Fernando Alonso's last roll of the dice

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso is one of the finest grand prix drivers of his generation - but the Spaniard's future in the sport looks uncertain.

It is now nine years since Fernando Alonso claimed his first world title. 12 months later he sealed a second, and the year after that he came within a single point of making it three on the bounce.

Since then the Spaniard has come close twice more, narrowly missing out to Sebastian Vettel in 2010 and '12. But, despite being viewed by many as the most complete driver on the grid, Alonso still has only two world championships to his name.

It is rarely appropriate to talk of someone having 'only' two world titles, but in Alonso's case it is a fair assessment. His talent places him in the same bracket as three-time winners such as Senna, Lauda and Stewart, with only the statistics keeping them separate. But to Fernando, those statistics mean a great deal.

That is why he is on the move from Ferrari. After five years of out-performing the Maranello squad's lacklustre cars, the hugely disappointing 2014 machine has proven to be the final straw.

Though it has not been officially announced, their divorce is all but settled. The two may still be living in the same house, but at this stage they're sleeping in separate beds and only communicating in front of the children. There is no question that the love that once burned between them - in fact it was more of an all-encompassing passion - has fizzled out. Ferrari cannot give Fernando want he wants, and they cannot listen to another season of his complaints; the time has come to part ways.

The news was effectively confirmed during the Japanese Grand Prix when Christian Horner announced that Vettel had defected to Ferrari for 2015. Alonso had long appeared the key player in the driver market, but Seb's move ousted him as top dog, just as the German beat him to those two world titles. That must have hurt. Nevertheless, Alonso remained calm about his future throughout the Suzuka weekend.

"I have a plan in my head, I have had my mind set for the last two or three months,” he told Sky Sports. “I have the privileged position because more or less I can choose wherever I want to go in the moment that I want to go.

“Let's wait a little bit and, when I clear completely my last doubts, I will tell you where I go."

But is there really an option out there that will put Alonso where he belongs - in a winning car? His choices for next season do not appear to place him in any better a position than he currently finds himself in and, at 33, he may not have the time to build a new project from the ground up. One of the most gifted F1 drivers appears to be in career free-fall, despite another season of world-class performances.

His first option is to accept the long-rumoured switch to McLaren-Honda. However despite Ron Dennis' bold talk, even their most ardent fan will find it hard to imagine the revived combo winning the world title next year; even 2016 seems rather ambitious. Perhaps they'll be regular race winners by 2017, but Alonso turns 36 that season. By this time his powers will be diminishing, perhaps allowing a much younger team-mate to steal his thunder.

And this assumes that McLaren and Honda can return to title-winning ways in just three seasons. The Woking-based squad have been in a rut for some time now; their engine is the best on the grid yet they sit fifth in the constructors' standings, making it safe to assume that their car is not up to scratch. Meanwhile Honda's most recent attempt at F1 ended horribly, with dreadful seasons in 2007 and '08 culminating in the rapid termination of their factory squad. While it is entirely possible that the two will rekindle their past successes together, it is not a cast-iron guarantee.

Alonso's second option is to hold out for a spot at the factory Mercedes team in 2016. That would mean one of two sub-options: accepting a spot at a midfield Merc squad for next year, or taking a sabbatical.

Let's examine the latter possibility first. Whether you agree that he is the best or not, there is no question that Alonso is among the top three drivers in F1 at the moment, and among the all-time elite. To see him on the sidelines next term would be nothing short of a sporting travesty. Imagine benching Lionel Messi for a full season, or telling Usain Bolt he won't be running this year.

The other option would be to drive for a customer Mercedes team and wait for the factory seat to open up. With Williams having a full house, the two options are Force India and Lotus. Both would represent a significant step back for Alonso - literally in Lotus' case, as he has previously raced for the Enstone-based squad in two separate stints (2003-2006 and 2008-2009). Neither would give him a chance to win the world title in 2015, but he might grab the odd podium or even a shock win in the right circumstances. Frankly, that is more than can be said for Ferrari right now.

But hang on - what's to say this coveted 2016 Mercedes seat is really up for grabs? Or that the Silver Arrows will want Alonso, nearing his 35th birthday, at this stage? There is clearly no reason to drop Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg; they are winning races and seem to have overcome the worst of their intra-team bickering. One assumption was that Lewis may depart for Ferrari in 2016, but is he really going to share the Scuderia with the soon-to-be-confirmed Vettel? The only other worthwhile destination is Red Bull, but by signing Daniil Kvyat for 2015 they have made a firm commitment to their junior programme.

As such there is nowhere for Lewis to go in '16, which makes it fairly certain that he'll remain a Mercedes man. Dropping Rosberg is possible, albeit rather unnecessary. He has a multi-year deal, but all contracts are littered with get-out clauses for both parties - after all, Alonso's Ferrari deal runs to 2016, while Vettel's Red Bull contract should have seen him through next year.

In this scenario, Alonso would arrive at Mercedes in 2016, almost 35, and quite possibly facing a Lewis Hamilton fresh from back-to-back world titles. If that is his plan, he may want to spend a little more time at the drawing board.

Unless he has a contract signed with Mercedes, Alonso would be playing a hugely risky game by banking on a seat there in 2016, especially when both current drivers are winning races, not to mention four years his junior.

That makes McLaren-Honda his only sensible choice. But even this represents a significant gamble given the transitional phase the team are set to embark upon. Perhaps they could deliver him a winning car by 2017, perhaps not; the Honda engine is currently a mystery.

Given Alonso's age, we can be fairly certain that this is his final roll of the dice in Formula 1. And with circumstances being what they are, it is a risky one at that.