The two-time world champion, who famously beat Michael Schumacher to the drivers’ world championship in 2005 and 2006, will leave McLaren at the end of the year once his current contract expires – having elected to turn down an extension offer from the Woking-based team.
The 37-year-old is widely expected to embark on a full-time drive in IndyCar in the hope of winning the Indianapolis 500 to complete motor racing’s Triple Crown, having won the Le Mans 24 Hours in June this year and the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006 and 2007.
“After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport, it’s time for me to make a change and move on,” Alonso said in a statement. “I have enjoyed every single minute of those incredible seasons and I cannot thank enough the people who have contributed to make them all so special.
“There are still several grands prix to go this season, and I will take part in them with more commitment and passion than ever.”
The Spaniard revealed that his decision was made earlier in the season, with McLaren once again struggling for results despite their switch from Honda to Renault engines at the start of the year. However, he thanked the team for their efforts with him following his return in 2015, having also been with them back in 2007 when his relationship with both them and Lewis Hamilton – in his debut year – soured following a qualifying dispute in Hungary and the ‘Spygate’ saga.
“Let’s see what the future brings; new exciting challenges are around the corner. I’m having one of the happiest times ever in my life but I need to go on exploring new adventures,” he added.
“I want to thank everyone at McLaren. My heart is with the team forever. I know they will come back stronger and better in the future and it could be the right moment for me to be back in the series; that would make me really happy. I have built so many great relationships with many fantastic people at McLaren, and they have given me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and race in other categories. I feel I am a more complete driver now than ever.
“I made this decision some months ago and it was a firm one. Nevertheless, I would like to sincerely thank Chase Carey and Liberty Media for the efforts made to change my mind and everyone who has contacted me during this time.
“I would also like to thank my former teams, team-mates, competitors, colleagues, partners, journalists and everyone I have worked with in my F1 career. And, especially, my fans all over the world. I am quite sure our paths will cross again in the future.”
Since his debut year in 2001 with Minardi, Alonso has amassed 303 grand prix starts, putting him fourth on the all-time list behind Rubens Barrichello, former McLaren teammate Jenson Button and Schumacher. In that time he claimed 32 wins, 97 podium finishes and 22 pole positions, making him the sixth-most successful driver in the history of the sport.
With nine races remaining this season, Alonso is due to pass both Schumacher and Button – a feat that will come at the Russian Grand Prix in September – and providing that he starts all remaining grand prix this year he will end his career on 212 grand prix starts, just 10 off Barrichello’s record.
His 2005 world championship triumph with Renault also saw him become the youngest world champion in history, though that mark has since been beaten by Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton.
As well as claiming back-to-back world titles, Alonso finished runner-up in the championship on three occasions in 2010, 2012 and 2013. A failure to challenge for any race victories since 2013 has left him frustrated in the sport and seeking other opportunities that paved the way to his participation in the 2017 Indy 500 with McLaren-Honda and the 2018/19 World Endurance Championship with Toyota that brought this year’s triumph at Le Mans.
But it’s his success in F1, the pinnacle of motorsport, that brought a tribute from current McLaren chief executive Zak Brown, who labelled him a “legend” of the sport.
“Fernando is not only an outstanding ambassador for McLaren but also for Formula One,” said Brown. “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.
“While evaluating his future during the past months, Fernando’s competitiveness has been undimmed. He has continued to perform at the highest level throughout, as we know he will do in the remaining nine races of this year’s championship.
“I know that the entire team joins me in paying tribute to Fernando’s enormous contribution to McLaren; he is a legend both for the championship and for the team. Fernando is an important part of our story and will join an illustrious line of McLaren drivers. On behalf of Shaikh Mohammed, Mansour and our entire board, we wish Fernando every success in the future.”