Fernando Alonso left the door open for a possible return to Formula One on Thursday when he explained he was saying goodbye to the sport, but could not forecast the future.
The two-time world champion, who it is claimed turned down an offer from Red Bull before announcing his F1 exit, said: “I don’t have a crystal ball to know the future. For me, it’s a bye-bye, but who knows in the future.”
“Right now I am thinking that it is a goodbye, but life changes very quickly and life also taught me in the past how things may change in a couple of months’ time or in years’ time,” said Alonso.
He told a news conference ahead of this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix that “it was a decision that probably I started thinking about last year.
“And then this year, 2018, there were a lot of changes into the team and with the engine manufacturer changes and things like that.
“I thought it was worth staying one more year. I enjoy driving these cars with new regulations, big tyres, more down-force and this year was some kind of joy to keep racing and to have another go.
“A couple of months ago, I decided it was the right time. I feel strong, feel a good level and want to say bye-bye to this sport when I am strong, not when I am not competitive or have no place to go.
“I prefer to take my own decision and take new challenges that Formula One cannot offer me at the moment.”
The championship leader told reporters Thursday that he felt it was a pity that the two-time champion Spaniard, who announced last week that he will depart Formula One at the end of this season, was not as decorated as he deserved to be.
For sure, in the racing world he will be missed,” Hamilton said.
“He has been a really big part of it and is one of the greatest drivers that have ever been here.
“I would say it is a shame that he is not as decorated as his ability deserves, but sport is a very interesting machine and it’s not just about being a great driver.
“It is how you manoeuvre, how you play the game. It’s like a chess game and how you position yourself with all the different things that are also part of the package.
“He is arguably the greatest driver I have driven against and I wish him all the best.”
Alonso ended seven-time champion Michael Schumacher’s supremacy when he won the drivers’ title in 2005 and 2006 with Renault, becoming the youngest champion.
He raced with Hamilton at McLaren in 2007 when, after a troubled and often acrimonious season, they were beaten to the title by Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.
“Naturally, I don’t hold sadness for it,” he said. “There’s no reason for me to hold sadness for it… He will be missed.
“But 17 seasons is a lot and I have huge respect for that because it is not easy for a driver to stay that long and perform.
“It’s a lot of commitment, a lot of time and a lot of dedication that people might not understand and appreciate, but naturally, as within any sport, I can appreciate it.”
With Fernando Alonso retiring from Formula 1 and Daniel Ricciardo joining Renault, the drivers’ grid is set to look a little different in 2019.
Here, we take a look at three names who could seal a seat in 2019.
LANDO NORRIS TO MCLAREN
The Briton currently sits second in Formula 2 and is widely tipped as one of the stars of the future.
Although Carlos Sainz will replace Fernando Alonso in 2019, Norris’ hopes of securing a seat should not be dashed just yet.
McLaren’s second contracted driver Stoffel Vandoorne faces an uncertain future with the Belgian struggling for form – being the only driver in the paddock not to outqualify his teammate in the 12 races to date.
It is understood that Norris will take the wheel for the first free practice in Belgium this weekend, with his latest runs part of an ongoing trial regarding his potential to seal a race seat with the team next season.
DAN TICKTUM TO TORO ROSSO
The Briton was tipped to replace Brendon Hartley earlier in the season but his main obstacle is obtaining a super license.
The 19-year-old needs 40 points before he can be awarded an FIA Super License required to race grand prix, or 25 to take part in first practice sessions.
If he wins the F3 European Championship title he will earn 30 points – on top of the five he has already – leaving him just five short of the minimum 40.
The FIA reviews its super licence criteria each year so changes could be made that make the highly-rated Londoner eligible.
ANTONIO GIOVINAZZI TO SAUBER
The Italian drove in first practice for Sauber in Hungary earlier this month and will take that role for four more races before the end of the season.
The 24-year-old has two career starts with the Swiss outfit, finishing 12th on his debut in Australia in 2017, before crashing out in China two weeks later.
Uncertainty over the futures of Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson means at least one seat could be available next season, and the Ferrari academy driver has emerged as the key candidate.