The notion was first raised by McLaren chief Ron Dennis. When asked by reporters about Alonso's near-term future with the team, Dennis said, "I have an open mind to anything, and some of the ideas have involved those sorts of considerations, yes, sabbatical years etcetera." Though far from confirmed, the basic idea would be to see how next year's car performs in pre-season testing, and if it's not up to spec, Alonso could end up sitting out a season while McLaren and Honda get their partnership up to speed, so to speak.
Alonso appeared to be puzzled by the prospect his boss raised, but couldn't rule it out, either. It would be a rather unprecedented move, but could end up avoiding some frustrations as the Anglo-Japanese teething process works itself out with time. Alonso has been a constant on the grid since 2003, missing only two grands prix in thirteen seasons: the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis when all the Michelin-equipped teams sat out the race in protest, and the Australian Grand Prix at the beginning of this year, when Alonso was still recovering from a crash in pre-season testing.
Out of 254 grands prix contested to date, Fernando has landed on the podium 97 times, including 32 wins and two world championships. This season, however, he's only finished in the points once, with his fifth-place finish in Hungary. Of the eighteen races he contested this year, his car failed to get him to the finish line altogether at seven. His seventeenth place in the final standings for the season are the worst he's done since his debut in 2001 with Minardi (the team now known as Toro Rosso).