SPANISH Formula 1 superstar Fernando Alonso has announced he will leave the McLaren team, and probably his F1 career at the end of this season.
“After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport, it’s time for me to make a change and move on,” he said.
“Let’s see what the future brings; new exciting challenges are around the corner.
“I’m having one of the happiest times ever in my life but I need to go on exploring new adventures.”
A move to Indycars looks likely.
The 37-year-old has often talked about winning the “Triple Crown,” made up of the Monaco Grand Prix, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.
He’s already achieved the first two and just needs to win the Indy 500 title to realise his dream.
He had a drive in the Indy 500 last ear, but retired with engine problems.
In F1 he has twice won the world title (with Renault in 2005 and 2006) and amassed an incredible total of 32 wins, 22 pole positions and 97 podiums in F1, making him one of the most successful drivers in the top category of motorsport.
Question now is who will take his place at McLaren?
Fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz is a strong possibility, although he has also been favoured to replace Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull team.
Sainz drives for Renault at present, but is on loan from Red Bull, which has him on contract until later this year. However, it is known the talented Sainz is keen to be with McLaren.
Such a move is reinforced by tempestuous rivalry between him and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, dating back to the time when both were with Toro Rosso.
Latest thinking is that Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly could be the one to replace Ricciardo.
Then there’s also the chance Alonso could return to F1 – and McLaren – at a later stage.
“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 boss Zak Brown said open dialogue with Alonso allowed him to plan for the future and he has already confirmed Sainz was a contender for a 2019 seat.
“If he was free, and if we had a seat, he would certainly be high up the list,” he said.
The future of McLaren’s second driver, Stoffel Vandoorne, is also uncertain.
Brown says the team has not lost confidence in the 26-year-old Belgian, who is a former GP2 champion, but so far he has scored just eight of the team’s 52 points.
His contract expires this season and unless there is a marked improvement in the second half of the season he could be dropped in favour of young British star Lando Norris, who was impressive in testing for McLaren and has been described as “a potential star of the future.”
An intriguing few months await.