Through various motorsport publications, it was announced that McLaren and their driver, Fernando Alonso, were to part ways. This news was coming after McLaren’s debacle in failing to qualify for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It was reported that both parties agreed to mutually separate and left each other on good terms. McLaren issued this statement about the topic to multiple publications:
“Fernando, like all McLaren drivers past and present, will always be part of the McLaren family and we have a strong relationship with him. We have no plans to run him in any further F1 test sessions this year as our focus remains on both Carlos (Sainz) and Lando (Norris). He is free to pursue other opportunities in motorsport, and we would support him in doing so.”
Or, so we thought Alonso was leaving.
Later that same day McLaren CEO, Zak Brown stated that this story was “fake news” and that both McLaren and Alonso still have a “strong and contractual relationship.” The Spaniard took to his twitter account and echoed the statements by Zak Brown by posting this on his timeline:
I’ve been waited for more information to come out and weirdly enough; this is basically where the trail of crumbs end when it comes to this story. This separation might still be coming in the near future. Perhaps someone within Alonso’s representative group leaked this information out early to stir interest and create some positive buzz around the two-time Formula One champion. Especially after his controversial win at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with Toyota Gazoo Racing.
For McLaren, issuing that statement might have come from observing Alonso’s newfound commitment and success toward Toyota and were trying to save a bit of their reputation. After all, Alonso’s very public ridicule of McLaren and their then Formula One engine provider, Honda, during his second stint with the team were nothing short of flattering.
With Alonso not being committed to a racing series full-time, the world is now his oyster. Alonso is free to come and go as he pleases. He can race anything, anywhere, at any time. Alonso’s seat at Toyota Gazoo Racing is being taken over by two-time WEC champion Brandon Hartley so that Alonso could pursue new challenges with the manufacture.
According to many, the Dakar Rally will be the next joint venture between the two sides.
With Alonso showing an energetic commitment to the Japanese manufacturer of Toyota and his newfound racing freedom, Alonso’s racing future is nothing but speculation. Could he join Super Formula where Toyota is one of the two engine manufactures of that series? Could he rejoin Toyota in 2020 for the new Hypercar Class that the WEC will be introducing?
Does “leaving” McLaren open the door to a possible seat in IndyCar and throw a monkey wrench into the 2020 IndyCar silly season?
Dear God, I hope it’ll be this one, and I’ll attempt to explain why.
Alexander Rossi, currently driving for Andretti Autosport, is the biggest fish on the IndyCar driver market when his contract expires at the end of this season. The rumors are endless when it comes to predicting Rossi’s future.
Does he go to Penske and align himself with their powerful chevy engines? How about Chip Ganassi Racing, where there is a track record of crowning champions. Couple that with a Honda alliance, which is the only engine Rossi has known during his IndyCar career, and you can see the temptation. Can Rossi and Andretti Autosport even come to agreeable terms? Will Andretti Autosport switch to a Chevy power unit next season? If so, will that sway Honda in trying to retain the talent of Rossi under their racing banner?
Now imagine if Alonso decides he wants to join the IndyCar grid. He could potentially reshape the field in a significant way. I believe his ego wouldn’t settle for anything less than a seat within one of the top three teams of Andretti, Penske, or Chip Ganassi. Would one of them take a chance on the 37-year-old as opposed to Rossi, who is 27 years of age and just hitting the prime of his career? Coincidently, all three teams that were mentioned above are understood to be in contention for the Rossi sweepstakes as well.
Would there be room for both of them on any of those teams? More importantly, would there even be enough money to go around? I would assume the answer would be no.
McLaren has announced that they are simmering down their IndyCar program to just another one-off attempt in 2020. Alonso will need a reliable seat to secure his maiden Indianapolis 500 win. With that win, he would become the second person to claim the Triple Crown of motorsports. Grant Hill is the only driver to achieve this feat.
I believe Alonso needs to participate in at least a partial season to build confidence and understanding in the car. Not to mention, running a partial season would be essential to building team chemistry that can help when the lights are shining the brightest. Something McLaren lacked significantly this year, and it showed.
Alonso has stated that he has no plans to running a full-time IndyCar schedule next season as it would be “too much of a commitment in terms of races.” For clarification, IndyCar runs four races less than what is on the Formula One calendar.
But what if one of these teams comes calling? What will become of Alonso’s future? Does Alonso being “free” alter the plan for Rossi and his future endeavors in any way?
Could we see Alonso imitate Juan Pablo Montoya and not only commit to IndyCar in the later years of his career but win the Indianapolis 500?
Only time will tell.
photo credit: Getty Images