McLaren coy on Indy 500 details, insists it won't distract from Formula One

SAO PAULO, Brazil — McLaren boss Zak Brown says the company’s return to the Indy 500 with Fernando Alonso next year will not detract from its bid to recover its Formula One fortunes.

On Saturday, McLaren confirmed Alonso will compete in the 2019 edition of the event. The Spaniard is leaving F1 at the end of the current season and this weekend is contesting his penultimate grand prix in Brazil.

The news was released just after McLaren had qualified 18th and 20th for this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix, which comes at the tail-end of an incredibly difficult campaign. Asked if he felt the Indy 500 entry would distract McLaren from its F1 programme next year, Brown replied: “Definitely not.

“It’s a whole separate racing team that will be created and we are a large racing team with a lot of resources and I am extremely confident or we would not have entered, that we can give maximum effort in our F1 effort as well as Indy without one compromising the other.”

He later added: “It is going to be people that are not currently on our Formula One team. It will be built up from relationships that we have. It’ll be a new McLaren entry.”

McLaren has been weighing up the idea of entering an entire IndyCar season, although has ruled out doing this for 2019.

“I don’t think we had an ‘original’ plan. We’ve always had a desire to go as McLaren Racing. Last time we did it on such short notice I think it would have been impossible, it was six weeks between announcing and racing, and you can’t build-up a race team that quickly. So that was one of things the shareholders and ourselves wanted to do, to go as McLaren Racing. That is why we have made the announcement today to make time to bring those resources and the people in to have our own team.”

Alonso made his Indy 500 debut in 2017, when he skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to compete in a McLaren effort partnered by Andretti Autosport, which was powered by Honda. Alonso and McLaren’s rift with Honda, which led to the end of its F1 partnership at the end of last year, has led to suggestions the Japanese manufacturer does not want to supply Alonso for either the Indy 500 or an entire IndyCar campaign.

Although Brown remained coy on the details and whether McLaren would enter independently or with another team, former McLaren F1 driver Michael Andretti — the team boss of Andretti Autosport — suggested the 2019 entry will mirror the original in a tweet shortly after the news was made public.

In a tweet he later deleted, Andretti responded to a question about whether his team would be involved by saying: “We will be involved. Similar to ’17”.

The Indy 500 will take Alonso’s schedule of 2019 races to four, as he will also complete the remaining three events on the World Endurance Championship’s ‘super-season’ calendar.

If he wins the Indy 500, it will make him only the second man to complete the ‘triple crown’ — earlier this year he won the Le Mans 24 Hours with Toyota, while he won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006 and 2007.