New McLaren signing Carlos Sainz has called his first day with the team “a dream come true”, as he completed 150 laps on the second day of the post-season test.
“Going out of the garage today on my first day as a McLaren driver was pretty much a dream come true,” he said. “When I finally completed my first run I felt extremely good, and I must say it’s been a very straightforward day.
“The team has made me feel at home from lap one and from day one yesterday when I started working with them. I did a lot of laps today and I’m grateful to the team for giving me such a reliable car to be able to initiate me in this new chapter and new style of car.”
Sainz made the jump to McLaren on the back of a 2018 campaign that saw him help Renault secure P4 in the constructors’ championship alongside Nico Hulkenberg, the team’s best performance since their return to F1.
Sainz himself finished P10 in the drivers’ championship with 53 points, three points ahead of the man he has replaced at McLaren, Fernando Alonso, with the highlights of the Sainz’s campaign being a fifth-place finish at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and a sixth-place finish in Abu Dhabi.
Renault released Sainz early once the chequered flag fell on the last race, allowing him to drive for McLaren in the test just two days later, and he was pleased with the initial results from his outing despite having a lot to learn.
“From the first lap to the 150th lap, I enjoyed them all; the feeling was good and we’ve been able to end the season in the best way possible. As soon as I got out of the box I felt comfortable in the car. Of course, there are always going to be details to improve and new things to adapt to, like the seat and driving style, but from the first lap I could spend time adapting and getting to know all the new controls and procedures. It’s been great.
“It’s been an intense few days after the race finished here in Abu Dhabi, learning a lot of names and understanding how the car works. I’m looking forward to spending more time back at the factory over the winter getting to know the team better and preparing as much as we can for 2019.”
McLaren will be the third team Sainz will have driven for in his career, having made his debut at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix at Toro Rosso alongside Max Verstappen and switching to Renault in the later stages of 2017 to replace Jolyon Palmer.
Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul praised Sainz’s efforts for the Enstone-based team, saying he’d “like to thank [him] for all he has done for the team since joining us. He’s been a massive team player and wish him all the best as he joins our partner McLaren next year.”
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso is certain that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be a “very emotional” race for him, as he hangs up his helmet in F1 and moves on to pastures new.
“Abu Dhabi will certainly be a very emotional race for me, as it will be the end of a long and happy 17 years in Formula One,” he said. “The time has come for me to move on, but I’m looking forward to ending the season – and my F1 career – on a positive note.”
In a career spanning more than 300 races that began in a humble Minardi all the way back in 2001, Alonso won two world championships along with 32 wins and 97 podiums, in stints driving for Renault, McLaren (well, the first stint at least) and Ferrari. His last win was at his home race around the Circuit de Catalunya in 2013, with first an underwhelming 2014 Ferrari and then a woefully underpowered McLaren Honda making his pursuit of further victories difficult and then virtually impossible.
Despite this, Alonso is not severing all ties with McLaren once he retires from F1, and plans to fight as hard as ever in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m also pleased that my relationship with McLaren will continue with the Indy 500,” Alonso added, “and there will be more new challenges together. There are very exciting things ahead, and I’m enthusiastic for what the future will bring. For now, I’m not ruling anything else.”
“I’m fully focused on this weekend in Abu Dhabi, and making the most of every day – in the car, with the team, and with my family and friends. Abu Dhabi is a tough circuit, but we don’t have anything to lose, so both Stoffel and I will be fighting hard as always.”
Alongside Alonso, Abu Dhabi will also be the last race at McLaren for Stoffel Vandoorne. Speaking of the duo, McLaren Sporting Director Gil de Ferransaid, “The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will certainly be a significant end of the season for everyone at McLaren, as we bid farewell to Fernando and Stoffel in their final Grand Prix for the team. They have been incredible team-mates and ambassadors for McLaren and for the sport, as well as great guys to work with.”
Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren – Digital Image _2ST7317
Fernando Alonso is a double World Champion, the man who defeated Michael Schumacher, and a living legend of F1. However, his career is in a constant decline, and that’s his fault.
In 2001, a young Fernando Alonso came into F1, driving for a backmarker team with a rich history, called Minardi. This was the first F1 drive for a person whose career in karting and junior series was something special. Coming from a country with next to no history in this sport, he made a name for himself, proved himself, and made it to the ‘big league’.
Right from the start, he showed his enormous talent, proving to the big teams that he would become a force to be reckoned with. He went on to become just that. For 2003 he joined Renault, the first time he raced for a good team, fighting for podiums and, in 2004, for wins too.
Then came 2005 and 2006, arguably his best years in the business. He beat Michael Schumacher with ease, as if the German were a rookie and not a seven-time world champion. He and Renault made sure they had no obstacles in their path and they pushed through, though not without some controversy.
In fact, Alonso’s entire career is defined by controversy, either through his actions or for what he publicly (and unapologetically) proclaims. Even during his winning tenure with the French team, he was criticizing the FIA for its decisions – most famously at the Italian GP back in 2006 – or attacking Ferrari for no apparent reason. Ironically, he joined them in 2010.
This leads us to another big problem with Alonso: his mouth. As big as his talent may be, he is a man of a lot of words – most of them, unnecessary. He always thought he had the upper hand over everything because that’s how he was taught to act by a certain Flavio Briatore.
The Italian former team boss is the perennial manager of Alonso and has had a big impact on the Spaniard’s attitude since day one. He is a great leader of men, but his approach in F1 is somewhat controversial – especially after the 2008 ‘crashgate’ scandal. This translates on Fernando’s stand on things, on how he sees F1, and himself in it.
He may now be a veteran in F1, a man who has seen and done everything, but that attitude, the feeling that he can control the driver market or that he can knock on every door and have them open, is something that doesn’t know age.
One bad choice after the other defined the second part of his career. His McLaren days in 2007 were the start of his fall, before the five-year tenure with Ferrari seal his fate as far as wins and championships are concerned.
The second stint at McLaren is the latest consequence of his decisions. He seems to be responsible for everything bad (and good) that has happened in his career. It’s a great shame that he leaves F1 with just two championships and 32 wins, but that’s what he could get with his personality, his character and the guidance he had.
This does not undermine his achievements, though. He must and will be remembered as one of the best to ever drive at an F1 track, but history will not be easy on him.
McLaren team principal Zak Brown has admitted that the team have been forced to put their plans for a full-time IndyCar entry on hold after engine negotiations stalled. The failure of the deal is a partial legacy from the explosive McLaren-Honda relationship in F1, with Honda reluctant to supply the team that criticised them so heavily during those turbulent years.
Admittedly, it was all getting a bit late in the day for a new entry anyway, given that there are only a few months until the new season gets underway in March next year. If McLaren were serious about being in IndyCar full-time, a deal would have been sorted out months ago. They have, instead, made the decision to focus on their F1 project, which certainly needs some sorting out!
Earlier in the year, it was said that the McLaren shareholders were less than keen on the team entering IndyCar for 2019, again based on the fact that they need to get their F1 performances back to a respectable level before they allow themselves to get distracted by IndyCar.
Even with all of McLaren’s internal problems, the biggest issue for them was always going to be engine supply. IndyCar has just two engine suppliers: Honda and Chevrolet. The dawn of the universal aero kits has brought the two closer together than ever before, but Honda have rather stolen a march on their American counterparts, taking the drivers championship and nearly locking out the top ten with only Penske getting a nose in for Chevrolet.
This means that, in an ideal world, McLaren would want to team up with Honda, especially given that they are the suppliers of Andretti, who McLaren were looking to do some sort of partnership with. However, all the aforementioned F1 shenanigans has made that nigh on impossible. A Chevrolet deal hasn’t proven any easier, because the only team that realistically has enough resources to accommodate McLaren is Penske, and they’ve said that they’re not interested in such a partnership.
That has left McLaren in a tight spot and, despite some rumblings about a potential Harding link-up or even buyout, they’ve been forced to put their IndyCar aspirations on the shelf, at least for now.
Zak Brown has, however, not ruled out the potential for an Indy 500-only entry for Fernando Alonso, presumably in association with Andretti again. This would be no mean feat for the Spaniard though. It will not be as easy for him as it was in 2017 because of the universal aero kits which have closed the field up and made it much more difficult to jump in and be fast straight away.
To win the mystical ‘Triple Crown’ Alonso would realistically have to look at a full season of IndyCar, and even that holds no guarantees of Indy 500 success, something that any IndyCar driver would agree with.
All of this really begs the question of just what Alonso will do in 2019. He’s yet to make any announcement or even drop a cryptic clue on Twitter about it, leaving everyone guessing. If he is to do IndyCar it won’t be with McLaren, but surely McLaren wouldn’t be talking about doing an Indy 500 entry if they knew Alonso was going to another team. Maybe he isn’t going to do a full IndyCar season after all?
If it’s not IndyCar, then the sky’s the limit for Alonso. It really is anyone’s guess as to what he’ll do next season, but it’ll probably be more than one series, given that he’d race every weekend if he could!
Anyway, while 2019 may be off the table for McLaren, they have reiterated the fact that they do want to do IndyCar at some point in the future. The time just isn’t right for them yet, but hopefully it will be soon.
Fernando Alonso has never been the humblest of drivers, nor the most understated. He’s also infamous for his fairly horrendous career choices that have left him frustrated in underperforming cars, which is exactly where he finds himself now. His angered, but often humorous, radio messages during his time at McLaren have turned the Spaniard into the ‘meme-king’ of F1, but his off-the-cuff comments are, to some at least, starting to become repetitive and tiresome.
If you had a pound for every time Alonso’s called himself the “best in the world” or a performance the “best of his life” you would be very, very rich. These comments come seemingly every race weekend with the two-time champion desperate to remind everyone just how good he is… even when he’s often knocked out in Q1.
This weekend at Japan he called his qualifying lap “one of the best laps of my life,” saying he didn’t leave anything out on the challenging Suzuka track. That statement is more than credible when taken out of context, but when you add in the fact that he qualified eighteenth and that it’s definitely not the first time he has said that this season… well, this is where I’m coming from.
You get the sense that part of Alonso’s reasoning for saying these kinds of things is to tell the world “look how good I am. I’m not bad, the car is”. The Spaniard is well-known for his harsh criticism of underperforming machinery, as Honda found out during their three-year partnership with McLaren. However, these actions, most memorably of which was him shouting “GP2 engine!” over the radio, have already come back to bite him with Honda reportedly denying him an IndyCar drive with a Honda-powered team, not wanting to restart their ever-so-fractious relationship.
If you turn back the clocks to Alonso’s Ferrari years, he often came across as a bit grumpy and generally anything but humorous. He seems to have mellowed somewhat in his challenging years at McLaren, with stunts like the deckchair and rather questionable camera-work in consecutive years at Brazil increasing his popularity.
This was furthered by his trip to the Indy 500 last year where he proved he could fight with the best IndyCar has to offer, though it’s tough to say what would’ve happened had his Honda engine hung on until the end of the 200 laps.
His antics have gained him countless fans, loving his outbreaks of personality in amongst the supposedly cold, media-trained youth, but you can’t really say it’s helped him in the matter of trying to get a decent drive. Red Bull said they didn’t want him for his trouble-making tendencies and teams like Mercedes have shied away from him for his potential volatile temperament, not wanting to upset intra-team harmony.
This has left Alonso in the massively underperforming McLaren-Renault that, despite a relatively strong start to the season, has promised much and delivered little. Undoubtedly, Alonso has grown frustrated with this situation and is therefore branching out to find ever more ways to remind everyone of his talent, be it WEC, IndyCar or kart races around his own track. You can’t blame the man for trying!
The problem is, the world hasn’t forgotten how good Alonso is, and it certainly doesn’t need constant reminders by the man himself to know that. Many drivers and teams would say that they like to do their talking on the track but with a lacklustre package, that’s not really an option for Alonso, hence the situation he has found himself in.
In truth, words can only get you so far, if you are all talk and no trousers, people are going to start taking what you say with more than just a pinch of salt.
His charm is wearing thin on quite a few F1 fans, but it hasn’t worn through and maybe the change of scene next year (wherever that’ll be) will be what Alonso needs, effectively pressing the reset button and, hopefully at least, getting him back to being competitive.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the late great Juan Manuel Fangio that perhaps Alonso should’ve heeded long ago:
“You must always strive to be the best, but you must never believe that you are.”
Located just south of Malaysia is the city-state of Singapore, the home of the only F1 street circuit in Asia, and the first ever night race in F1 history.
Singapore may have hosted a race for motorbikes and sportscars as far back as 1966, but the F1 Grand Prix as we know it was introduced in 2008. The five kilometre and 23 corner track, designed by Hermann Tilke, winds its way through Marina Bay, high end hotels, and brilliant road infrastructure, completed by fantastic night lights that reveal the true beauty of the city.
Speaking of 2008, the first ever Singapore Grand Prix in F1 was won by Fernando Alonso. The race, however, was marred by controversy and drama. Nelson Piquet, Alonso’s Renault team-mate, was told to deliberately crash into the wall so as to bring out a safety car, allowing Alonso to get to the front. As a result, Pat Symonds was suspended from the sport, team boss Flavio Briatore was banned for life, and all this came about after Piquet was sacked by Renault and informed the FIA of the incident.
Singapore’s explosive debut also had massive implications for the championship. Felipe Massa left his pit box with the fuel hose still attached to his car, and the time lost as a result of the team running to the end of the pit lane to get him back on his way saw him finish the race in 13th with no points. He would go on to lose the championship to Lewis Hamilton by just two points.
Singapore has, in fact, been notorious for denting championship hopes. In 2014, Nico Rosberg came into the race 22 points ahead of Hamilton in the championship, but a major engine issue before the race had even started saw him start from the pitlane and eventually retire the car several laps in. Hamilton won the race, and took a three point lead which Rosberg would ultimately be unable to overturn.
And who can forget last year? Sebastian Vettel, who was poised to take the championship lead by starting on pole, moved across on Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen at the start, leading to a crash that eliminated all three of them from the race. Hamilton went on to win, and Vettel found himself 28 points behind Hamilton in the championship.
This year, however, the roles are reversed, and Hamilton finds himself 30 points in front of Vettel in the championship. Vettel may just need some help from the unforgiving Singapore circuit to get himself back into contention.
As Fernando Alonso discovered in that shocking night in 2008, you certainly can take advantage of the safety car in Singapore, which has been deployed a remarkable 17 times in 10 races under the lights.
Vettel, despite his misfortunes last year, is the most successful driver at Marina Bay, winning in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. His title rival Hamilton has won 3 times, in 2009, 2014 and 2017.
As well as crashes, safety cars, and title game changers, Singapore is also famous for its almost unbearable heat. The temperature, even at night, is typically around 30 degrees, and Daniel Ricciardo said after his first race at Singapore in 2011 with HRT that the physical demands of the race gave him a feeling he “never wanted to experience in a race car again”.
With so many variables in Singapore, this could be a chance to start a road to redemption, not only for Vettel’s title challenge but also for several others chasing seats in F1 for 2019, and it’s these variables that have us and the drivers excited about racing under the lights in Singapore.
Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne is to leave McLaren at the end of the 2018 season, with Lando Norris set to replace him. Two miserable years with the Woking-based team have led to Vandoorne being shown the door and, with Fernando Alonso having made the decision to retire at the end of the year, McLaren will walk into 2019 with the all-new driver line-up of Norris and Carlos Sainz.
Where, however, did things go so wrong for Vandoorne?
There was a promising future for Stoffel Vandoorne prior to joining McLaren at the start of the 2017 season. The Belgian won championships in Formula 4, Formula Renault 2.0, and GP2, and was hotly tipped to be a success as part of McLaren’s young driver programme.
It was even a promising start to life in F1 – he deputised for the injured Fernando Alonso at the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix, after the Spaniard’s huge shunt at the previous race in Melbourne. Vandoorne out-qualified Jenson Button in the other McLaren, and took the team’s first point of the season with a P10.
Vandoorne was rewarded with a drive for the 2017 season after Jenson Button retired at the end of 2016, but after all the hype and promise surrounding the future of his F1 career, things have not gone well at all for Vandoorne.
Vandoorne was partnered with Alonso for 2017, and since has been out-qualified by him 30 times over the period of the whole of last season and the first fourteen races of 2018. Vandoorne, by stark contrast, has out-qualified Alonso just three times since the start of their partnership, and Vandoorne has been an average of 0.3 seconds slower than Alonso. It’s a big margin.
Vandoorne’s average finishing position in 2018 has been 12th, with Alonso’s being 9th, and he is currently 36 points behind the double world champion in the championship.
Vandoorne has visibly struggled for pace in his McLaren, regardless of the comparison with Alonso, who is after all a double world champion and arguably one of the best ever drivers in the sport. The Belgian hasn’t looked comfortable, and has struggled to be on the pace in many of the Grand Prix since the start of 2017.
This is strange. After all, he did a superb job in 2016 in Bahrain, and it was then when many keen eyes in F1 turned to him as a future world champion. The performance issues could potentially have been down to the radical changes to the cars made between 2016 to 2017, or due to the pressure that he may have felt having to try and compete with Alonso.
Earlier this year, Alonso leapt to Vandoorne’s defence and said that past team-mates have been “a lot further away” than him. He was stated that there was a major issue with downforce on Vandoorne’s car, and even urged the team to analyse data to try and resolve the issue.
A lot of scepticism greeted these comments, and many have suggested that Alonso was merely trying to convince us all that Vandoorne’s lack of performance has been the fault of outside factors.
The claims aren’t without substance though. Honda – who were ridiculed for three hapless years supplying McLaren, with reliability failures littered throughout the tenure – have worked very well for Toro Rosso this year, and McLaren have shown little improvement with the Renault engines they expected would take them much further up the field, suggesting a serious problem with the McLaren chassis.
This will be of little consolation to Vandoorne, because the circumstances of being in a poor car up against Alonso have still meant that his F1 future dangles on a string.
The car has, however, been very unreliable and slow. The Renault engines have not treated customer teams McLaren or Red Bull well at all this season, and Alonso said after the Italian Grand Prix that McLaren have “taken a step backwards” in terms of reliability this year. That being said, Vandoorne and Alonso have each had two reliability failures this year, and Alonso has still managed to easily out-perform him this year.
Where next for Vandoorne? There is still hope for him. Williams, Haas and Toro Rosso are all still yet to announce their driver line-ups for next year. There is no secure future for Brendon Hartley or Romain Grosjean after disappointing seasons thus far for them, having been out-performed by Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen at Toro Rosso and Haas respectively.
Gasly is moving up to Red Bull to replace Renault-bound Daniel Ricciardo for next year, meaning that there are potentially two seats available at Toro Rosso, with Daniil Kvyat linked with a potential return to F1 with them.
Lance Stroll is set to move to Racing Point Force India following the buyout of the team by his father, and Sergey Sirotkin may yet be dropped by the British team. Sauber are set to keep Marcus Ericsson because of his funding, but Charles Leclerc may well be off to Ferrari if Kimi Raikkonen retires at the end of the year. Rumours are now floating around that Ferrari have agreed a deal with the Monegasque for next year.
Let’s not forget also that, as it is, Esteban Ocon – despite having done such a good job for Racing Point Force India – may well be forced out of the team if and when Stroll is signed to partner Sergio Perez because of the ownership by his father. That then means that he will also be looking for a team for next year.
There is yet hope for Vandoorne, but after such a torrid time with McLaren, his hopes of staying in the pinnacle of motorsport are hanging in the balance.
McLaren have signed up-and-coming British star Lando Norris as their second driver for 2019, alongside in-bound Carlos Sainz.
The 18-year old from Somerset will be replacing Stoffel Vandoorne, who was announced this morning to be leaving the team at the end of the season after two difficult years with them.
Norris won the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award in 2016, and the year after that claimed the FIA Formula 3 European Championship and joined the McLaren Young Driver Programme, before graduating to F2 for 2018, where he is currently embroiled in a battle for the title with fellow Brit George Russell.
His first taste of F1 came when he participated in the end of season test in Abu Dhabi in 2017. Since then, he has taken part in 2018 pre-season testing, the mid-season test in Hungary, and also in FP1 at both Spa and Monza.
“To be announced as a race driver for McLaren is a dream come true,” said Norris. “Although I’ve been part of the team for a while now, this is a special moment, one I could only hope would become reality.
“I’d like to thank the whole team for this amazing opportunity and for believing in me. I’m also extremely grateful for the commitment McLaren has already shown in my development, allowing me to build my experience in a Formula 1 car in both testing and on Fridays during the past two race weekends.”
McLaren CEO Zak Brown added, “We believe Lando is an exciting talent, full of potential, who we’ve very deliberately kept within the McLaren fold for exactly that reason.
“We already know he’s fast, he learns quickly, and has a mature head on his young shoulders. We see much potential for our future together. The investment we have made in his budding career with simulator development and seat-time in the car has been well-deserved, as he has continued to prove his abilities both behind the wheel and in his work with the engineering team.”
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso has said that despite having fond memories of the Monza circuit, he is not holding out hope for a good result at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, with the track unlikely to play to his car’s strengths.
“Monza is a very special circuit for me and I have a lot of happy memories there,” he said. “It has a different feeling to many tracks – maybe because of the heritage or the fans, I’m not sure – but the emotions you feel when the fans invade the track after the race is like nowhere else in the world – there’s so much passion there.
“For us we know this weekend will be difficult, like in Spa. Better tracks are coming for us, that’s for sure, but Monza has all the characteristics that expose the weaknesses of our package. We just have to work as hard as possible and see what we can get out of it.”
Last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix came to a rather jarring halt for Alonso before he’d even reached the first corner. P17 was his result in qualifying – the worst Saturday for McLaren so far this year after team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne qualified P20 – but the Spaniard was bumped up a few places on the grid thanks to engine penalties given to those around him.
Unfortunately, that put him right in the thick of things when Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point going into La Source on lap one and triggered a series of events that ended in Alonso being launched over the top of Charles Leclerc in an incident reminiscent of the crash at the start of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix.
“After the accident in Spa last Sunday,” Alonso added, “I know the team has been working very hard to make sure we have enough parts for this back-to-back race. I’m very grateful for their efforts and I’ll still be giving it maximum attack even if it will be a challenging weekend.”
Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren. Ref: Digital Image _1ST2801
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso has said the team is seeking to improve their pace during qualifying ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.
“We know we need to work on our qualifying performances to give ourselves the best chance on Sunday,” he said, “but we’ve also seen that during the race we can push forward and secure points, so the aim is to achieve the same in Germany [this] weekend.”
So far this season, Alonso has only made it into Q3 twice – in Spain and in Monaco – while team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne hasn’t managed to do so at all. For the most part, the duo have been stuck in the midst of the mid-field, with P13 and P14 being their most frequent results in qualifying. There is no doubt that the French Grand Prix provided their worst Saturday of the year so far – though Vandoorne has failed to make it out of Q3 on four occasions, Paul Ricard has been the only track thus far where Alonso has joined him.
Speaking of the Hockenheim track, Alonso was realistic about his chances. “[I] have won there three times so it’s great to be back after a break last year. The track is viewed as one of the classics, it’s fun to drive and there are a couple of overtaking opportunities – and an extra DRS zone this year – so hopefully we can fight with the cars around us.
“The next couple of races before the summer break are on very different tracks. We need to work hard, and do as much as possible to adapt our set-up for each of them to maximise our chances. We know this weekend won’t be an easy track for us but we’ll give it our best as always.”
Last time out at the power-sensitive Silverstone, Alonso unexpectedly made up five places during the race to end up in the points for the 200th time in his career. In apparently typical McLaren style, the eighth place finish was not made easy for him after – unsurprisingly – a lacklustre qualifying the day before, a trend Alonso and the team are hoping they can end sooner rather than later.