Despite being considered to be one of the best drivers to ever grace an F1 cockpit, the 37-year-old has not won an F1 race in five years and the Drivers’ World Championship in over a decade.
The two-time world champion is set to make a full-time switch to the Indy Car series.
“After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport, it’s time for me to make a change and move on,” said Alonso.
By moving Stateside, Alonso will be able to pursue his ambition of completing motorsport’s ‘triple crown’ having seemingly given up hope of landing a front-running driver in F1 again either at McLaren, with whom he has spent the last four years at the wrong end of the grid, or with the sport’s current dominant forces – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
Only last week, Red Bull ruled out signing Alonso as a replacement for the Renault-bound Daniel Ricciardo. “He’s tended to cause a bit of chaos wherever he’s gone,” explained team boss Christian Horner.
Although McLaren have improved this season following their switch from Honda power to Renault, Alonso, who has out-qualified team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne in every session this season, has not finished on the podium since rejoining the team from Ferrari four years ago.
“I made this decision some months ago and it was a firm one,” confirmed Alonso.
McLaren boss Zak Brown added: “His 17 years in the sport, as arguably the pre-eminent driver of his generation and undoubtedly an F1 great, have added another layer to Formula 1’s rich history.
“There is a time for everyone to make a change and Fernando has decided the end of this season to be his. We respect his decision, even if we believe he is in the finest form of his career. Our open dialogue with Fernando has meant we could plan for this eventuality.”
McLaren have not yet said who will replace Alonso in 2019.
Where did Alonso go wrong?
Alonso’s two world championships were secured in 2005 and 2006 when he drove for Renault.
Few would have predicted then that he would fail to win another.
After spending a single turbulent season at McLaren in 2007 after leaving Renault, Alonso returned to the Enstone outfit for two more years before switching to Ferrari where he twice narrowly missed out on winning the Drivers’ World Championship.
While Alonso’s career is riddled with unwise choices, it has also been saddled with several near-misses: in 2007, he lost out on the drivers’ title by a single point; in 2010, he missed out by just four; and in 2012, he once again lost out to Sebastian Vettel by a mere three points.
His decision to quit Ferrari for the McLaren-Honda ‘project’ proved, in retrospect, to be a critical mistake and will be seen as having taken his career up a dead end.
Despite high hopes the reforged partnership would take the fight to Mercedes, only the now-defunct Manor team finished below McLaren-Honda in 2015. Although 2016 brought a modest improvement, McLaren slumped again in 2016, finishing ninth out of ten in the Constructors’ Championship – triggering their split with Honda.
By that time, Alonso’s attention had already begun to turn to alternative motorsport series and the prospect of achieving the ‘triple crown’ – consisting of winning Le Mans, the Indy 500 and the Monaco GP, which he first won a decade ago.
With McLaren’s permission, he missed last season’s Monaco GP to compete in the Indy 500 and won Le Mans at the first attempt with Toyota three months ago.
In hindsight, McLaren’s union with Renault amounted to the last throw of the dice for Alonso’s F1 career. Although Alonso has excelled again this term, scoring 44 of McLaren’s 52 points so far, it hasn’t proved enough to keep his F1 fire burning.