Fernando Alonso hints at 2018 plans coming together

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BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Despite starting from the back row of the grid with a 40-place engine penalty at Sunday's Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso says his Baku weekend has been "very positive" from a personal perspective.

The comments came after his boss, McLaren racing director Eric Boullier, described the Azerbaijan weekend as his most painful yet in Formula One and, tellingly, Alonso delivered them with a wry smile. They also came on a weekend in which Alonso's management team has been photographed in public discussions with rival team bosses on two separate occasions as the Spaniard, who is out of contract at the end of the year, starts making plans for 2018.

Now in its third year of failing to deliver results, the McLaren-Honda partnership risks losing Alonso over the winter if it cannot convince him it will provide a winning car next year. And with the two McLaren's starting 18th and 19th on the grid in Baku, wins have rarely looked as distant as they do now.

Yet Alonso, who has never been one to hide his emotions, said McLaren's disastrous weekend in Azerbaijan had actually been "quite positive" for him.

He was then asked if his positive outlook had been influenced by Flavio Briatore, the head of his management team, dining with Mercedes bosses Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda on Friday.

He added: "It has been very positive, for me."

Briatore tweeted a photo of the dinner on Friday evening and on Saturday Alonso's manager Luis Garcia Abad, who also looks after Carlos Sainz, was pictured in a public conversation in the paddock with Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul. Such meetings are common when a driver is out of contract at the end of the year, but the public nature of both on the same weekend is unlikely to be coincidental.

When Mercedes boss Wolff was asked if he had talked about Alonso over dinner with Briatore, he played down the prospect of the Spaniard joining his team next year.

"If you have dinner with Flavio it is clear you talk about Alonso," Wolff said. "But we are very happy with our current driver line-up, there is no reason to question it, so there was no talk of Alonso joining the team. We talked about the Indy 500."

Alonso's options at F1's top three teams look slim for 2018, with Mercedes seemingly out of the question, Christian Horner saying there is "no room" for Alonso at Red Bull and a return to Ferrari also unlikely as long as Sebastian Vettel is present as the team's lead driver. That appears to limit Alonso's options to McLaren or Renault, but he insists there is more to the driver market than meets the eye.

"I know there are a few options out there and there are more options than people are talking about now," Alonso said earlier in the weekend. "There will be some surprises. We will see."

In an interview with Sky Sports, set to be aired on Sunday, he added: "I will wait and make the best decision and whatever decision l will take it's because l will win in 2018. Next year will be a happy year."