Is Alonso again willing to dedicate his life to Formula 1?
“Formula One requires total dedication of your life. All other things are not important: Family is not important, friendships are not important, love is not important. If you want to succeed in Formula One, you need to dedicate your life, so I think it has been enough.”
They were the words of Fernando Alonso just 18 months ago when I sat down to interview him ahead of the final race of his F1 career in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2018.
It appeared to be the end of a quite astonishing 17-seasons in F1 that come the conclusion had seen him start 312 grands prix, win two world titles and claim 97 podium finishes, that included 32 victories.
The remarkable statistic for a driver of Alonso's calibre - arguably not the one that he should have won more than his two championships - was that when the chequered flag fell that final time, he was bowing out without a race win for five and a half years.
The story of how that transpired, of course, is now history as a wretched final season with Ferrari in 2014 forced his hand into an ill-judged move to McLaren whose hopes of rekindling its glorious partnership with Honda disappeared amidst a sea of reliability issues and retirements.
Alonso's despair at such failure was clear in his numerous radio rants during races, and his more considered words of criticism pre- and post-grand prix
Come 2018, Alonso's resolve and desire had been worn down, and in conjunction with his frustration at what he perceived as the overall poor state of F1, he opted to bring the curtain down on his illustrious career.
His remarks in November 2018 suggested then there was no going back, that his motor-racing urges would be fulfilled elsewhere, and, of course, he has enjoyed the success he was so starved of in his later years in F1.
A second victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2019 was accompanied by the World Endurance Championship title that season, as well as a win in the 24 Hours of Daytona to kickstart the year.
In contrast, there was the humiliation in failing to qualify for the Indy 500 with McLaren Racing, while there was also a crack earlier this year at the Dakar Rally in which he finished a credible 13th.
But what of F1? For a man who deep down knows he should have achieved more, you have to wonder how much that has grated on him, whether it is an irritating itch he is willing to scratch.
The game of musical chairs that transpired last week, sparked by Sebastian Vettel's departure from Ferrari after failing to land a further title with the Scuderia - a feeling Alonso will know only too well - has culminated in there being a vacancy at Renault from 2021.
It is a team where Alonso made his name, winning his two titles with the French manufacturer in 2005 and 2006. Overall, he spent six seasons over two spells with Renault in the 'noughties'. Much has changed, of course, since Alonso last drove for them.
Could he be tempted by one last hurrah? As pointed out by McLaren CEO Zak Brown, a man who has come to know Alonso well in recent years given their working relationship with McLaren, if he were in charge of Renault, bringing in the Spaniard would be "a no-brainer".
Brown is refreshingly honest, and he did not stop there, providing a cutting overview of Renault at present - one I doubt team boss Cyril Abiteboul will have taken too kindly to - and a strong hint that a return to Renault is not on the cards for Alonso.
"Whether Fernando wants to get back to 22 races, and with a car that doesn't look like it's capable of winning yet," added Brown.
"I think given Fernando's stature, what would get him to jump at a seat is if he thinks he can be on the top of the podium.
"So given that they're on a similar journey back to the front - and I think they'll get there, they're a great team, great resources, great company that's been there, done that before - I don't know if Fernando has the appetite to be on a three-year journey versus getting in a car he can win in in 2021."
If that is Alonso's thinking, and bear in mind Brown conceded he only spoke with him a few days ago - "I was kind of poking around", said Brown - then to that end, there are only two options open to him if he is to return next season - Mercedes and Red Bull.
Potentially, both have seats available as neither Valtteri Bottas nor Alex Albon are guaranteed deals for 2021. And yes, I'm assuming Lewis Hamilton will put pen to paper on a new contract soon. That seems inevitable.
It would go against the grain, and all that Red Bull stands for, in particular when you consider how much they value promotion from within via their young driver programme, to hire an ageing Alonso to partner Max Verstappen.
As for Mercedes, who also apparently have Vettel eyeing Bottas' seat, would Toto Wolff really want the headache again of dealing with such a potentially volatile relationship after enduring four years of growing animosity between Hamilton and Rosberg?
Wolff is also understood to favour youth, and you would assume if he is to put anyone in Bottas' seat then it is likely to be a rising talent such as George Russell, currently at Williams and who has been on Mercedes' books for some time.
While the return of Alonso would undoubtedly add a captivating sub-plot to 2021 - and Brown said after speaking to him he is "undecided" - you have to wonder just how much his words of 18 months ago are swirling around his head.
If the paths to Mercedes and Red Bull are blocked, is he really willing to totally dedicate his life again to a Renault project that is unlikely to yield race wins in 2021, with the team placing eggs in the basket of 2022 when new regulations come into force, and at the age of 39, as he will be when next season starts?
Recently Alonso said he "more or less" knows what he is doing for next year and that we "will know very soon".
Until then, the intrigue and speculation will continue to mount.
Alonso had his chances-5 in fact, the underlying factor is Alonso's divisiveness-how does any team see ways to overcome the Alonso ways....
I may also add Alonso has walked out on Renault TWICE, only Cyril can be so blind or deaf to Alonso's history. Cyril /Renault lost Daniel Riciardo to McLaren for one reason and one reason only, Cyril promised the earth to Daniel, a competative car, all the prior issues with the engine+accessories were resolved, and the engine could be cycled throughout the throttle range-and we goto Melbourne race 1, boom went that engine and a few others during the 2019 coming season!!
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