Fernando Alonso returned to Formula One from his Indy 500 adventure on Thursday with a warning for McLaren-Honda that they need to be winning by September if he is to stay with the team next year.
Frustrated at frequent engine failures and a lack of performance along with regular grid penalties, the twice world champion made his feelings clear.
“We have to win,” the Spaniard told reporters at the Canadian Grand Prix when asked what it would take to have him stay. “If we are winning before September, or something like that, I will make a decision I will stay.”
That looks a very tall order for McLaren, the only team yet to score a point this season and without a grand prix victory since 2012.
The excitement and satisfaction of running up front at last month’s Indianapolis 500, a race he entered instead of the showcase Monaco Grand Prix on the same day, clearly stoked Alonso’s competitive fires.
His goal remains a third Formula One world championship and if that cannot be accomplished with McLaren, then he will look elsewhere.
“I want to win, I joined this project because I want to be world champion, and we are not in that position,” said Alonso. “If you don’t see things changing and you are not in a competitive position maybe you change projects.
“That is all I can say right now. Until I sit down with myself, in September, October, whenever, I cannot say anything 100 percent. The third world championship is my biggest priority.”
Adding to the uncertainty around McLaren is the possibility the team could dump Honda in favour of another engine supplier.
McLaren executive director Zak Brown told Reuters on Wednesday that the partnership with Honda has not worked so far and the team are now approaching a “fork in the road” and a parting of the ways was a real option.
A sympathetic Brown said in that same interview that he totally understood Alonso’s frustration because it matched his own, but hoped that the Spaniard would not make any rash decisions.
“I think it will be purely dependent upon does he think we’re going to have a competitive race car next year,” said Brown. “He wants to race at the front of the field. And I get it.
“There’s zero tension between Fernando Alonso and McLaren, the relationship has never been healthier. We’re frustrated together. “Fortunately he doesn’t have to make a decision today, we’re not asking him to make a decision today. We’ve been clear that we want him to stay and he’s been clear he wants to stay but we need a better race car so that’s where our attention is on.”