Could Fernando Alonso join Williams for the 2018 Formula 1 season?

Belgian Grand Prix paddock gossip that Williams is chasing Fernando Alonso has reignited a 2018 Formula 1 silly season that appeared to be turning into a damp squib

Could Fernando Alonso join Williams for the 2018 Formula 1 season?

With Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel retained by Ferrari and Mercedes likely to keep Valtteri Bottas, the main remaining intrigue was over Renault's interest in Robert Kubica.

But as F1 regrouped at Spa, the sensational possibility of Alonso moving to Williams emerged - first reported in respected German publication Auto Motor und Sport.

Alonso has made clear he only wants to stay in F1 if he has competitive machinery.

But with Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull not seeming interested, it appeared his choice was between sticking it out with McLaren-Honda or quitting to race in another series.

While Alonso has no doubts about McLaren's infrastructure and budget, the Honda engine is the main sticking point.

With hopes of Ferrari or Mercedes customer engines having faded, Alonso is counting on the slim chance of a McLaren-Renault deal or consultant Ilmor turning Honda's form around.

Asked about McLaren's Honda or Renault decision, Alonso cryptically replied: "I don't think there is a tough choice."

He declined to elaborate on whether he meant it was obvious what McLaren must do or whether Renault's reluctance to expand to a fourth supply meant McLaren had no choice but Honda.

Pushed on whether the engine decision was the deal-breaker for his 2018 plans, Alonso said: "Not really. It's the performance what will dictate what I will do and the conditions of next year."

One way Alonso could guarantee getting the best engine in F1 would be to jump ship from McLaren and join Mercedes customer Williams.

Securing Alonso would be a sensational coup for Williams.

It would lift the team's reputation massively, give it a big performance boost and would be a dream for sponsors such as title backer Martini.

The real question is whether such a move is attractive enough for Alonso. Williams does not appear capable of offering Alonso the third world championship or even race wins in the short term.

Its last victory was Pastor Maldonado's shock Spanish GP one-off five years ago and it is only fifth in the constructors' championship, a huge 60 points off fourth-placed Force India - a team few would link Alonso to.

But Williams has made more progress over the last 12 months than its results suggest.

Without a failed shock absorber, Felipe Massa could have won in Azerbaijan.

Paddy Lowe has arrived from Mercedes and begun making changes to the infrastructure.

This will take time, but Lowe knows exactly what resources and commitment are needed to win championships.

Lance Stroll's father Lawrence is more than open to digging deep into his pocket to help fast-track Williams's progress.

This year Massa has often been fighting for the best-of-the-rest honours behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, despite having gone into the winter expecting to retire.

Alonso knows the edge he had on Massa when they were together at Ferrari, so he would not need long to work out what he could be doing with the Williams based on Massa's form.

Equally it wouldn't be lost on Alonso that there is a big gap currently between Williams and the top teams - a gap that even his brilliant driving would not be able to overcome if the team does not make progress. Is it a gulf too big to overcome in just a single season?

The F1 paddock is in a holding pattern for 2019, when the driver market will really explode as the likes of Max Verstappen potentially become available.

Alonso will definitely want to be a free agent then, so he could feel there is little to lose in a single-season gamble for 2018.

Few doubt that a few years ago - especially in 2014 - Alonso would have been able to win races for Williams.

The real question now is does he believe such a scenario could return for next year, or is he still better off sticking it out at McLaren and having faith that it makes the right call on engines?

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