EXCLUSIVE | Fernando Alonso on a potential reunion with Honda: “I trust the project”
It seems inconceivable that just five years after Fernando Alonso retired from Formula 1 there is the distinct possibility that he could again be reunited with a manufacturer that played a major role in hastening his departure at the end of 2018.
Honda's announcement that it is to return to F1 when the new power unit regulations commence in 2026, opting to partner with Aston Martin which will become a works team for the Japanese giant, has opened up the possibility of an unexpected alliance.
Alonso's three years at McLaren, when the team was powered by Honda as it embarked a year late on the 1.6-litre turbo hybrid era, were nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
"GP2 engine!" was Alonso's now infamous cry during a race in 2015 about a system that suffered untold reliability that debut year. The fact the cutting remark was made during the Japanese Grand Prix only rubbed salt into Honda's gaping wounds.
During the two seasons that followed, McLaren and Honda fared little better, and despite the team ditching the supplier in favour of Renault, the Spanish driver bowed out, but not as he wished.
“When I finished, it was on a low, and I didn’t want that because my performance, my competitiveness, was as high as ever back then, but people didn’t see it,” said Alonso, in an interview with this writer. “Now, I’m proving I’m still fast, at whatever age - that’s part of the comeback story. Winning the 33rd grand prix or fighting for a championship would add even more drama to the story."
Now, remarkably, Alonso and Honda could be paired together again. Honda Racing Corporation president Koji Watanabe has said he will have "no problem whatsoever" if the two-time F1 champion is still in the car by then.
After all, Alonso turns 42 in two months' time, and come the start of the 2026 season when Honda will power Aston Martin, he will be 44. All the signs at the moment are that Alonso seemingly has years left in him given the level at which he is performing, rejuvenated by a car that has propelled him back onto the podium, initially with four third-place finishes in the first five grands prix, and then runner-up in Monaco on Sunday, his best result for almost nine years.
Alonso knows he cannot go on indefinitely but, for now, all thoughts of bowing out for a second time are far from his mind.
"I don't have a clear date to say bye-bye, but at the moment I feel fast, I feel motivated, and I feel fresh," enthused Alonso. "Eventually one day I will stop. I'm not sure if it's going to be because of the performance on track or, with all the travelling, all the grands prix, that maybe I will want an easier life or whatever. But at the moment, not even in the short term, that's not yet. I'm just happy driving and performing well."
Alonso insists he is "aware" of his age and that he will not be around "for the next ten years, or whatever" but he feels motorsport is different compared to other sports.
"You are much more dependent on your physical condition, like a footballer or a tennis player," assessed Alonso. "It's going to be a certain age that you have to raise the hand and give up because the youngsters have better abilities.
"But in motorsport, you depend so much on the car performance. As long as you have passion inside, you are motivated, you talk with your engineers, and you prepare for the next grand prix, that will give you a result at the end of the day."
What is a long overdue grands prix win number 33 is tantalisingly within reach. Astonishingly, it is ten years since Alonso took the chequered flag in F1. Aston Martin has provided him with a car that has exceeded even the team's own expectations for this season after it finished seventh in the constructors' championship last year.
"I trust the project," said Alonso, who left after two seasons with Alpine to join Aston Martin over the winter. "I felt that it was a nice adventure for me at the end of my career, to start with a team that has so much enthusiasm, and so many good prospects.
"But I thought that it would take time to reach a certain level, that maybe in 2024, we could fight for some podiums and things like that. So yeah, I was not expecting that the car would deliver the kind of performance we have now.
"But we still need to keep our feet on the ground because our main competitors, Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, have fast cars, talented teams, but also they have everything around that for a top team in terms of facilities, mentality, mindset into the racing approach.
"We are still missing some of that capacity in terms of bringing upgrades, or just facilities, even if we are moving to the new factory soon, it will take a few months until that factory delivers. But the ambition is really high in this team, and I love it."
That ambition stems from owner Lawrence Stroll who, in the summer of 2020 said his team would be fighting for wins and titles after five years. This is year three of the project, and those victories, at least, are agonisingly close.
Given Alonso's motivation is soaring, his own targets have now changed. Another title after all these years since his last in 2006?
"I would say that winning a championship would be a perfect thing," he said. "If I win a championship 17, 18 years from my previous one, that would be unprecedented, that kind of distance between two championships.
"That will be my goal at the moment, or the legacy that I want to have in this sport, of someone who loves it so much that you can keep racing for many years, and can keep the level as high as possible for many years. That will prove a point. That's something that was a part of my comeback to the sport."
And as for being reunited with Honda in 2026, again, it is a possibility he cannot dismiss. Speaking after the announcement last week, Alonso said: "Racing again with Honda, no, it's going to be no problem at all from my side.
"I know it didn't work out last time, 2015, ’16, ’17. But they have proven they now have a competitive package. They won the (drivers') championship in ’21. They won a championship in ’22 and most likely will win the championship in ’23. So they now have a very strong package, and it's a new set of regulations. I think it will be a very exciting project for sure."