Fernando Alonso is a throwback driver, willing to race anything anywhere and usually at an extremely high level. He impressed many on his Indy 500 debut and is only a week or so removed from his first overall victory at Le Mans. Alonso has done all this while his full time job at McLaren has not gone anywhere close to plan. A switch from Honda Power to Renault was supposed to see the team climb back into something resembling relevance. While 2018 has technically been an improvement over 2017 it is not the drastic jump the team was looking for and it has many, myself included, wondering at what point Alonso gets fed up and decides to compete elsewhere.
Alonso signed a new "long term" contract earlier this year with presumably an opt out clause for the driver at the end of this season. What form that opt out clause takes is something of a mystery as Formula 1 is notoriously tight lipped about their Driver's contracts. My gut tells me that if McLaren was willing to put an opt out in there they wouldn't do so without protecting their own interests. I.E. the contract is likely to have language prohibiting Alonso from immediately signing with another F1 team or that new team would have to pay concessions to McLaren should Alonso leave. As I see it Alonso is left with only three options, none of them perfect, each with their own upsides and downsides.
World Endurance Championship
Alonso is already competing full time with Toyota in 2018. Having a taste of the globetrotting endurance series he may want to make it his primary focus in 2019. After all he just won Le Mans with the team and getting back in the winner's circle is a powerful draw to a man as competitive as Alonso. Downside is Toyota hasn't exactly had the stiffest competition this season and a Toyota winning is something of a forgone conclusion at almost every WEC race. This makes it a highly likely possibility after finally winning Le Mans Toyota leaves the WEC for a season to focus on the new Hypercar regulations coming in 2020.
Such an exit would leave only Privateers left as potential suitors for Alonso's talent. Privateers who won't exactly have the immense budget of a factory team. This means if Alonso really wants out he would have to take one hell of a pay-cut to do so which may be a tough pill to swallow.
The draw would be a competitive team with chances to win at every race on some of the world's most prestigious circuits. Alonso has already made more money than he will ever need and at this stage of his career the ability to win may out weigh the size of his paycheck. Plus, the Hypercar regulations are just around the corner so a one year dance with a Privateer will likely setup a return to a factory team and a factory team salary. Being a part of what may are calling a Le Mans renaissance could prove a powerful draw to a man as keenly aware of the sport's history like Alonso.
Alonso has made his desire to win the Indy 500 very well known. He described it as a "high priority" after winning Le Mans. Couple that with McLaren's not so secret desire to return full time to Indycar and this possibility begins to pick up some serious steam. It is no definite but yet highly likely that McLaren partners with an existing Indycar team (Andretti Autosport) for a full season attack on the Indycar championship.
McLaren and Andretti are two immense names in motorsports and could prove enough to lure Alonso away from his current F1 seat. The even bigger factor is Andretti Autosport knows Indy, knows how to win there. The resulting partnership would give Alonso a phenomenal chance of crossing his last race, Indy, off his list. Going at it for a full season will give him a larger awareness of the car's nuances and give him that much better of a chance of victory.
Return to F1
Let's face facts, F1 drivers, especially F1 drivers with Alonso's resume command an enormous paycheck. Say what you will but a check with that many zeros on it is an extremely difficult thing to pass up. The question is what team will be writing that check? McLaren for all its struggles has one massive thing going for them, they have allowed Alonso to satisfy his desires to race elsewhere, his desires to take on the Tripple Crown. That may seem like a small gesture to some, after all McLaren has seemingly wasted Alonso's talents for the better part of a decade now. However it is a very rare occurrence for an F1 team to let one of their star drivers race elsewhere. Nico Hulkenburg is another name that springs to mind but after that there isn't much.
McLaren's loyalty to Alonso is not to be discounted. However there are some other teams out there with rumored available seats however none would appear to be a perfect fit. The obvious choice would be Mercedes and the seat currently occupied by Valtteri Bottas. Bottas hasn't exactly wowed the F1 community this season, some of it his own doing some of it bad luck. Point is, F1 is a win now business, if you aren't winning at a team like Mercedes your job is in jeopardy. The obvious block to all this is Lewis Hamilton and the less than spectacular relationship between the reigning world champ and Alonso. Mercedes has no problem with their drivers disliking each other however the Nico v. Lewis fight might be something they are looking not to repeat.
Ferrari is another interesting landing point but even with Kimi's exit it appears they have already figured out their driver pairing. This is Ferrari however, they are not shy about making a big splash or flat out lying to the public. The biggest factor not going in Alonso's favor is Ferrari is very unlikely to let one of their prized drivers drive anything other than a Ferrari.
Ferrari was one of the teams involved with the WEC's proposed Hypercar regulations. The natural assumption is Ferrari is planning on possibly thinking about a return to endurance racing. That would appeal to Alonso however, Ferrari is unlikely to shock the world and make an Indycar announcement. Seeing how the 500 is at the top of Alonso's list anything that would detract from that would be a major roadblock to signing with any team.
That leaves Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo who is rumored to just about any open seat in F1. His potential departure from Red Bull would vacate a competitive seat. Problem is Red Bull has a tendency to promote from within and not sign big name free agents. Would they be willing to forgo this policy for a driver of Alonso's ilk? Would they be willing to let him drive elsewhere? These are large questions that could prevent Red Bull from signing the two time world champ.
Alonso's 2019 plans remain a bit of a Mystery but one thing remains clear he is not thrilled with his current place in F1. He wants to compete and currently that competition is reserved for the middle of the pack and not for race wins. The switch to Renault power was supposed to bring McLaren back to the fore and that simply has not happened. It is clear Alonso has ambitions outside of F1 and he may need to leave F1 to make those ambitions a reality.