Are Alonso and McLaren heading back to Indy in 2019?

Speculation is mounting that McLaren and Fernando Alonso could be heading back to the Indianapolis 500 in 2019. Following a sensational one-off entry in 2017, several recent developments suggest both could be involved in next year’s month of May.

McLaren reported to be ‘exploring options’ for IndyCar 2019

SportsBusiness Journal has reported that McLaren is actively exploring options regarding a full-time 2019 IndyCar series entry. Rumoured to focus around a partnership with either Andretti Autosport or Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing (RLL), the move would see McLaren field a full-time entry in IndyCar for the first time in its history.

Such a move would echo McLaren’s approach in 2017 when they partnered with Andretti Autosport to field a single-car entry for Alonso.

Both the Andretti and RLL teams are adept at fielding satellite teams in the series, with the former the most successful having secured multiple Indy 500 wins with their Andretti-Herta Autosport outfit.

Fernando Alonso Indianapolis 500 2017
Alonso took home rookie of the year honours at the 2017 Indy 500 with McLaren and Andretti. (Image: IndyCar)

A 2019 assault on – as a minimum – the 103rd Indianapolis 500 would tally with comments made by Alonso himself earlier this year. As we reported, despite focusing on winning the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans with Toyota, Alonso regards a 2019 Indy 500 comeback as a definite option.

Would the 2019 Indy 500 be enough to keep Alonso at McLaren?

Rumours continue to swirl in the F1 paddock about Alonso’s future in the sport and with McLaren.

Despite switching to Renault power units for this season, the team has fallen well short of its expectations to challenge Red Bull regularly. Failure to make genuine progress this season is unlikely to strengthen McLaren’s bargaining position as they seek to retain their star driver.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown may well need to resort to indulging Alonso’s interest in the fabled ‘triple crown’ of motorsports in order to keep the Spaniard at the team. Brown successfully secured Alonso’s continued commitment to McLaren by fielding his one-off Indy 500 entry in 2017, a move he may need to make once more in 2019.

Fernando Alonso Zak Brown Indy 500 practice 2017
Will Zak Brown (right) have to once again resort to fielding Alonso in the Indy 500 to keep him at McLaren? (Image: IndyCar)

Former Indy 500 winner and team owner joins McLaren

Intriguingly a seemingly innocuous announcement by McLaren this past weekend adds further weight to the IndyCar return storyline.

Confirmed quietly during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend was the news that Gil de Ferran – 2003 Indy 500 winner and Alonso’s driver coach last year – has been appointed as an advisor to the team.

The former Team Penske driver was reported by the UK’s BBC Sport to be providing assistance with McLaren’s young driver roster. Initially focusing on helping Stoffel Vandoorne who continues to struggle to match Alonso.

The Belgian is in his second full season with McLaren but is failing to keep pace with his illustrious 2-time F1 World Champion teammate.  However, detail on the specifics of his ‘informal advisory’ role with McLaren are unavailable.

Zak Brown Gil de Ferran and Fernando Alonso share a joke during Indy 500 practice in 2017.
Former Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran was Alonso’s driver coach in 2017. (Image: IndyCar)

The timing may be purely coincidental but the appointment of de Ferran – who never raced in F1 – as a driver coach to McLaren’s F1 squad appears rather spurious. In contrast, de Ferran boasts an IndyCar resume few can match and certainly one that would be of interest to a new entrant to the series.

Aside from his success as an IndyCar driver, de Ferran has tenures as a team owner/team manager in sportscars, IndyCar and F1 with BAR Honda under his belt. Furthermore, his effectiveness in getting Alonso up to speed last year and his reputation within the IndyCar paddock mark him as an excellent candidate to spearhead a full-time entry for McLaren in 2019.

In the interim de Ferran is expected to attend both the Monaco Grand Prix and Canadian Grand Prix in his advisory role this season.

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