McLaren CEO Zak Brown says Fernando Alonso’s Indianapolis 500 chances – and those of the whole Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet team –have improved hugely in 2020, after last year’s failure to qualify.
Speaking to the media at Silverstone ahead of this weekend’s Formula 1 British Grand Prix, Brown declared that McLaren’s partnership with what was previously called the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team has created a “totally different environment”.
As team co-owner Sam Schmidt highlighted to Motorsport.com earlier this week, the squad’s full-time drivers, fellow Indy Lights champions Patricio O’Ward and Oliver Askew, have done a fine job in a difficult season for inexperienced drivers with zero in-season testing opportunities and restricted practice sessions on two-day race weekends. Despite these hurdles, each driver has landed a podium finish in the opening six races of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, and O’Ward also took pole at Road America.
Said Brown: “Our IndyCar team has now had a strong start to the season – two podiums, we almost won at Road America. We’ve been strong on road courses, strong on ovals. The team is very well prepared.
“We’ve brought in Craig Hampson [heading R&D department and Alonso’s race engineer for Indy], who is arguably one of the best engineers in the sport.
“So I think we’re much more prepared, integrated into what is now Arrow McLaren SP versus going and buying a couple of cars, being a one-car team, lacking any data, bringing everyone together for the first time… Now this is a team that is up and running with a tremendous amount of experience. It’s night and day, and hopefully the results will demonstrate that as well.”
Brown explained that Alonso, who in a McLaren-liveried Andretti Autosport car excelled on his Indy debut in 2017 until his Honda engine blew in the closing stages of the race, has had to endure administration delays to enter the U.S. this year due to the coronavirus-caused restrictions on visitors.
“It is resolved, it got resolved this week,” he said. “I can tell you when I got the phone call, that was a bit nerve-wracking, but it’s solved now. That’s good, Fernando will be in America next week.
“There’s two different types of… I don’t know if they’re technically visas, but to come in and perform as an athlete. He had the ability to come in to America as I do, but I’ve got a US passport. But there is another level for professional athletes, and that had not been granted yet. You have to get that out of California, and… they respond when they respond, and then once he gets that, he has to go to Madrid embassy to get it approved there.
“It was never a problem: it was more that you can imagine with the state of play right now in America, it’s a bit chaotic, and to just go through all those government hoops, it was taking some time. But he now has everything that he needs.”
With the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 falling on different weekends, Brown was asked if he felt Alonso – returning to F1 with Renault next year – might be able to race in both events. Although Monaco participation would oblige the Spaniard to miss qualifying for the 500, the car could be qualified by another driver and then Alonso could take over for the race – albeit starting from 33rd and last.
Brown responded: “Well, I don’t know what his Renault contract says. From our point of view, next year, the races don’t conflict and the way Indy 500 is run, the car qualifies, not the driver. So it is not out of the question, especially as he’ll have more experience, that if he wanted to do the Indy 500 in 2021 and his contract allowed… you could have a situation where someone qualifies the car for him.
“And if [Alonso] wanted to compete at the Indy 500 in ’21, we’d have to see where we were at as a team, but certainly that wouldn’t be something that I would be opposed to. If we had a seat available, and he wanted to do the Indy 500 in ’21, and he was allowed to do the Indy 500 in 21, then that scenario could play out in a positive way.”