Loyalty was part of Alonso’s decision to race Indy for McLaren
Fernando Alonso says his decision to race for the Arrow McLaren SP team rather than Andretti Autosport was partly driven by loyalty to the McLaren brand “because they gave me so much over the last five years.”
While the two-time Formula 1 world champion, two-time Le Mans winner and WEC champion was expected to sign for Andretti Autosport-Honda, especially after his McLaren ambassadorial role expired in the off-season, Alonso insists that racing for Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet had always been one of his primary options.
He said: “I knew that my McLaren ambassador contract expired at the end of 2019, so I didn't have any obligations to race for McLaren in 2020. But obviously I will be always in contact with them for whatever future projects.
“It's true that I looked at other options. Racing for Andretti like in 2017 was one of my preferred choices…
“I think in November, at the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix, I said clear more or less that my options for the Indy 500 were, first off, to race, because I wanted to have another attempt, and maybe the choice was between Andretti or McLaren with a new project that they were working on with the Schmidt Peterson team. Those were the thoughts at that time at the end of last year.
“Then I raced at the Dakar Rally, and that was quite intense preparation. I waited until the end of January to go deep on the conversations and finalizing what will be the Indy 500 deal. And from that moment, two weeks later, I arrived at an agreement with McLaren and with a new team now that for sure is going to be more prepared than last year.
“I think being a one-car team was a big penalty for us last year. We had a couple of issues. We had not the real ability that we wanted in the first couple of tests, and obviously we didn't have much information.
“This year with three cars, even if you have a bad day, you're still learning a lot of things from the other two cars. So I think that will be a good advantage, plus the team is not new, [Arrow Schmidt Peterson] has been racing for many, many years in IndyCar, and the background and all the knowledge I think is going to be very beneficial with the things that McLaren can add to that project. It was a project that was already existing. So that's the second thing.
“The final decision was not easy because I think between Andretti and McLaren, maybe people think that Andretti can be more competitive, maybe other people will think that it could be McLaren, and that's something that is difficult to know in advance before the race happens.
“But you know, I think and I trust this project a little bit more, and I have this sense of loyalty, as well, to McLaren and to our fans that last year had high hopes – as we had – and we didn't show up on the race on the big weekend.
“I think we have this kind of… not obligation, but this kind of feeling that we need to give something back, and this year we will go for it.”
Later he expanded on the subject, explaining: “The loyalty that I have for McLaren, when you need to make a decision like this one that I made is the same as the loyalty that I have for Toyota over the last two years. I think McLaren… gave me so much over the last five years, that I think to land in McLaren and share it, a lot goes into it from my side.”
“Question marks” regarding aeroscreen
Alonso, who has 32 Grand Prix wins to his name, made his last F1 start in 2018, so therefore has only one season of experience racing behind the halo device. He’s intrigued to know how IndyCar’s new-for-2020 aeroscreen will affect vision and also handling – although he’s not expecting it to be a steep learning curve.
“The simulator plan hasn’t started yet,” he said. “I only have information from the COTA test [Spring Training] a couple of weeks ago and I’m in contact with the team with the records they have after the test and that’s the only info I have at the moment.
“I know that we plan some simulator days in Charlotte [at Chevrolet’s sim facility]. The days are not confirmed yet, but they’re going to happen very soon.
“I think on the oval, compared with the road course setup, the difference is going to be smaller because obviously the important of the downforce on that package is minimal with very small wings. So I think the gains and losses are quite small, so it should not affect much the behavior of the car.
“Obviously I’m looking forward to test the car [open test at IMS on April 30] to see how the comfort inside the cockpit is now – the ventilation, the visibility… There are some question marks in my head that I’m looking forward to answer, but in the performance I don’t think it will be a big factor.
“[Experience in] the Le Mans Prototype is also a help with the visibility, to help the eyes quickly adapt.”
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