Alonso prioritizing Indy over F1 return in 2020

Fernando Alonso is eyeing another Indy 500 attempt and said while visiting the Italian Grand Prix he sees 2021 as more likely for a return to Formula 1.

The double world champion retired from F1 at the end of last season to pursue other racing interests, completing the World Endurance Championship season — and winning the title — alongside a Rolex 24 At Daytona victory and a failed McLaren attempt to qualify at Indianapolis. McLaren returning to IndyCar in partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson next year has his immediate attention; Alonso said he “always” has talks within F1 but is more interested in a return in 2021.

“I think first I need to figure out a couple of different challenges outside of F1, like the Indy 500 and some other stuff, that I need to complete,” Alonso told Sky Sports, discussing his plans for next season.

“2021, with the new regulations — I think (there) is a good mix where we can find a different kind of Formula 1 to what we find now. The reasons why I left F1 last year are still present now — the domination of (one) team and the races a little bit too predictable; but 2021 there will be some changes and maybe there is an opportunity there.”

Alonso is at Monza as a guest of McLaren, where he retains an ambassadorial role. The Spaniard admitted he’d rather be in the car this weekend than trackside observing.

“It would be nice. When you are at a circuit and you are not driving it feels weird. You just see cars going around. But this is a year off for me, even if I am doing the endurance at the beginning of the year and doing the testing for a possible Dakar. I’m not on the couch at home, but I am still a little bit away from Formula 1 this year. It’s a very intense life, this.”

McLaren open to adding third 2020 IndyCar for Alonso

Arrow McLaren SP will be open to entering a third car next year if Fernando Alonso expresses an interesting in racing the full IndyCar season.

McLaren has announced a partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport that will see the team rebranded and all of McLaren’s existing IndyCar hardware added to the SPM project, but at this stage continuing as a two-car effort. While Alonso failed to qualify for this year’s Indianapolis 500 and has previously talked down the prospect of running the full season, RACER understands that McLaren believes running a car for Alonso would be financially viable, and that the team has the capacity to do so.

“The door’s always open for Fernando,” McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown told RACER. “He’s part of the family, he’s a contracted McLaren driver and for the first time in a long time he doesn’t have a full racing calendar ahead of him.

“He’s obviously well aware of what we’re doing here, and I’ll be seeing him later in the year and we’ll be discussing our plans and his plans, and see if those converge at any point.”

The SPM tie-up includes a change from Honda to Chevrolet power. Brown said no decisions on the driver line-up having been taken yet, with James Hinchcliffe currently under contract for one more year beyond this one and Marcus Ericsson signed for the rest of 2019.

Should Alonso not be interested in the full campaign, RACER understands another attempt at the Indy 500 remains on the table should he wish to suit up with McLaren again. The team is expected to expand to three cars for the Month of May.

INSIGHT: McLaren begins its Indy post-mortem

On Sunday evening in the Monaco paddock, the McLaren hospitality unit was a somber place. What should have been a tense and nervous few hours with hundreds of eyes glued to the nine massive screens that stretch up over three levels ­– and potentially a big celebration at the end of it all – was a non-event.

Ten people sat around watching the Indy 500, while the majority of the team continued with their work and the hospitality crew packed up.

The failings at Indianapolis Motor Speedway a weekend before meant many of the team that should have been Stateside were at home, or a lucky few in Monaco instead. The reasons for those failings had been laid bare shortly after Fernando Alonso was bumped from the 33: an unprepared team – exemplified by a lack of a steering wheel and a spare car being re-painted a different shade of orange – had not gotten everything together in time to make the show.

“When you get into things like ‘we didn’t have a steering wheel’, it wasn’t like someone forgot to get a steering wheel,” McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown tells RACER. “Just to give context, we were going to do our own steering wheel, we didn’t get it done in time. Yes, Cosworth sells them off the shelf, but getting ready for Indy, everyone’s ordered them, so it ain’t Walmart where you walk in and go ‘I’ll take one of those’.

“By the time I got the call – ‘Oh ****, we need a steering wheel’ – Carlin got us one and I got us one from Cosworth, because you need two. So while the story was raw and made us look pretty bad – which we deserved – it wasn’t like ‘****, no one got a steering wheel!’.

“And then if you look at all the problems that we had, they all came from lack of preparation, because yes, we didn’t get the gears right. The day before, had we got the ride-height right, we would have identified that we didn’t have the gears right. Why didn’t we get the ride-height right? Because we changed set-up that we were rushing on. Why were we rushing on it? Because we didn’t do Thursday…

“It’s like the late Bill Buckner – it’s the final mistake and everyone remembers that, but they did lose two games before the ball rolled through , and he ain’t the only guy who had made an error. It was just one of the final moments.

“So at the end of the day, we weren’t prepared for Texas and never rang the bell, which is my fault because I saw it but was assured that everything was under control, and it wasn’t. And you saw the result.”

While Brown was on the ground at IMS to see the final stages of the attempt unravel, he then spent the following weekend in Monaco. A full post-mortem will now be carried out to identify things like when the spare car was sent to be re-painted, who made the call to do so, and why concerns weren’t voiced earlier.

Bob Fernley was head of the McLaren Indy project and his departure made him an immediate scapegoat, but his contract only ran until the 500 regardless. What Brown really wants to know now is the finer details of what tripped his team up.

“I know what I saw, I know what wasn’t done, but what I don’t yet know is the minute-by-minute,” he said “I want to know. I don’t want to just generally know why it wasn’t ready, I want to know who made those decisions, who was consulted, why were those decisions made… I want to do a full post-mortem instead of a half-story.

“We want to go back. Until we do the post-mortem and then sit around the table and go, ‘What did we learn? What would we do differently next time?’. Then the conversation becomes that we want to do it, is there anything that we find we should have done differently but we can’t right now for whatever reason?

“So that will be the sequence: What happened? What would we do differently? Do we want to go back? We want to go back. We will go back. Will we go back in 2020? That will depend on what went wrong this year – can we make sure that’s not going to happen next year?”

An obvious piece of the puzzle that Brown says is already in place is Gil de Ferran. The sporting director was hands-on in F1 when work began on the team’s Indy program, but with Andreas Seidl now installed as team principal and James Key as technical director, all of Brown’s players are on the field.

“I would have liked Gil de Ferran to be involved from the word go, but he was heavily focused on Formula 1,” he said “So that’s one thing that I know I would want to do differently, and he’ll be able to do that from now on.

“So my gut is, we’re going to be in a much better position. We’ve done the learning, we’ve bought the cars, we’ve got the equipment, so much of what you would need to do to go has been done. Now it’s about learning where we made the mistakes, and fixing those.”

Now with a car at the factory and Fernando Alonso about to be free from his WEC commitments, entering a race later this year might have been attractive to both McLaren and the Spaniard. Brown insists that won’t happen, and while a race or two in early 2020 is much more likely than a full-time program Brown says the project does not center around Alonso’s involvement.

Still hungry for the Triple Crown, Alonso felt the car McLaren had given him by the end of Bump Day would have been a real contender once the gear ratios were adjusted, and in that there is hope he will still be behind the wheel of a future McLaren entry. After all, the team missed out by one spot on each of Saturday and Sunday – by 000.02mph and 000.019mph respectively – when the closest field in Indy 500 history was set.

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” Brown says. “In a public sport, you put yourself out there, and you’re going to have your supporters and your critics. I recognize that, I acknowledge that, I accept that.

“There are a lot of uninformed opinions. I see something like ‘I can’t believe they only did one test day’. That’s all we were allowed to do. There are certainly a lot of people that don’t understand, but then there’s also people who say ‘you’re McLaren and you have an expectation and not qualifying is not acceptable’, and I agree.

“So I think what we took on was a big task, it was brave, we got it wrong and we’ll come back fighting. Some people – which I appreciate – recognize that, and then some people don’t recognize that, don’t want to recognize that, aren’t fans of ours and therefore take shots at us.

“That’s the nature of ; whether you go to a football match and you’ve got one guy who is cheering for a team and another guy who is screaming at the quarterback because he threw an interception… I’d like to see him try and throw a touchdown pass. But that’s sport, you have to accept it’s that type of environment.”

Even in the face of such criticism, Brown is confident the members of McLaren’s executive committee share his hunger to return to Indianapolis. A final call on 2020 is likely to be made in the coming weeks, and even if there are roadblocks to an immediate return, it’s clear the 500 is now unfinished business to more than just Alonso.

“We want to go back and I’d like to go back,” Brown insists. “If we’re going to go back next year, we’ll want to make a quick decision so that we’ve got maximum preparation, because a lack of preparation is what got us where we are this time.

“I don’t want to predict that we’re going to go back. I’d like to go back. All the reasons why McLaren should be at Indy are still valid reasons, and we’re not quitters. We’re racers.

“Even though this was the lowest point in my career and a massive high-profile failure, you’ve got to get back on the horse.”

McLaren unlikely to enter IndyCar full-time in 2020

McLaren’s failure to qualify for this year’s Indianapolis 500 makes it “highly unlikely” it will enter the series full-time in 2020, according to Zak Brown.

McLaren’s arrival at Indy as a standalone entry delivered a catalogue of errors, including a full day of practice missed just 48 hours before qualifying, and resulted in Fernando Alonso missing out on a place in the race. Following that failure, McLaren Racing CEO Brown  believes that the team needs to understand how to get the 500 right before taking on an expanded IndyCar program.

“I think it’s highly unlikely we’ll be in IndyCar full-time next year,” Brown told RACER. “As enthusiastic as I am for IndyCar, given where we are in Formula 1, given what we just went through at Indy, I’d like to see us go back to Indy and get that right as a next step instead of totally jumping in. So I think it’s highly unlikely we’re in IndyCar full-time in 2020.”

Brown has also ruled out any further IndyCar entries this season despite having both a car and Alonso available, although he says that the team’s experiences over the past few weeks have reinforced the value of running additional races in the lead-up to next year’s 500.

“Could we do races before Indy next year in preparation? Yeah, that’s something we’ve spoken about,” he said. “So that will be all part of the thinking. Had we got into the show, we missed all the pit stop practice. We were practicing over the months in the race shop and things like that, but Thursday was the pit stop practice day, and we missed that. So we would have gone into Indy cold.

“So one of things we’ve discussed, we’ve started to throw around that we should have done the road race. Even though it wouldn’t have taught us anything about the set-up of the car, operationally it was good practice. So definitely not this year, but probably if we go back to Indy, doing a race or two in preparation for Indy feels like good preparation.”

Alonso was seeking the Triple Crown of Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans 24 Hour and Indy 500 victories this year, and has yet to confirm whether he will try again in 2020. Although Brown says McLaren’s interest in competing in IndyCar is not dependent on Alonso’s presence, he also says he has not spoken to any other drivers about piloting a McLaren entry at IMS next year.

“No I haven’t, because I don’t want to mess anybody about. If we’re not going to come on a full-time basis and I’m having talks with drivers… I’m misleading them. I don’t want to mislead any drivers. We got fairly close (to a full-time entry) this year, so I did have conversations because we were close. But knowing that, it’s highly unlikely – I wouldn’t want to start messing drivers about.”

MILLER: Was this really a surprise?

It wasn’t a surprise that McLaren struggled this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Most of us figured the proud Formula 1 team would find starting an IndyCar team from scratch to be a big challenge.

But nobody thought Fernando Alonso could miss the show. Well… that’s not entirely true. That thought began creeping into our minds late in the week as we watched this train wreck unfold.

From the Open Test when the car died and it took an hour to figure out why, to taking more than a day to prepare the backup car, to missing 10 minutes of valuable practice on Sunday morning to the sparkler show off the gearbox when they couldn’t dial in the ride height, McLaren looked as out of synch as it did out of place.

“I think they were kind of arrogant about what it takes to run here,” said a veteran mechanic. “But I don’t think they are anymore.”

It’s not that Zak Brown’s team lacked mechanical skills. Or technical experience, since they had former Indy-winning engineer Andy Brown. They built one car in England with their people and the other was assembled in Florida with some longtime Indy mechanics. But it appears they were woefully short of structure and direction.

The Dallara DW12 is a different animal to a  homemade F1 chassis, especially on an oval. There is a finite art to preparing a car to cut through the air at 230 mph with identical chassis.

“Spec racing is hard. It’s all about details, not design,” said veteran Sebastien Bourdais, who qualified seventh for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan. “It’s all about the car and the people working on the car. They didn’t didn’t have current people, so I really wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t Fernando’s fault; he ran wide-open. That’s all you can ask here.”

Asked if he felt sorry for Alonso, the always-candid Bourdais replied: “No, I think he’s relieved. He didn’t want to start in the last row in a car that had no chance to win.”

In joining Team Penske (1995), Bobby Rahal (1993) and Rodger Ward (1965), Alonso’s name has been added to a list of stars who missed out in qualifying at Indianapolis after previous success.

And while it was the kind of drama that makes Indy qualifying so special – watching Kyle Kaiser and the little Juncos team KO Alonso and Mighty McLaren on the final run of the Last Row Shootout – not having the orange Go Smile machine in this year’s race isn’t good.

Brown, McLaren’s CEO, who obviously has an affection for Indy and certainly seems to be serious about trying to run IndyCar full-time, said that the team’s performance here this month could help determine if they pull the trigger. So you don’t know what this setback could mean for the future.

“We’ve certainly learned a lot of lessons here that will carry forward, and that possibility (full-time) is still in consideration,” said Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indy winner who is McLaren’s sporting director. “But no decision has been made.”

Having McLaren join the lineup would be good for IndyCar, and having Alonso in the Indy 500 again would be good for television ratings and interest because he’s one of the few racers that can move the needle.

He said at the end of a long day that it was too early to make any decision about whether or not he’ll return in 2020, but you have to wonder if it would be with McLaren if he does. He no doubt had flashbacks to his futile final days with the team in F1, so it might behoove IndyCar to explore getting him in a competitive ride as an enticement.

Bourdais made a great point in that Alonso wasn’t destroyed by not qualifying because he had zero chance of being competitive, let alone winning. And after his dazzling debut in 2018 when he led laps and ran up front, he’s not interested in driving around and finishing 15th; he did that the last few years in F1.

The 37-year-old Spaniard isn’t just a credit to motorsports, he’s a rare breed of personality and professionalism who understands how to play the game. He came to the media center after qualifying was over Sunday and answered questions for 20 minutes. I imagine a root canal might have been the preferred option, but he was classy and forthright and gracious. No excuses, no whining, no pity -– just an honest post mortem.

He missed making the show by an eyelash, and those 10 minutes Sunday morning could have given him five more laps of focus on gearing and handling after getting new dampers from Andretti Autosport.

But, like everything else these past few days, McLaren missed the boat and it’s going to sail without them on May 26. I just hope Fred comes back with a fighting chance next May.

McLaren apologizes to Alonso after ‘incredibly painful’ failure

McLaren sporting director Gil de Ferran has apologized to Fernando Alonso, describing the McLaren team’s failure to qualify for this year’s Indianapolis 500 as “the most painful experience” he has had in racing.

Alonso was bumped by Kyle Kaiser who made the final run in Sunday’s Last Row Shootout, delivering a shock result for the two-time Indy 500 champions on their return to the race. Speaking alongside Alonso on Sunday evening, de Ferran apologized to many different stakeholders as well as to the Spaniard – who is chasing the Triple Crown – and says the team didn’t provide him with a good enough car.

“This has been a very emotional and difficult experience, not only for me but for the whole team,” de Ferran said. “I want to take this opportunity to apologize and thank the fans, not only here in the U.S. but globally, who have been following our progress. I read a lot of nice things and some great messages all over the place. So thank you, and I’m sorry we won’t be in the Indy 500.

“I want to also apologize to and thank our team. The guys been have been working for several months, and particularly this last month or so have been a tremendous effort, and to try to come here and do the best we can, and they’ve worked all hours in the day, and I guess that was one of the main messages I had for the whole crew there. This is a very difficult sport. We certainly didn’t underestimate the challenge. We knew this was going to be a tremendously hard challenge. I’ve been here before. I’ve seen some incredible people not make the race. So we were certainly very aware of how difficult this was going to be.

“I want to apologize to and thank our partners who have been fantastic, and incredibly supportive through this journey. I thank also the whole IndyCar community, frankly, who welcomed us with open arms. All the way from the officials, safety people, all the other teams, everyone in and around IndyCar, it was nothing but a warm feeling and a lot of support.

“Last but not least, I want to thank this man here on my left, who – and I want to apologize to you, as well, because we didn’t give you a car that was fast enough. You drove like the champion that we know you are.

“Particularly these last three days have been incredibly tense and very difficult, and we couldn’t have asked anything more from you, Fernando. So I’m sorry, man. You’re an amazing driver. In my 35 years of racing, actually a few more, this is the most painful experience I’ve ever had.

“There’s a mixture of emotions going on inside of me, but we are racers. We respect this place. This is one of the toughest challenges in racing. I want to come back tomorrow. I want to fight. I want to come back tomorrow and fight. This is incredibly painful.”

de Ferran says McLaren has learned a number of lessons that it will apply if returns to the Indy 500 in future.

“We’re very humble about everything that went on over here, and I think at this time I just want to say that we did learn a lot of lessons,” he said. “We have to really look inwards and look at everything that we learned, cement those lessons and move forward. I consider myself a racer, a fighter. I want to apply those lessons, starting tomorrow.”

Pagenaud takes pole in a turbulent Indy 500 qualifying

Simon Pagenaud edged Ed Carpenter for the pole position; Kyle Kaiser captured the hearts of underdogs everywhere; and Fernando Alonso got bumped out of the 103rd Indianapolis 500. Those were the major storylines of Sunday’s emotionally charged qualifying session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Pagenaud gave Roger Penske his 18th Indy pole with a 229.992 mph run – just a fraction faster than Carpenter’s average of 229.889 mph in his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy. And his young driver Spencer Pigot gave ECR two-thirds of the front row with a run of 229.825 mph.

It was the closest split (0.103 of a second) for the front row in IMS history, as well as closest spread between pole and 33rd (less than three mph), but those facts were almost anti-climatic following the day’s Last Row shootout drama.

Alonso, whose McLaren team struggled on and off the track all week in its Indy debut, made a deal to run dampers from Andretti Autosport but only got a couple of hot laps in before rain halted the morning practice period. The two-time F1 world champion went out essentially cold turkey on the new setup and responded with a four-lap average of 227.353 mph after James Hinchcliffe posted a 227.543 mph four-lap average.

But when Sage Karam cranked out a 227.740 mph average, it left Alonso on the bubble with two drivers left.

Rookie Pato O’Ward gave Trevor Carlin’s back-up car a good ride but fell just shy with a 227.092 mph run; and then it was all down to Kyle Kaiser. Kaiser had gambled, choosing not to practice Sunday morning in his Juncos Racing Chevy. Yet with all the pressure of the world on his 23-year-old shoulders, the 2017 Indy Lights champ delivered like a veteran and ran 227.372mph.

That was 0.0019mph quicker than Alonso and gave the sponsor-less, small team based on Main St. in Speedway, Indiana, its most rewarding day ever.

“It was the most emotional 48 hours of my life, but I’m just so proud of this team,” said Kaiser.

For Alonso, but mostly for McLaren, failing to qualify was a humbling experience. But the 37-year-old Spaniard was classy in defeat.

“We were 31st on Saturday and 34th today; unfortunately, not fast enough either day,” said the driver who was so impressive in his 2017 Indy debut for Michael Andretti’s team. “It’s disappointing, because we were here to race.”

Asked if he would return to IMS, he replied: “It”s too soon to make that decision.”

Pagenaud, supposedly on the hot seat at Team Penske after a winless 2018, continued his pursuit of job security with a splendid run to take the 11th pole of his career after winning last weekend’s IndyCar GP.

Carpenter, a three-time pole-sitter here who revels in driving on the edge at IMS, came about as close to taking number four as one can get.

And Pigot, who turned the fastest speed in Saturday’s preliminaries, came oh-so-close to repeating on Sunday.

Behind the front-row trio, Ed Jones, the third member of Ed Carpenter Racing who had been quick all week, locked down the Row 2 inside slot, followed by Colton Herta and Pagenaud’s Penske teammate, defending Indy champ Will Power.

Sebastian Bourdais gave Dale Coyne with Vasser-Sullivan Racing another good ride and will start seventh on May 26, while Josef Newgarden takes the green flag in eighth and 2016 Indy winner Alex Rossi lines up ninth.