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Alonso To Stick With McLaren In 2018

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 20 2017

Formula One driver Fernando Alonso confirmed his continued relationship with McLaren on Thursday. (File photo)

Buoyed by an impending switch from Honda to Renault power, Fernando Alonso has signed a “long-term partnership” with McLaren beginning with the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship season.

Alonso’s decision, confirmed Thursday, ended speculation the two-time World Driving Champion could leave the team after a frustrating campaign that saw the Spaniard skip the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix for a one-off Verizon IndyCar Series drive in the 101st Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport.

Alonso, who again will team with Stoffel Vandoorne, had been expected to re-sign with McLaren once the team announced its switch from Honda to Renault power last month in a bid to return to the front of the grid.

“It’s fantastic to be able to continue my relationship with everybody at McLaren,” Alonso said. “It was always where my heart was telling me to stay, and I really feel at home here. This is a fantastic team, full of incredible people, with a warmth and friendliness that I’ve never experienced elsewhere in Formula 1. I’m incredibly happy to be racing 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 2018 season will be Alonso’s fourth consecutive year with McLaren and his fifth overall. He rejoined the team prior to the 2015 season when the organization located in Woking, England, revived its previous highly successful partnership with Honda. However, Honda has struggled to produce a competitive hybrid F1 power unit, with Alonso yet to place better than fifth.

“The last three years have given us the momentum to plan and build for the future, and I’m looking forward to that journey,” Alonso said. “I’m excited for our future together _ and I’m already working hard to make it a success.” 

Eric Boullier, McLaren’s Racing Director, was relieved to have his No. 1 driver returning to the storied organization founded by the late Bruce McLaren.

“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.  “He’s always been clear to me that this is a team he loves, and that his heart has always been set on staying. Today’s announcement shows that he’s fully committed to racing and winning as a McLaren driver, and, 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 lineup 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 lineup in Formula 1.”

Alonso spoke about Renault power, chasing an elusive third title and his desire to return to the Indy 500 during a session with media covering the U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. An edited transcript follows:

QUESTION: Fernando, now that you have re-signed with McLaren, how confident are you that this time it will go your way, to the very front?

FERNANDO ALONSO: “There is a high possibility. No doubt about that. McLaren is one of the best teams. And yes, we’ve struggled the last three years, but the team has made all the necessary changes so 2018 should be much better. I believe in the project; that is why I think next year should be a good season for us.

“To be honest, all the past years I had the feeling that I have to give this project another go _ that I still have unfinished business at McLaren _ because I know that the team has the potential and the talent to be at the top again, to be world champion again in the future. It is a long-term project that we have in our head. My main target was to sign with a winning plan. That was all that mattered.”

QUESTION: When you say “unfinished business,” what does that mean?

FERNANDO ALONSO: “Winning my third championship in Formula 1. That is the absolute priority. But I still believe to be the best driver in the world you need to win in different series, so yes, it is possible that I can compete in different races next year. The Indy 500 collides with the Monaco GP next year, so I can say that I will not do the Indy 500 next year. But what I can say is that I will be back at the Indy 500 in the future.”

QUESTION: It was rumored that your deal is for one season. Are you at a stage in your career where you need flexibility?

FERNANDO ALONSO: “I never talk about contracts, but one thing I can say is it is a long-term partnership and I am very happy to finish my career at McLaren. So I don’t think it is going to be only one year.”

QUESTION: You won your two championships with Renault. Have they now given you the feeling that you could again win races with this McLaren/Renault package as soon as next season?

FERNANDO ALONSO: “Obviously I have strong relationship with Renault. Winning two championships together is ‘a bond for life.’ But of course it is difficult to say what the situation will be in 2018, as there are changes every season. But I took my time to study everything that I could, to see all the numbers that were available, and we saw that in Malaysia and Suzuka Red Bull was on the podium with both cars, so we know what the Renault engine can do and that gives us extra confidence.”

QUESTION: What are your thoughts about again teaming with Stoffel Vandoorne as your “junior partner” in 2018?

FERNANDO ALONSO: “Yes, that is fantastic; 2017 was our first year together but from the very first beginning our relationship was good. It was a good teamwork and he helped the team a lot in the moments of struggle. Sometimes you learn much more in difficult times and we should take what we have learned from these difficult times for the time it gets easier.”

QUESTION: While you are the unquestioned leader of this team, what have you learned from your young teammate?

FERNANDO ALONSO: “I learned French, which could be very important next season!”

QUESTION: Were there any other options for you next season, inside Formula 1 or outside?

FERNANDO ALONSO: “There were some other options in Formula 1. In summer there were still some options at the top teams, but my desire was to stay with McLaren. But at that time they were in conversation with different engine suppliers, so I had to give them time to sort out their situation. Then McLaren opted for a Renault engine which delayed my decision, because I had to understand what Renault’s plans were for next season. But when I had everything on the table everything was pretty clear.”

QUESTION:  Was McLaren’s switch to Renault the decisive factor for you?

FERNANDO ALONSO: “No, no. I wanted to stay with McLaren, but I could not renew the contract without a clear situation. By July or August there were still too many unclear things so I waited. My main target was to sign with a winning plan. That was all that mattered.”

QUESTION: When will you know if the McLaren/Renault package will work?

FERNANDO ALONSO: “At the time of the winter tests in Barcelona at the end of February.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 20 2017
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