In a shocking turn of events, Fernando Alonso has missed out on qualifying for the 2019 Indianapolis 500. Let that sink in for a moment. The self-proclaimed, “fastest overall driver,” could not qualify for one of the 33 starting grid spots. So, what went wrong? Alonso has enough talent to win the Indy 500. What he does not have is a car good enough to win the race. Which brings me to the point of this blog post. McLaren is a mess and is still recovering from their botched relationship with Honda.
McLaren’s issues date back to 2017 when they severed racing ties with Honda. It was not just the fact that McLaren ditched Honda for a different engine supplier. It was the way in which McLaren cut ties. They burned the proverbial bridge. They stabbed Honda in the back. They blamed Honda for every issue they could possibly think of. There was no turning back.
So, what does this all have to do with the 2019 Indianapolis 500? It is about the development of the car. One cannot simply throw an engine into the back of a chassis and hope it all works flawlessly. These cars are averaging 250 kilometer per hour. You win or lose by fractions of a second. The cars need time to develop. The engine and chassis need to be in perfect harmony. Which brings us back to McLaren and their choice of engine supplier.
For this year’s race McLaren opted to go with Chevrolet. Chevrolet wasn’t a bad choice per se, as they have powered three of the past six Indy winners, but where it did fall apart was in limiting McLaren’s access to partnerships. McLaren, which does not routinely race in the Indy Car series, had to work with a partner to develop an Indy 500 specific car. McLaren ended up working with Carlin, another Indy Car lightweight. What you ended up with was a powerful engine and two inexperienced teams working on integrating a Chevy engine with a McLaren chassis. In short, an under developed car.
A far better option for McLaren would have been to work with the Honda-powered Andretti Autosport team. This was the approach McLaren took in Alonso’s Indy 500 debut in 2017. While that debut ended in disappointed for Alonso, his Honda engine failed, his Honda-powered teammate, Takuma Sato, won. Andretti Autosport knows Indy Car. They are proven winners and have a background with McLaren. To certain extent, Andretti Autopsport has an understanding of the McLaren chassis.
McLaren ultimately decided to throw this all out the window when they moved to the Renault engine. They detonated the Honda relationship, and as a result, blew up their own short-term success. Obviously, McLaren is still suffering. Let’s hope they figure it out sooner rather than later. As I for one would like to see Alonso get racing’s Triple Crown.