So the news that we were all waiting for — that we knew was coming — has arrived: Fernando Alonso is leaving Formula One after this season.
Interesting that they used the term “retire” when we all know that retiring is the last thing Alonso is doing. Sure, we may never see Alonso on an F1 grid after Abu Dhabi, but we all know that we will see more racing from Fernando Alonso.
The part that was surprising, to me at least, is that it was only a retirement announcement — he didn’t mention anything about what he is doing in 2019. We all believe it will be IndyCar so that Alonso can go after an Indy 500 with more experience in an IndyCar under his belt. But in true Fernando Alonso fashion, we the fans will be kept hanging until the very last moment.
What did Alonso do? He announced that he is leaving Ferrari, but up until Abu Dhabi 2014, we had no idea where he was going. He was even asked straight up in the Thursday presser if he wanted Jenson Button to be his teammate with McLaren. We all had an idea that Fernando would go to McLaren, that was the only “competitive” team with an open seat for 2015 (before we met Hybrid-Era Honda), and Button was sitting right next to him! All Alonso did was smile and say, “I don’t know where I’ll be.”
Alonso loves to drag a story out — drama just finds him, and that is what will happen with the next step of his racing career. Now that he has announced he is out of F1, we have NASCAR asking Alonso to take part in the Daytona 500, Felipe Massa, in a joking way, connected Alonso to Formula E and IndyCar tweeted at Alonso about getting lunch before he made his announcement. Drivers and organizations now have their chance to bid on Alonso, and it is going to be fun to watch.
I wouldn’t put it past him to not commit to any series, maybe race the 24 Hours of Daytona, then get a ride for the Daytona 500. Maybe he runs a few IndyCar races to prep for when he takes another shot at the Indy 500 and a few other series get sprinkled in.
From Alonso’s perspective as a two-time world champion, can he really get the same competitive juices flowing while competing for an IndyCar championship against failed Formula 1 drivers like Alexander Rossi? He won’t jump into NASCAR because it is a completely different type of racing, and many of the open-wheel stars that have tried NASCAR don’t pan out the way they hoped. Granted, Fernando Alonso is a one-in-a-million type of driver/personality, but I just don’t see him jumping to NASCAR.
I am probably reading too much into this, as I, like many others, have been deep into the Twitter and Reddit conversations discussing every possibility for Alonso. Zak Brown has made it clear that he wants McLaren full time in IndyCar, and it is a similar type of racing that Alonso can consistently win races in, something that he hasn’t done since 2013.
In all likelihood, Alonso’s next move should be IndyCar, but wouldn’t it be fun to watch Alonso try and win in everything around the world in one year? As someone who has been locked into the rigors of a life in Formula One since 2001 as Alonso has been, maybe it is time for his post retirement passion projects: race where and when he wants so he can truly enjoy life and every location he visits to race. But what do I know?
What I do know is that I love silly season, and this one is the juiciest one we’ve had in a while. Almost every seat besides Mercedes, Renault, 50 percent of Ferrari and Red Bull have open seats for 2019. However, a big swing in the driver market could be coming as soon as Belgium. Reports from La Dernière Heure indicate that Canadian driver Lance Stroll could be in the Force India seat driven by Esteban Ocon this season. Ocon would then switch to the McLaren seat held by Stoeffel Vandoorne.
This would come as some shock due to the fact it would be this soon, but not a shock overall, multiple reports claim that Lance Stroll’s father, Lawrence, has purchased the failing Force India team for 2019. Plugging young Lance in a pink panther seat now will only help him get acclimated to his new team and prepare for a nice long career of nepotism at Stroll Racing (we’re still working on a team name).
But does Stroll deserve the seat based on skill? That remains to be seen. I was very impressed with Stroll’s podium in 2017, and I do think there could be some talent there. However, Williams has been a joke in 2018, so there is really not much to go off of besides his one-on-one battle with Sergei Sirotkin… which is a resounding four points to zero in Stroll’s favor. With daddy at the helm, they can pay Mercedes and get a respectable aero package — maybe Stroll gets some points in 2019? I understand that he has not been spectacular in his first two seasons, but he had some good races in his rookie season. He had some very bad ones, especially early, but he’ll have his chance to prove himself in 2019.
So what does this mean for Stoeffel Vandoorne? The Belgium has not had a banner season, but McLaren, with their “upgraded” car featuring the Renault engine, hasn’t either for that matter. However, there has been a clear difference in performance between the two drivers. It is very tough to compare a driver in his second full season of F1 competition to Fernando Alonso, but the Spaniard has scored 44 points this season, and Vandoorne, only 8 points.
This is a large difference, and with McLaren dealing with a season that has not at all lived up to the hype, the pressure is on to find performance, especially with Fernando Alonso retiring after this season. It is time for Zak Brown and McLaren to make some major swings at success — to pick a driver like Esteban Ocon, the Mercedes golden child who has lived up to his hype with his current car’s performance. Giving Ocon the keys to McLaren’s future is a pretty big swing if you ask me.
Esteban Ocon has been very strong in his first two seasons. He has 29 points so far this season, with his teammate Sergio Perez scoring 30. Force India’s 2018 has been terrible — they have left major assets like their engine provider, Mercedes, unpaid. So to at least be even with his teammate in points with six years less experience, that’s good enough to prove Ocon’s abilities for this season.
With 87 points in Ocon’s first full season in 2017, Force India looked like the fourth best team with the combination of Ocon and Perez. Esteban has proven that he can compete at the highest level that his car will give him. Besides LeClerc and maybe Sainz, Ocon has the most promise to have a good Formula One career. So while Mercedes is set on their drivers, Ocon has to make a move now to get experience with a top team if he wants to get the call to the Silver Arrows when they get rid of Bottas or Lewis Hamilton retires after 2020.
This is only the beginning of the silly season: we still have a Ferrari and Red Bull seat to fill. Time will tell how different the driver lineup will be in 2019. What we do know is it will be without Fernando Alonso.