McLaren CEO Zak Brown has said he believes fans of the team have “a lot to be excited about” in the 2019 season, after a challenging 2018 campaign.
McLaren finished sixth in the constructors’ championship on 62 points, with the highlight being a fifth-place in the Australian Grand Prix courtesy of Fernando Alonso. Team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne had a best finish of P8, which came in the Mexican Grand Prix.
In a year when they believed their new Renault power-unit would propel McLaren up the order, it is difficult to call 2018 anything but a disappointment for them.
“2018 was a difficult year,” Zak Brown said, “but one where we’ve implemented a lot of change. We’ve learned a lot, we understand the mistakes we’ve made, and we’ve worked hard to make sure we don’t replicate those moving forward. We did finish sixth in the championship, so on paper it was a step forward from 2017, but it certainly wasn’t a season of the calibre that anyone at McLaren or our fans would have expected.”
Brown is optimistic about the team’s chances in 2019 though, highlighting in particular the numerous personnel changes they have made. “We’ve brought in Gil de Ferran,” he said, “who brings an unusual mix of a racer’s instinct with strategic acumen, promoted Andrea Stella to lead our performance development and analysis group, brought back Pat Fry as engineering director to lead the design of the MCL34, and of course appointed James Key as our technical director to give us the singular technical leadership that has been missing.”
Speaking of the development of their 2019 car, Brown added, “Everyone is working extremely hard. We have a good understanding of what we need to do to improve our race car. The changes we’ve made over the last five or six months, both in our structure and leadership, are already in play and beginning to take effect.
“We need to get back to the basics, come out with a stronger car next year, and continue on the rebuilding journey to get us back to winning races. 2019 should be another step forward in that direction.”
With Fernando Alonso retiring from F1 and Stoffel Vandoorne moving to Formula E, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris will be driving for McLaren next year. Sainz made the move to McLaren from Renault, whilst Norris will be making his F1 debut.
Motorsports After coming perilously close to drinking the milk at the end of the 2017 Indianapolis 500 race, speculation over whether Fernando Alonso would take the leap from Formula 1 to the Verizon IndyCar Series began to spread across the paddocks on both sides of the pond.
It was confirmed in November of this year that Alonso would throw his hat into the ring once again driving for McLaren, working with Andretti Racing, in the hopes of obtaining the unofficial ‘Triple Crown’. There is much speculation as to whether Alonso would be interested in becoming a more permanent fixture in what some motorsport fans consider the ‘American Version’ of F1, however, nothing has been set in stone.
Talking with journalists following his last race in Formula 1 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Alonso is in no hurry to make plans: “I needed a break and I need to find motivation again.
“For 2020, I don’t know exactly what I will do or what will be the plan. I am open to different things – maybe a full season in IndyCar, maybe a full season in F1 again.”
Alonso wouldn’t be the first Formula 1 driver to make the transition. He would be following iconic drivers such as Rubens Barrichello, Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya, and with the interesting mix of street and oval circuits, the series offers a new challenge for Alonso after 18 years in F1.
In the run up to the end of the Formula 1 season, Alonso signed himself up to a mixture of endurance races. He is scheduled to complete the remaining 3 races in the World Endurance Championship, finishing in Le Mans, before heading to Indianapolis for the second time to hopefully take the win.
Not long after reaching the chequered flag in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Alonso was back in the driving seat, this time having swapped cars with NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson. It was thought that Alonso’s interest was in testing Johnson’s car in preparation for the Daytona 500, which he has since confirmed he will be a part of.
Interestingly enough, Johnson’s contract with NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports is set to end in 2020 and having already expressed an interest in IndyCar. Though it is highly unlikely Johnson would ever drive in F1 (apart from the one-off car swap), taking an open-wheel car out for a spin has given him a new outlook on his abilities:
“What I take away from that F1 experience is I climbed in an unfamiliar car and environment and did really well. My natural instincts, my ability to drive, my ability to scare myself and challenge myself hasn’t gone anywhere.” Perhaps the pair are beginning to lay the foundation for a standalone McLaren team in the Verizon IndyCar Series?
It’s probably best not to get carried away just yet, as Alonso has also confessed his departure from F1 might be short lived: “I’ve been doing this my whole life. Maybe next year by April or May I am desperate on the sofa, so maybe I find a way somehow to come back.” Perhaps he will follow in ex- Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa’s footsteps in announcing retirement, before returning unexpectedly to race another season.
Only time will tell, but for now keep an eye on Alonso, his career certainly isn’t over yet!
After another impressive season with Mercedes, it seems that nothing could stop five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton from dominating the race track once again on Sunday afternoon in a somewhat dramatic fashion.
Qualifying results meant that Mercedes had a front row lockout, Hamilton taking prime place on pole position followed by Bottas in second, ahead of the two Ferrari’s of Vettel and Raikkonen in third and fourth, and the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen in fifth and sixth. The top ten was completed by Romain Grosjean in seventh, an impressive lap time put Charles Leclerc in eighth, Esteban Ocon was ninth and rounding out the top ten was Nico Hulkenberg for Renault.
As daylight faded and the floodlights dominated the night sky, the drivers lined up on the grid, many facing an emotional race ahead; the likes of Kimi Raikkonen who was about to take on his last race for Ferrari, Daniel Ricciardo’s last dance for Red Bull Racing, and of course Fernando Alonso’s final ever Formula One race. It was going to be a challenging afternoon in the desert.
Lights out and both Mercedes, followed by both Ferraris and Daniel Ricciardo, got a clean start into turn one, chased by the rest of the pack. Grosjean and Alonso both ran wide but quickly rejoined, with Fernando losing a few places to Ericsson and Gasly. Max Verstappen was strong off the line, however he encountered a problem with a water temperature sensor which temporarily slowed him into turn two, dropping him down the order. After speaking over the team radio, Max managed to reset the system and the sensor issue was resolved.
Leclerc shot up the order to sixth followed by Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Verstappen, Ocon, Sainz and Perez. Leclerc was closing in on Ricciardo and the two switched places numerous times, with Daniel eventually fighting his way back up the field.
Meanwhile, Grosjean and Hulkenberg were fighting behind them for position. Grosjean’s Haas was on the outside line going into the corner, Hulkenberg right alongside him. Nico attempted to move across in front of Grosjean, however he misjudged the corner and, as a result, the pair locked wheels, forcing Hulkenberg’s car to barrel through the air into the barriers, the car coming to rest upside down and with some flames igniting in some of the rear bodywork. The Safety Car was deployed and, thankfully, Nico was unscathed if not a little shaken from the accident.
It was a disappointing race for Kimi Raikkonen whose Ferrari came to a stand still on the start-finish straight at the end of lap seven, the display on his steering wheel going black; a disappointing end to his last race for Ferrari.
Kimi’s technical issue meant that Virtual Safety Car was deployed and Mercedes took the plunge, deciding to bring Hamilton in for supersoft tyres on lap eight of fifty-five. He emerged in P5.
Numerous battles were being had across the board, notably between Ocon and Verstappen who had collided in Brazil. This time, Max got the place without any problems. Gasly and Ericsson were having a scrap before Ericsson’s car suffered a technical failure, and Ocon and Sainz were scrapping for P7.
By lap 23, many of the drivers had pitted. However, Red Bull decided to keep Daniel Ricciardo out for a long stint on the ultrasofts, the Australian leading the race before pitting on lap 34 for supersofts, the slower of the compounds. He came out of the pitlane in P5 behind teammate Verstappen.
By lap 35 Bottas was struggling, locking up on several occasions. Sebastian Vettel took advantage of this and managed to steal second place. Both Red Bulls soon closed up on a struggling Bottas and snatched another two places from him, Max up to the final podium spot and Daniel in 4th position.
As the race reached its closing stages, technical issues arose for Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly and Marcus Ericsson who all were forced to retire, a disappointing end to each of their seasons.
Despite the drama behind him, Lewis Hamilton had a faultless race, cruising to his 73rd career victory in Formula One. The podium was completed by Sebastian Vettel in 2nd place and Max Verstappen in 3rd, Daniel Ricciardo finishing his 100th race and last for Red Bull Racing in an admirable 4th position.
Valtteri Bottas finished in 5th followed by an impressive result for Renaults’ Carlos Sainz in 6th and Alfa Romeo Saubers’ Charles Leclerc in 7th, both in their final races for their respective teams before moving on to pastures new at McLaren and Ferrari.
It was a well fought but disappointing final race for double world champion Fernando Alonso, who just missed out on the points in P11. At the end of the race, Alonso was joined by Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel who all performed doughnuts on the home straight for the Abu Dhabi crowds as a farewell to the 2018 season and the legendary Spanish driver, a truly remarkable end to the championship. The countdown is on for 2019!
Featured Image: 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Ferrari Media
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.”
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’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
2018 is the debut season in F1, and in junior series F2, of the frontal head protection system more commonly known as the halo. Despite its unpopularity, the device has already proven its worth on numerous occasions.
Back when the halo was still in development, one of the crashes looked at was that of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, when Romain Grosjean sent his car flying over Fernando Alonso’s, only narrowly missing the latter’s head. Grosjean was handed a race ban for the incident while everyone knew that Alonso had been very lucky to avoid any injury.
This time it’s another first lap crash at Spa involving Alonso that has caused debate surrounding the halo, and one that could’ve had a much different outcome had the device not been there. Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point by quite some way, later saying that the turbulent air from the cars in front took weight off the front of his car, and ploughed into the back of Alonso. The Spaniard, now a passenger, then hit the back of Charles Leclerc’s car and was launched over the top of the Sauber, coming into contact with its halo.
As in 2012, all drivers involved walked away from the incident unscathed, and thoughts quickly turned to what sort of penalty Hulkenberg should get. It turned out to be a 10-place grid penalty for Monza, though Alonso insists that the penalty should’ve been more like that given to Grosjean in 2012.
The sheer damage to Leclerc’s halo was only realised when images of the device were released during the race. Alonso’s car, and more specifically his tyre, had left black rubber marks all over the right side of the halo, along with the side of the Sauber. Clearly, the outcome could, and would, have been a lot worse if those tyre marks were on Leclerc’s helmet and not his halo, showing exactly why the protection device was introduced.
Another thing the crash perfectly demonstrated is why the FIA were unwilling to delay the halo’s introduction. Imagine if that crash had happened and the halo wasn’t there. The outcome would have been a lot worse, while the FIA would be open to numerous lawsuits and we might just have lost one of F1’s brightest young stars.
This crash is, however, not the first one in 2018 to prove the halo’s worth. When Tadasuke Makino and Nirei Fukuzumi came together earlier in the F2 season, Fukuzumi’s tyre ended up on Makino’s halo, leaving similar black marks to those left on Leclerc’s. This should have ended the halo debate there and then, with Makino saying that the halo “saved his life”, but still it rumbled on.
Haters of the halo are, on various social media platforms, still trying to find ways to complain about it, despite both Leclerc and Makino’s crashes. I’ve seen a lot say that the wheel wouldn’t have come into contact with either of their heads anyway, so the halo doesn’t need to be there. But, there’s no proof for that, either way. Surely, it’s better to err on the side of caution by having the halo there, rather than risk it with their head’s exposed.
The presence of the halo makes championships without it look very exposed and excessively dangerous by comparison. Take IndyCar, for example. At Pocono, there was a huge wreck in which Robert Wickens’ car came perilously close to Ryan Hunter-Reay’s head, and a piece of debris entered James Hinchcliffe’s cockpit causing damage to his hands. Just watching IndyCar, Pocono aside, it looks like their heads are so exposed, something that has only really come to light because of the halo.
The FIA have said that they’ll share their findings from Leclerc’s crash with IndyCar, but the latter is unable to use the halo due to visibility issues on ovals and super-speedways. Nevertheless, the American series is looking to introduce a windscreen-type solution for next season.
Fellow drivers have praised the halo after Leclerc’s crash, with Leclerc himself saying that he was glad to have it over his head. 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg declared that the halo discussion was over because it clearly can save lives while Felipe Massa said that it can now be called “beautiful”. There has been a huge outcry of support for the halo and a crash like this, however awful it is to say, was needed to prove to the doubters that the device effective. Now there can be no question about that.
The strongly-opinionated type will probably still criticise the halo but, the fact is, it’s the best solution to the problem that currently exists. Eventually, there will be a halo replacement or adaptation that is better-looking but, in the meantime, the halo is most definitely here to stay and whether you like it or not, expect other series to be adopting it very soon.