Fernando Alonso has explained that he never fell out of love with Formula 1, despite having made the decision to walk away from the sport at the end of 2018.
Alonso appeared to call time on his career at the end of that season with McLaren-Renault, having spent the four previous campaigns in uncompetitive machinery at Ferrari and McLaren-Honda.
The McLaren years, in particular, were particularly gruelling as Honda struggled to manufacture an engine that could make it through a race distance, let alone competitively.
Alonso and McLaren became a source of amusement for outside observers for a brief period in 2016 and 2017 as they accrued grid penalties for power unit component changes, including one weekend at Spa-Francorchamps where Alonso picked up a 60-place drop due to constant engine parts being swapped out.
But despite walking away at the end of 2018, Alonso made it clear that he wasn't viewing it as a retirement and that he would be willing to return for the right project.
After two years in which he and his teammates won the Le Mans 24 Hours twice, as well as winning the Daytona 24 Hours and the World Endurance Championship outright, alongside a disastrous second attempt at IndyCar's Indy 500 and a run at the 2020 Dakar Rally, Alonso opted to come back to F1 with Alpine for 2021.
"No, no, I think I needed different challenges at that time in my career," he said on the Beyond the Grid podcast, when asked about his F1 exit.
"I was tempted by Le Mans, I did the Indy 500 in 2017 one year before I stopped. I had all these challenges in my head about competing in different categories, and challenging myself against some other top drivers in other disciplines in motorsport – and challenge myself if I could do well in different types of motorsport."
Alonso felt he was "losing time" in his motorsport career
Alonso, who turned 40 last July, said that he felt that the lack of competitive machinery in F1 was costing him the opportunity to pursue the other challenges he had in mind for his career.
Spurred on by the potential of becoming the first contemporary driver to win the 'Triple Crown', ie. F1's Monaco Grand Prix, the Le Mans 24 Hours, and the Indy 500, Alonso only needs the latter to tick all the boxes. To that end, he admitted that leaving F1 even earlier would have given him a bigger window to try more challenges.
"It was not that I was not in love with Formula 1, but I felt that I was losing time in my career in that moment in Formula 1," he explained.
"I didn't have the chance to fight for wins, to fight for podiums, but I felt that I have this possibility and this appealing challenge of trying something different.
"So I thought that it was the right time in 2018, or even before that. If I look back at my career, maybe 2015 or '16 was even better.
"You don't have the crystal ball and you know what is going to happen in '17 or '18, so you still always hope that you get a chance to fight for bigger things.
"But I was convinced that, in '18, it was the right moment to try something different. Even if I still love Formula 1, I had other things in my head at that time."
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