By: Tanner Watkins
May 20, 2019 | 10:00 AM
There have been some dark days in McLaren’s auto racing department over the last decade, but few could reach the magnitude of what happened this weekend in Indianapolis.
We all know the story of what has transpired since Alonso hit the track last month for a tune-up test before the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but in case you missed it, here are the cliff notes: The car had multiple gremlins in early practices, then Alonso crashed into the North Chute wall on Wednesday, followed by a two-day building period for the backup machine, and capped off by Juncos Racing defeating one of the most wealthy racing organizations in the world.
Did you get all of that? Yeah, it is safe to say that Fernando Alonso has endured the cruel side of the Indianapolis 500 in 2019 after experiencing nearly all of its joys in 2017.
After being bumped from the field of 33 on Sunday, Alonso and sporting director Gil de Ferran were honest in their assessment of this year’s trip to Indianapolis.
“You know, once you are not anymore in, you try to start relaxing a little bit,” said Alonso in a post-qualifying press conference. “It has been a very long qualifying, nearly 56 hours of qualifying from yesterday morning. So yeah, we were just one place all the time-out. Yesterday 31st instead of 30. Today 34th instead of 33 by a very small margin, and yeah, unfortunately not fast enough in any or both days.
“Yeah, (I’m) disappointed now. Obviously, it would be nice to be in the race next Sunday. We came here to race and to challenge ourselves, and we were not quick enough. You know, I congratulate all the other guys that did a better job, and hopefully we’ll see a nice show next Sunday, everyone safe, and enjoying from the TV unfortunately.”
de Ferran took the opportunity to praise Alonso for his hard work, and apologized for giving him cars that were simply not quick enough to qualify for this year’s Indianapolis 500.
“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,” said de Ferran. “You know, you drove like the champion that we know you are. It’s been particularly these last three days, 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.
“This is in my 35 years of racing, actually a few more, but this is the most painful experience I’ve ever had,” relayed de Ferran. “You know, there’s a mixture of emotions going on inside of me, but you know, we are racers. This is — we respect this place, you know. This is one of the toughest challenges in racing.
“I want to come back tomorrow, you know. I want to fight. I want to come back tomorrow and fight. This is incredibly painful.”
Sunday’s latest misstep is a devastating failure for a group that has been searching for any glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel in racing. The last seven years have seen McLaren’s Formula One organization finish outside the top three in constructor’s points and it has been five years since the team even registered a podium in F1.
The last time McLaren won a race was 2012. Indianapolis was a hopeful chance at ending this drought, even if the IndyCar operations weren’t directly associated with the Formula One group.
Instead, McLaren is heading back to the U.K. a week early after being eliminated from this year’s race by teams like DragonSpeed, Clauson-Marshall Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, and the aforementioned Juncos Racing.
Pool the assets and resources of each of the four teams mentioned above, and you still wouldn’t scratch the surface of what McLaren had at their disposal to be better than just three cars and make this year’s Indianapolis 500.
But even after all of that, we should give credit to McLaren.
This group did not pair up with a powerhouse like Andretti Autosport or Team Penske – even though they would have liked to – but instead it was another team with British roots in Carlin. McLaren built the primary car all on their own in England before eventually relying on the Florida-prepared backup car that they finished with on Sunday.
When all was said and done with this new qualifying format, McLaren had only themselves to blame – and they shouldered that blame. What is impressive is their forward thinking, and an intent to learn from these mistakes by bringing an improved product whenever they return to the Indianapolis 500.
“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,” said a dejected de Ferran. “We have to really look inwards and look at everything that we learned, cement those lessons and move forward. You know, and like I said, I consider myself a racer, a fighter. I want to apply those lessons starting (Monday).”
Unfortunately, when the gates opened for NTT IndyCar Series teams on Monday, the only thing McLaren learned was how to clean out their garage before 33 other teams. Hopefully for them, that is a lesson they never have to apply again.
Header image by Shawn Gritzmacher/INDYCAR.
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.