Fernando Alonso leaves Formula One after the end of the season at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but McLaren say they will not hesitate to seek his services again if needed.
The double world champion did not rule out the comeback, recognizing it as unlikely at age 37, but team boss Zack Brown told Reuters on Wednesday the Spanish would be the first driver he called if there was a problem.
"We certainly would not have hesitated if we needed a driver who is not one of us to make Fernando the first on the speed dial," he said.
"(Michael) Schumacher returned, (Alan) Frost came back, I would not have deceived it, we are very pleased with the leadership of our vehicle for the future – that's what we're focusing on right now – but never say.
"He's definitely driving at the top of his game."
Jameson Button, the 2009 world champion who left McLaren at the end of 2016, achieved a one-time return next year when the Monaco Grand Prix when Alonso was absent in the Indianapolis 500.
Belgian Stoppel Vandoorne also made his debut in 2016 when Alonso was injured in Australia and disqualified the second race in Bahrain.
McLaren has a whole new layout for 2019, with Spaniard Carlos Sienz joining the Mareno and British teenager Lando Norris rising from reserve duty.
Two times Monaco Monaco winner Alonso will continue the world championship endurance with Toyota, after winning the 24-hour Mans this year, and with McLaren again on the Indie 500 when he pursues the "Triangle of Motorsport".
Brown said Alonso was sure to participate in several Formula One races next year and did not eventually rob a new role for him.
"He's talking about one of the days when there's a management shirt," the American said. "He likes to be in races: when he's not on Formula One or stamina, you'll find him on his" kate-cart "track, and he can not get away from the race tracks.
"He still drove McLaren.We do the Indianapolis 500 together, so I think Fernando has other ways he can influence and help our team."
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Brown congratulated the Spaniard as one of the greatest of his time and one who could have won many more championship than with his Renault.
The Sunday race at Yass Marina, he said, would be emotional, if also something of disappointment.
"It's a pity he does not come out with a chance of winning or the stands – it's probably disappointing to all of us because he is doing his best," the American said.
"At the end of the week, I'm sure it will be difficult even to enter the points."
Former McLaren champion are the sixth in the tournament of the builders with 62 points, 50 of them scored by Alonso, who recently won the Grand Prix with Ferrari in 2013, had not finish the podium since 2014.
"Unfortunately, given his long career, he only won two championships, and if he had been in the right cars for 17 years of his career, he could have been in the same place as Lewis (Hamilton) and Michael (Schumacher) with five, six, seven," Brown said.
Alonso would have won a third title in 2007 if McLaren preferred him to Hamilton, who finished the season with points, while Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen scored another.
Hamilton then took the title in 2008, while Alonso returned to Renault before joining Ferrari in 2010 – a year in which he led the championship into the last race in Abu Dhabi before strategy destroys his hopes.
The return to McLaren, unthinkable after the bitterness of 2007, came in 2015, but also coincided with the worst form of the team, and eventually a partnership with Honda ended last year.
Statistics of dogs
Ferrari has not won the title of drivers since Raikkonen.
"His statistics probably fall from his enormous talent," Brown said, dismissing the Spaniard as a disruptive effect and emphasizing his intensity and hard work behind the scenes.
"I know the stories well over the years, but as far as I'm concerned, he was a fast race car driver who wants the best equipment and the best from people, and does not get anything that is not perfect.
"He was a pleasure working with him."