Fernando Alonso says McLaren will be his final team in Formula 1
But decision on whether to extend deal will only be taken after 2017
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 08/03/16 6:01pm
Fernando Alonso says McLaren will be his final team in Formula 1 - but the Spaniard has admitted 2017 could be his last year in the sport.
The former world champion's three-year contract with McLaren expires at the end of next year and Alonso admits he does not yet know what his future holds after 2017 - even if he doesn't envisage driving for another team.
"Right now, to be honest, McLaren-Honda is for me the only challenger of Mercedes in terms of fighting for the world championship and stopping the domination of the Mercedes team in the recent years," Alonso told Sky Sports News HQ in an exclusive interview.
"But with the big change on the regulations and the future of Formula 1, let's see what happens. I'm not young anymore so I really hope to win with McLaren-Honda. We are getting closer and closer and we will see after 2017 if I stay with McLaren or I stop in Formula 1.
"I don't think I will switch teams anymore."
Alonso has been a regular critic of the sport's regulations in recent years and last week labelled the confusion over the new qualifying format "sad".
However, he believes moves to make cars faster and more dynamic from 2017 could prove "the turning point for the sport" and could tempt him to prolong his F1 career.
"First, I will see if I really enjoy driving next year's cars and how Formula 1 is evolving in the regulations," he said.
"Then, if I keep enjoying and I see the possibility of being world champion, you can [not] tell me that I will not extend the contract and I will keep chasing this third world championship.
"But this is thinking too long term at the moment. We didn't start 2016 so let's concentrate on this year."
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Alonso rejoined McLaren for 2015 after losing faith in Ferrari's ability to win titles after five seasons at Maranello during which he finished runner-up on three occasions.
But prior to returning to Woking, Alonso has confirmed he and his management did sound out Mercedes in 2014 about the possibility of joining them.
"It was a very informal meeting and just a conversation," he said.
"I don't think it was a particularly deep conversation about a real possibility. It was some kind of thought… but we never got into that position at that time and McLaren-Honda was the best possibility."
While Mercedes have since gone on to win back-to-back world championships, McLaren's reunion with Honda has endured a troubled start and the new MP4-31, despite showing improved reliability, is still expected to be in the lower midfield when the season begins in Australia next week.
Alonso, however, remains confident they can end the record 21-race season challenging for podium places.
"We are quite happy with the baseline we have now, but we have the performance is not what we want probably in terms of podiums positions or in terms of fighting for the top," he said.
"But we feel we can reach that level during the season."
The first race of the 2016 F1 season, the Australian GP, is exclusively live on Sky Sports F1. The race in Melbourne starts at 5am on Sunday March 20.