE, SAYS NO
The general consensus within the Formula One paddock is that Fernando Alonso is the most complete driver on the grid. But it is currently a talent being wasted.
He was last on an F1 podium in 2014, his last victory dates back to 2013 while you have to go back 11 years for the last time he was crowned world champion.
Conversations have swirled around about his future to the extent that this weekend in Budapest he said he was bored of talking about it, and would not declare his hand until September.
The 36-year-old has warned the call he makes will be a risk, but the biggest risk would be for him to walk away altogether. F1 needs Alonso and Alonso needs F1.
From the moment he produced a scintillating first test run for Minardi in 2001, it was clear that the sport had unearthed a gem – and is now all the richer for him.
His drive to finish in sixth place at Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix highlighted the point perfectly. Ok, he was more than a minute away from race leader Sebastian Vettel, but it was a reminder of what he’s capable of with a quick car at his disposal.
The Hungaroring is a circuit that does not require the same power as many on the calendar so it showed that McLaren have actually created a good, competitive car that crucially lacks a decent Honda engine.
It is perhaps telling that the team’s racing director Eric Boullier has set a September deadline for the team’s engine decision for 2018, the same deadline Alonso has put on his future.
Alonso holds enormous sway at McLaren, and the team has made it clear it will do absolutely everything in its power to keep him. And with no realistic options at other teams, McLaren is where his future lies.
They have made it clear they are happy to let their star man pursue his other desires, namely to win motorsport’s other jewels in the crown, the Indy500 and Le Mans.
He was back smiling in a deckchair after his exploits in Budapest, a nod to one of his darker days at McLaren when his car failed him in qualifying at Interlagos. He’s happy enough, and has unfinished business in F1.
Ahead of the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’, experienced ESPN commentary duo Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear have had their say on the man everyone’s talking about – Fernando Alonso.
Former F1 driver and IndyCar specialist Cheever feels the Spaniard, who will be driving #29 Chandon Honda for McLaren Honda Andretti in the 101st edition on Sunday, is one of the best drivers of all time – but says the challenge of IndyCar racing is as tough as it gets.
Alonso, who is set to make his rookie bow in Indianapolis, finished fifth in Friday’s final practice – with three-time champion Helio Castroneves of Team Penske taking top spot.
Cheever, who will be one of the key experts calling the action from the ESPN Indianapolis Motor Speedway commentary box this weekend stateside, believes Alonso has created a new buzz around the sport.
But, he has warned the 35-year-old about the difficulties of racing in IndyCar’s showpiece event.
He told Sport360: “The race will be full of surprises and Fernando’s participation has just added to that, I think it will be one of the biggest sporting events of 2017.
“What Alonso can do in a racing car is beyond genius – there’s certain drivers that are just capable of doing more than any other race car drivers. That pains me to say that as a former Formula One driver but over the years I’ve came to acknowledge that.
“Notwithstanding that, Fernando has no idea of what he’s getting into. You cannot explain the Indy 500 race to anyone – I couldn’t even explain it to my son (Eddie Cheever III) – even if I told him everything I’ve learnt over many Indy 500s,” the 59-year-old said.
“There’s the rolling start, the traffic at the beginning, there’s the turbulence, there’s running in the pack, there’s a different change in conditions, there’s full tank, there’s low tank, there’s coming into the pits under a yellow flag when 33 cars are trying to find their pits, it’s leaving the pits at the same time and then if you get through all those stations and problems there is the last five laps.
“They are indescribable. It’s like being in a tornado. Is it better to be second with three corners to go or first? Is it better to be fourth? What do you do? Everytime we’ve been in the television booth we’ve never really been able to call who’s going to win the race.”
Meanwhile, Cheever’s ESPN commentary colleague, Scott Goodyear – the famed former IndyCar driver – says he admires the respect Alonso has shown the sport.
The 35-year-old star has certainly left no stone unturned ahead of the race and has been working meticulously with his team in Indiana to ensure his preparation has been as good as it possibly could have been.
“Watching him, listening to him and speaking to him, you understand how serious he is about this,” Goodyear said.
“When he says he’s watched 25 to 30 Indy 500s before he even got here you know that he’s going to be a man that studies it and does everything he can to the best of his ability.
“His team Andretti put a purpose on being good at the Indy 500 and I think he’s arrived here driving for the best team.
“With multiple drivers in the Honda team you have such an opportunity to learn so much from the other drivers, I think he’s in one of the best places he could be at.”
The action gets away on Sunday May 28 at 12.19pm local time (8.19pm in the UAE).
Former Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever joined ESPN’s auto racing team in 2008 as an analyst for ESPN and ABC’s coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series. One of the most recognized names and faces in motorsports, Cheever won races all over the world in many different forms of race cars during his 30-year driving career.
The Arizona native made 132 starts in Formula One from 1978-89, the most by any American driver in the history of the sport. He returned to the United States in 1990 to pursue his dream of winning the Indy 500, racing in the former CART series and then in the IndyCar Series when it launched in 1996. He won the first race with the IndyCar Series’ new engine and chassis formula in 1997 and in 1998 won the Indianapolis 500 as a driver-owner.
Former IndyCar standout Scott Goodyear has been the expert analyst on ESPN’s coverage of the IndyCar Series since 2002.
Goodyear, who last raced professionally in 2003, brings more than two decades of racing experience to the broadcast booth. He raced for four years in the IndyCar Series, winning three races and recording one top-five and two other top-10 finishes in the season point standings.
Prior to the formation of the IndyCar Series in 1996, Goodyear raced in the CART Indy Car Series, winning his first race in 1992 at Michigan International Speedway. That same year he was involved in the closest-ever Indianapolis 500 finish when he chased Al Unser Jr. to the line and finished second by just .043 second. He also finished second in 1997 to Arie Luyendyk.
Goodyear’s last of his 12 consecutive starts in the Indy 500 was in 2001 when he suffered a broken back in a crash on the eighth lap. After recovering from the injury, he decided to retire from Indy cars and join the ESPN team for 2002. He drove in some sports car races in 2003 when his TV schedule allowed and took a Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series victory at Watkins Glen International.
Fernando Alonso has nothing to prove in racing but it’s his drive to accomplish more that makes the Spaniard one of the true greats of his generation.
It says something for the measure of the man, a two-time Formula One world champion, that he is prepared to take a step into the unknown and put everything on the line to compete in Sunday’s Indy 500 – the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’.
For drivers, it is the ultimate test – throttling speeds exceeding 235mph around the famous but extremely challenging Indianapolis Motor Speedway circuit. And get this; they’ll be 300,000 spectators at the venue as well as millions watching worldwide.
Will Alonso triumph? Who knows – but in truth – the F1 star, who skipped this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix to contest the midwestern state’s stellar race – has already won – even if he doesn’t cross the finish line first after completing 200 laps of the 2.5mile-long track.
For Americans to show so much interest in a non-American driver, a man who is taking a huge step out of his comfort zone, tells you something about Alonso’s stellar reputation in racing.
While Alonso, who will be competing for McLaren-branded Andretti Autosport, is very much the centre of attention in Indianapolis – the other drivers and teams aren’t fussed about the cameras not focusing on them.
Alonso may just stand at 5ft 5 inches – but he is a totemic presence here.
The McLaren star has injected a new lease of life into the sport and catapulted the buzz of Indy500 to new levels beyond the United States. The public stateside have taken him in, almost, as one of their own – they appreciate his commitment to a national treasure of a race.
Indeed, there can’t be too many occasions where this has happened before. Crossing sports for a second, David Beckham didn’t even come close to having the same impact on this side of the Atlantic.
Alonso is serious about this, it’s no marketing gimmick – his running in the 101st billing of the race was a long time in the making.
Fernando Alonso is the name on everyone’s lips and IndyCar should be grateful that he’s ready to conquer Indiana.
Whilst the threat of rain could cause havoc on Sunday’s race schedule in Indiana, the 35-year-old knows sitting in the IndyCar driving seat is the best place for him at the moment.
After a difficult season with McLaren, skipping Monaco has turned out to be a blessing in disguise and his Indy bow could well open the door to a full campaign next term in the format.
Cool and unflustered, he has dealt with the fanfare surrounding the switch very much in his stride. For a man who has been in the spotlight so long, he makes it look like it’s just another day at the office – but this race means so much more.
He will start eleventh on the grid and will be looking to follow Damon Hill in winning his first Indy 500 as a rookie after exchanging engine sizes from Formula One.
Perhaps, Alonso is targeting the clean sweep – an Indy 500 title and a future tilt at the esteemed Le Mans 24 Hour – a race he has made it widely known he admires.
Alonso would love to make it a hat-trick and add these two titles to his F1 gongs – only Hill has done that previously. As a keen scholar of the sport – the veteran is aware of the weight of history.
It’s an event which has helped him get the racing butterflies back and feel like he did as a youngster breaking into Formula One back in 2001.
The Indy outing won’t truly define Alonso’s career by any stretch, but a formidable drive will certainly capture the imagination of the many fans worldwide who are tuning in to follow his progress.