RACE DEBRIEF

    When the drivers line up on the grid for the 2019 season-opening Grand Prix in Australia, there will be a notable absentee. After 17 seasons in Formula 1, two of which yielded world titles, Fernando Alonso will not be in the F1 paddock as a racer next year. But Zak Brown says the much-liked Spaniard remains firmly part of the McLaren family, and it’s a possibility he may even test next year’s car…

    Alonso announced in August that he would step away from F1 after the 2018 Abu Dhabi season finale, a race in which he narrowly missed out on a memorable points finish, with the double F1 world champion now turning his focus to completing the fabled Triple Crown.

    Indeed, he will go on the hunt for the final jewel in his triple crown, namely winning the Indianapolis 500 (having already won the Monaco Grand Prix – twice – and the Le Mans 24 Hours) with McLaren next year, after the team confirmed they will once again enter the famous race in 2019.

    And alongside that bid, Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing, has revealed that Alonso will play a behind-the-scenes role helping 2018 drivers Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz next season.

    “Fernando’s extremely intelligent, very experienced, loves Formula 1, loves race tracks,” said Brown. “If he’s not at a WEC race or not at a Formula 1 race he’s at an IndyCar race or is on go-kart tracks so I think we’ll have a hard time keeping him away from the race track.

    “He likes the engineering development side, he’s not one of these drivers ‘just give me the steering wheel and I’ll drive’, he likes the whole group.

    “Indianapolis together was an example. He wants to know what’s going on, not just tell me where I need to be at the race track.

    Indycar Series, Indycar Series
    “I think you’ll see him around McLaren, he remains part of the family" - Zak Brown on Fernando Alonso

    “I think you’ll see him around McLaren, he remains part of the family, so I think where his influence comes in is helping our two drivers, he knows Carlos pretty well, he’s got to know Lando very well.

    “I think there’ll be a big benefit of his experience there, and then with the engineers just helping us all work together and understand what’s next year’s car is doing, and the feedback from the drivers, what would Fernando do in a certain situation, I think that experience will be very valuable to us.”

    When asked if Alonso could test their 2019 car, the MCL34, Brown replied: “Yeah I wouldn’t rule that out. We’re still working through (what the plan is). We know we’re doing Indianapolis together.

    “We’d like him to be part of our racing programme because we’re also reviewing other forms of motorsport which has been widely noted, World Endurance, full season of IndyCar, and he’s certainly not done driving. So yeah we’re working through what a longer term relationship could look like.”

    But while Brown refused to rule out a potential testing drive for Alonso, he quashed suggestions the 37-year-old could return to competitive F1 action in 2019 should McLaren show positive signs of progress.

    “Well we’ve got two race car drivers…. So until we’re allowed to enter a third car I think it would be difficult to put him in a race team.

    “We’ve got Carlos and Lando who are both very excited and under contract, so there are no race seats available. If he wants to test the car we’re certainly open minded to get his feedback on the car and you kind of cross that bridge if he makes that phone call. But there’s not a seat.”