McLaren have confirmed that Fernando Alonso will continue to drive for them for the 2018 season after signing a contract extension with them.
The team have not specified the length of the contract, though there is a suspicion there will be an opt-out clause for 2019 when the drivers market will open up with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen all out of contract. Alonso has insisted however that he sees his deal at McLaren as a long term agreement, and has reiterated the point that he wishes to finish out his career with the Woking based team.
“We don’t talk about contract clauses but it’s more of a long-term partnership,” Alonso said to the media. “I would be extremely happy to finish my career in McLaren. I don’t think it’s going to be one year.”
Alonso re-joined the McLaren team in 2015, having previously drove for them during the disastrous 2007 season where he got into a season long inter-team battle with Hamilton that cost them both the championship. He returned in 2015 in the hopes of winning a third Drivers championship with McLaren. However he has failed to even finish on the podium during the three seasons so far, let alone win a race. While this season has been the worst on record for McLaren in their history. The main issue has been the Honda power unit that according to Alonso has “no power and no reliability.” The team have suffered from reliability problems all season and even this weekend at the US grand Prix the team will be taking engine related grid penalties.
The double world champion has become increasingly vocal about the “GP2 engines” Honda have been providing, and some of his radio commentary this year has been spectacular and at times scathing as well. There were talks that Alonso was looking to move to another team, though it became clear soon on that the top teams had their drivers line up sorted for this season. And while teams like Williams are yet to confirm their driver line up they really couldn’t afford Alonso’s salary. Instead the Spanish driver will remain at McLaren who have divorced Honda and will be running Renault engines next season.
“It’s fantastic to be able to continue my relationship with everybody at McLaren,” said Alonso in a statement released by McLaren. “It was always where my heart was telling me to stay, and I really feel at home here. Just as important, McLaren has the technical resource and financial strength to be able to very quickly win races and world championships in F1. Although the last few years have not been easy, we have never forgotten how to win, and I believe we can achieve that again soon. The last three years have given us the momentum to plan and build for the future, and I’m looking forward to that journey. I’m excited for our future together – and I’m already working hard to make it a success.”
Alonso, as well as McLaren, will be hoping the switch to Renault power will return them to front of the field and potentially deliver them podiums, wins, and world championships once again. The team last won a race in Brazil in 2012 with Jenson Button taking the win for them, while their last championship was in 2008 with Hamilton. It’s been a long time coming, but executive director Zak Brown is confident the team can start winning again as soon as next season with Renault power underneath them.
“We head into 2018 feeling increasingly confident that we’ll be able to take a meaningful step forward,” said Brown. “With Fernando, there is no doubt that we have a driver who can help us achieve our goal of winning again in F1.”
Alonso will drive alongside the Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who was already confirmed to be driving for McLaren in 2018 at the Belgian Grand Prix in August. The rookie has impressed this season and currently sits ahead of his veteran team mate Alonso in the drivers standings. McLaren Team Principal Eric Boullier believes the line up for McLaren-Renault in 2018 will be the best driver pairing on the grid.
“With Fernando, you really can’t ask for a better driver to deliver a result for you on a Sunday afternoon – and I think everybody in Formula 1 would acknowledge that sentiment,” Boullier said in his statement. “While we’ve often shared his frustrations over the past few years, we now feel that we can deliver on our promise to give him a competitive car next season. Consistency of driver line-up is one of those small but essential elements that really helps a team to maintain momentum, and, with Fernando and Stoffel, we’re lucky to be writing a fresh chapter with what we believe to be the best driver line-up in Formula 1.”
The decision by Alonso to stay means that McLaren will field an unchanged driver line up for 2018, as will Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Haas, and Force India. Renault will see Carlos Sainz join them for Toro Rosso, though they are running him in their current car for the last four races of the 2017 season replacing Jolyon Palmer. Toro Rosso Williams, and Sauber are yet to announce their driver line up for 2018.
Williams look set to confirm Lance Stroll for another season with them after the rookie has impressed this season with several high finishes and a podium in Azerbaijan. The second seat looks to be a three way fight between current Williams driver Felipe Massa, DTM and Williams reserve driver Paul Di Resta, and former Renault driver Robert Kubica, with Di Resta and Kubica both completing tests for Williams so they can assess their options for the next season. For Sponsorship reasons the second driver partnering Stroll needs to be over the age of 25, meaning they cannot take another young driver.
Toro Rosso look set to confirm 2016 GP2 champion Pierre Gasly for the first of their 2018 seats, while Daniil Kvyat may be set to take the other despite being on “rest” for the previous two races. However his position at Toro Rosso may be under threat depending on how well Brendon Heartly does at the US Grand Prix this weekend. The Kiwi driver is also seemingly being considered for the drive alongside Gasly for the 2018 season.
Sauber also look set for a possible team reshuffle as well, with rumours circulating that as a result of their deal to take current Ferrari engines, Sauber must take Ferrari young drivers Antonio Giovinazzi, and recently crowned F2 champion Charles Leclerc. This would mean the team would have to get rid of current drivers Marcus Ericsson, and Mercedes young driver Pascal Wehrlein.
2018 F1 Drivers Line Up
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas
Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen
Red Bull: Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen
Force India: Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon
Williams: Driver line up to be confirmed
McLaren: Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne
Toro Rosso: Driver line up to be confirmed
Haas: Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen
Renault: Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz
Sauber: Driver line up to be confirmed