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To race, or not to race? That is the question facing Fernando Alonso ahead of the 2016 Formula 1 season

To race, or not to race? That is the question facing Fernando Alonso ahead of the 2016 Formula 1 season
Nov 30, 2015, 6:59 PM

The possibility of Fernando Alonso taking a year out of Formula 1 in 2016 remains after his season ended on a downbeat note and McLaren boss Ron De...

The possibility of Fernando Alonso taking a year out of Formula 1 in 2016 remains after his season ended on a downbeat note and McLaren boss Ron Dennis suggested he could take a sabbatical if the team does not take a significant step forward next year.

The 2005 and 2006 world champion had a scrappy race in Abu Dhabi, colliding with Pastor Maldonado, getting slapped with a penalty for it and then suggesting that he should retire the car if no Safety Car were forthcoming to help him get back into contention.

Dennis had been absent from the F1 paddock ever since Alonso’s radio outburst at the Japanese Grand Prix – that McLaren’s Honda power unit was a “GP2 engine” and “embarrassing”. The veteran team boss has spent a significant amount of time in China and elsewhere trying to secure investment to grow the McLaren business. But on his return to the spotlight, the McLaren chairman admitted that there remains a possibility Alonso could spend 2016 on the side-lines.

There have been suggestions for some time that this is one of a number of options on the table.

The double world champion still has two years of his contract remaining at Woking, but Dennis’ remarks suggest nothing is set in stone for next season, although Alonso and Jenson Button remaining on-board is still the most likely scenario.

Ron Dennis

Dennis spoke to reporters including this website for an hour on Saturday morning at Yas Marina. He spoke definitively on many topics, but became more equivocal when the subject of Alonso and the possibility of him sitting out 2016 came up., using the time honoured Ron Dennis caveat "at this moment in time.."

He said: "[Alonso] will definitely finish his career at McLaren. I have an open mind to anything – and some of the ideas have involved those sorts of considerations, sabbatical years, etc.

"But at this moment in time, I would say that we believe we know where we will be. I think we navigated a difficult weekend [in Japan] in respect of our drivers. I took quite a high level of flack out of that weekend and it was a challenge to navigate out of it, but nevertheless, here we are.

"We have a great number of driver options and two of the best drivers in the world in our cars. When we have to take the decision we will take it together, at this moment in time our drivers for next year are Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button."

Fernando Alonso Jenson Button

Alonso initially queried Dennis’ comments and insisted that he was focused on improving McLaren’s package over the winter.

He said: "I will be on the grid [in 2016]. I have been answering the same question to all of your [media] colleagues. When Ron says something you have the perfect opportunity to clarify some of his quotes.

"I don't know what is the intention behind it or what he means, but of course we all want to improve. We want to put the car in winter testing [next year] to see how competitive we are and we are hoping for the best.

Fernando Alonso

Alonso did admit that he had discussed “many ideas” with Dennis when specifically asked if that included taking a year off in 2016. However, Alonso pointed out that if he were going to take a sabbatical, he would have taken in 2015 and not gone through the first year of Honda’s power unit problems and only last week he described McLaren as "the only way to become champion again."

He said: “I discussed many ideas, crazy ideas, but not at this point of the year. I have a contract for the next two years and my intention is to race. It is too easy to go to one test and [think you] know how competitive [you are] and how the season will go. That is impossible.

“In the first test, if we are second or if we are ninth it will not change my approach or my intention to keep winning that season. It is only one test.”

“If you take a sabbatical, I take this year. But I keep racing, keep fighting and I kept pushing a car uphill to go to the pit lane.”

Abu Dhabi Race Start

During the race at Yas Marina, where Alonso finished 17th, two laps down after incurring a drive-through penalty for causing the first corner shunt that eliminated Pastor Maldonado, he told the team he would retire his car if no safety car appeared. But the Spaniard did complete the race to gather important data for McLaren and then explained that he had a seat fitting and simulator sessions scheduled ahead of the 2016 season.

He said: “The race became more of a test session for me – hopefully we got some useful information for the winter, but I still had to save tyres and fuel.

“During the race, I told my engineers, ‘Guys, let’s try to push’, as we wanted to test the Supersoft tyre on low fuel, and everything worked fine.

“My preparations for 2016 start almost immediately: I have a seat-fit and simulator tests at the MTC next week. I’m optimistic that we can make good progress.”

Fernando Alonso

There appears to be no final resolution on Alonso’s plans for 2016. In his damage-control exercises after the Suzuka race, Dennis insisted McLaren’s driver line-up would remain unchanged, but his comments in Abu Dhabi brought fresh uncertainty.

By revealing the seat fitting and simulator tests, Alonso appears to be toeing the party line for now. But it remains possible that if the 2016 Honda engine is not up to his standards that he could sit out 2016.

What have you made of Alonso in 2015? Could he really take a sabbatical from F1 next year? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 13.31.30

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Series Formula 1
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