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Alonso hints at McLaren stay with new engine deal imminent

SINGAPORE (AP) — Fernando Alonso could end up staying at McLaren. Amid growing speculation that McLaren will split with Honda and work with Renault as its engine supplier next year, the two-time Formula One champion hinted he is prepared to continue with the team for another year.

"After they take a decision, I will take mine," the Spanish driver said Thursday at the Singapore Grand Prix. "I want to stay loyal to them and not make any decisions without them first making their decisions."

McLaren is in its third troublesome year with Honda and there has been scant sign of any improvement. Alonso has grown increasingly agitated at Honda's lack of reliability, completing only three races this season with a best finish of sixth.

Alonso has scored 10 points so far, while McLaren teammate Stoffel Vandoorne has managed only one. Renault has a far more reliable engine than Honda, with Nico Hulkenberg consistently in the points for Renault and completing 10 of 13 races. With Alonso behind the wheel, and using a Renault engine, McLaren could expect a significant performance boost next year.

Despite being one of the oldest drivers on the grid, the 36-year-old Spaniard is still widely considered to be one of the best. He has done well in trying circumstances with McLaren and remains ambitious.

"If I remain in F1 it is because I believe I can win next year," said Alonso, whose last of 32 F1 wins was at the Spanish GP in 2013 when driving for Ferrari. "I will not be around in any series to be fighting for top 10."

With Alonso likely staying at McLaren, Renault is expected to sign Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr. from Toro Rosso as a replacement for British driver Jolyon Palmer, who has failed to score a point this season.

Palmer expects to see out the season, at least, amid reports he could be replaced imminently. "I've got seven more races this year," Palmer said. "I'll be racing until Abu Dhabi." Official engine changes are expected to be announced on Friday. Representatives of Renault, McLaren, Honda and Red Bull are all scheduled to appear at a news conference after practice ends in Singapore.

Toro Rosso, a feeder team to Red Bull, is set to split with Renault next year and switch to Honda engines until 2020. Renault's relationship with Red Bull has also been difficult, and Renault will also reportedly cut ties with Red Bull in 2019. This would give Toro Rosso the opportunity to use the Honda engines for one season until both teams use it from 2019.

Red Bull has slipped further behind Ferrari and Mercedes this season and is a long way from the all-conquering team that won four straight drivers' and constructors' championships from 2010-13. Christian Horner, Red Bull's team principal, has been highly critical of Renault's performance since the move to turbo hybrid engines in 2014.

"We pay a hell of a lot of money for the engine," Horner said after last month's Belgian GP. "They need to sort it out." However, a move to Honda could come at a cost as it could lead to Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen pondering their futures. Moving from one under-performing engine to the most unreliable one on the grid is hardly an enticing prospect for two of the most highly-rated drivers in F1.

Both are under contract for 2018 but would easily find options elsewhere. Although Ricciardo has won one race and secured five other podium finishes this season, Verstappen has made no secret of his utter frustration with his car's engine failures.

Since placing third in China at the second race, the 19-year-old Verstappen has failed to finish six times. He already counts twice as many DNFs — failures to complete a race — as last season, with seven GPs remaining.

Verstappen was so exasperated after his engine cut out in Belgium that he sarcastically compared his car to Alonso's malfunctioning McLaren in terms of unreliability.

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