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McLaren planning to open Alonso F1 contract talks ‘a few races into the year’

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BIRMINGHAM, UK – McLaren is set to open talks with Fernando Alonso regarding a contract extension “a few races” into the 2017 Formula 1 season, according to executive director Zak Brown.

Alonso enters the third and final year of his McLaren contract in 2017, having joined in 2015 following a stint at Ferrari.

The Spaniard has failed to record a podium finish during his second spell with McLaren, with the rebuild at Woking in partnership with engine supplier Honda still ongoing.

Alonso has long-stated that he would consider his future in F1 beyond the 2017 season depending on the feeling of the cars under the revised technical regulations for the forthcoming campaign.

Alonso is one of a number of drivers out of contract at the end of 2017, with Sebastian Vettel also entering the final year of his Ferrari deal, pointing towards a volatile driver market and silly season.

Brown conceded that Alonso would be coveted by many teams for 2018, but is confident that he remains committed to the long-term project to return McLaren to world championship glory.

“He’s definitely committed to the project, but his contract is up and he’s in high demand as you can imagine,” Brown told NBC Sports.

“Vettel’s out of contract next year, that’s my understanding. So as you can imagine, next year’s going to be an exciting driver market.

“Obviously we’d love to keep him. He’s one of the greatest drivers on the track, if not the best.

“But we’re just going to see how things go and kick off those conversations a few races into the year.”

When asked whether Alonso’s future hinged on where McLaren lay in the pecking order in 2017, Brown said: “Yeah. If I were him, I’d want to see how we perform before I started making decisions.

“You can’t blame him for that. But I think we’re all waiting to see and that goes both ways.”

Brown joined McLaren formally in December following the exit of long-standing chairman Ron Dennis, and explained that he will jointly run the team with chief operating officer Jonathan Neale, with a particular focus its commercial interests.

“Jonathan Neale and I are ultimately mutually accountable. I spend more time on the commercial side, he spends more time on the technical,” Neale said.

“But he spends time on commercial and I spend time on technical. I think these teams now are too big to be run by any one individual.

“While I’m not technical, I’m a racer and I understand what it takes to win races. So I think the side where I can contribute is more on the sporting side than the technical.”

MRTI: Juncos signs Carlos Cunha for Pro Mazda campaign

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Juncos Racing continued to bolster its entries in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires by signing Carlos Cunha to pilot a third Juncos Pro Mazda entry for 2018. Cunha, who finished third in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season on the back of seven podium finishes, joins Rinus VeeKay and Robert Megennis in Juncos’ Pro Mazda lineup for 2018.

Cunha previously tested with the team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in October and joined Juncos for the Chris Griffis Memorial test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November, testing cars for both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires teams.

“It’s great to become a part of Juncos Racing,” said the 18-year-old Cunha. “I am really excited to start the 2018 season with Juncos Racing. This fall we did some testing together and from there I was able to see how focused everyone on the team is and I even felt like I became a part of their family in no time. I am confident we will get great results together next year and I look forward to learning and growing more with the team. It will be a huge pleasure and also a great responsibility to carry the number one on my car, thanks to (2017 Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni) and I hope to deliver it back to the team at the end of the year!”

Team owner Ricardo Juncos added, “We are excited to add Carlos to our Pro Mazda lineup. From the moment we started testing with him in early October, we knew he would be a great fit for our team. Carlos has been very quick in testing and even had an impressive showing in the Indy Lights car at the Chris Griffis test back in October. He had a great run this past season in the Pro Mazda series and we are confident he will carry that momentum into the 2018 season.”

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