RGR Sport was a big success in 2016. Photo: Getty Images

Q&A: Speed Group flat out behind-the-scenes in racing business

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Sometimes it’s worth taking a look at operations in motorsports that are behind the scenes and making waves, One of those is Speed Group, a business and driver development/management, digital media, marketing & sponsorship and logistics group, which has seemingly been all over the map in recent weeks and particularly, over the last year.

The business team foundation was rooted among longtime friends and motorsports veterans Toni Calderon, James Hinchcliffe and David Martinez, who a decade ago all worked together on Gerry Forsythe’s Formula Atlantic team. Calderon was in the PR side of the game before his career evolved, while Hinchcliffe and Martinez were drivers in Atlantics then.

Hinchcliffe has carried the torch in IndyCar the last few years while Martinez has become a solid, steady driver coach. Hinchcliffe won this weekend in Long Beach.

Some of the other key individuals the company has worked with include Esteban Gutierrez, who made his FIA Formula E Championship debut earlier this month in Mexico City, Ricardo Gonzalez, who was both owner/driver of the RGR Sport team in the FIA World Endurance Championship (Gonzalez was also the 6 Hours of Mexico City race promoter), and Will Owen, a talented up-and-comer from the open-wheel world who made his proper sports car debut last week at Long Beach for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports (filled in for Jose Gutierrez, finished fifth overall with Tom Kimber-Smith in 35-car field) and whose primary effort this year is with United Autosports in the European Le Mans Series. Force India test driver Alfonso Celis Jr., young sports car driver Theo Bean and the DE Force Racing team in USF2000 are also Speed Group clients.

We caught up with Calderon (pictured above, right) for a look behind-the-scenes at what Speed Group does and how they’ve progressed, with other quick quotes from Hinchcliffe, Martinez, Gonzalez and Owen.


MST: Toni, from your perspective, you’ve advanced your career from more of just PR into the driver development/business development side of the sport. What led to this transition and how have you been able to navigate from that point?

Toni Calderon: “Well it was just a natural transition, I started just as almost everyone in the commercial side of motorsports doing PR because that’s the best way to get your foot in the door, but as we all know this is a small industry so you quickly start making connections and developing relationships and you start figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and what can be done better in the industry. For me and for Speed Group, it’s always been about trying to always keep a very high standard with what we do and who we get involved with, and to try to always keep a very personal relationship with all our clients.”

MST: When Speed Group began, what were some of the original goals and expectations? How has the company/organization grown as quickly/rapidly as it has?

TC: “When Hinch, David and I came up with the idea of starting a company like Speed Group we were young and just getting our careers started and it was really just us thinking about what would be helpful to have at that point of our careers, especially for David and Hinch as drivers. So we always remembered that and many years later when we finally got the company off the ground we wanted to make sure that we had a “one stop shop” where a driver could come into it and have support in every aspect of his/her career, whether it was career management, coaching, or PR & Marketing, basically a company that can let drivers just focus on driving and we take care of everything else.

MEXICO CITY – NOVEMBER 09: David Martinez drives his #7 INDECK Forsythe Championship Racing Panoz DP-01 during practice for the Champ Car World Series Grand Premio Tecate on November 9, 2007 at Autodromo Hermonos Rodriguez in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

“We’ve had a great three years so far since we first launched Speed Group, our growth has really mostly just come from word of mouth, we don’t spend a lot of time looking for clients to be honest, but it’s been very gratifying to have people coming to us asking for help, and at the same time we’ve been careful about how we grow to make sure we never dilute our services or the personal attention we can give to our clients.”

MST: What have been some of your best successes as an organization so far? What have you learned from the setbacks/challenges?

TC: “There’s a few! Being able to be a part of the day to day careers of young drivers like Will Owen, Jose Gutierrez and Theo Bean has been a very gratifying experience, we’ve been able to be a part of their growth and have helped advanced their careers into sports cars with some very good teams so this is particularly something i’m very proud of, 2017 will be a big year for all of them.

“Another huge accomplishment was helping Ricardo Gonzalez launch RGR Sport last year, it was a very exciting project which we got to be involved with from day 1 and basically we helped him start it from scratch and achieved huge success with it. And of course being able to sign guys like Esteban Gutierrez and Alfonso Celis who are now at the top of the ladder just makes it that more exciting because we are basically covering almost every level of racing now.

DE Force Racing is in USF2000 this year. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“One of the biggest challenges for us has definitely been being able to cover a lot of different series all around the world, this year we will be involved with Formula 1, IndyCar, Formula E, WEC, European Le Mans Series, World Series V8, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda Championship, USF2000 Championship, IMSA WeatherTtech Championship, IMSA Prototype Challenge, NACAM Formula 4 and some karting! So you just need to be able to keep it all organized and that definitely gets tricky some times, but every race weekend we learn and we get better at it.”

MST: People always look at James Hinchcliffe as the comedic force of IndyCar but he has to be pretty smart from a business side as well. What would you say is the key to Hinch’s business acumen and how he has this portion/component of the sport as part of his career?

TC: “Well one thing I can tell you is that Hinch is even smarter than he is funny, and even though he’s still young he has been around for a very long time, and knows the ins-and-outs of the sport just as good or better than anyone else in the IndyCar paddock. From day one of his career he had a very clear idea in his mind that he needed to make a name for himself and stand out, and he always stuck with that and it’s obviously paid off hugely, also winning races and being one of the fastest IndyCar drivers helps! He is just hugely dedicated to the sport both in and out of the track, and is definitely a role model and example to follow for all our young drivers.”

FORT WORTH, TX – AUGUST 27: James Hinchcliffe driver of the #5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda speaks during a media conference before the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on August 27, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

MST: Mexico has long been a hotbed for motorsport but in recent years has had a resurgence. You guys have worked with a number of Mexican drivers and key stakeholders. What can you identify as the reason(s) why it took off how it has?

TC: Well it’s a combination of timing, the economy, and cycles of interest among the decision makers and sponsors in Mexico. But more importantly it’s about having local heroes, obviously CART and Champ Car were very popular the last decade in Mexico when at some point we had up to five Mexican drivers, but then that slowed down once we didn’t have any more local drivers in there.

“It’s the same with F1 and WEC; as soon as we started having Mexican drivers there the interest immediately picked up and now we have both races in Mexico. And lastly now you can see it with Formula E. I had the chance to be with Esteban Gutierrez at the Mexico City ePrix which was his debut in the series, having him be part of it was a huge deal he helped make the event the best attended Formula E race ever, so that just goes to show you how important it is to have someone that the local crowd can cheer for.”

The podium at Mexico City, promoted and won by RGR Sport. Photo: RGR Sport

MST: The RGR Sport story was one of the more remarkable ones last year as a new team built from the ground up. Can you provide a bit of the backstory into how it came together and the logistics/prep work it took to make it happen?

TC: “It all started with Ricardo and I having the crazy idea of bringing a WEC race to Mexico City, and eventually Ricardo becoming the promoter of the 6 Hours of Mexico. After that deal was done we knew that having a Mexican team would be a huge help to the promotion of the event, but just like the race, if we didn’t do it ourselves then nobody was going to do it, so we just made the decision to go for it and start our own team.

“We’ve had a very good relationship with Onroak and OAK Racing for many years so the first big piece of the puzzle was to partner with them so they could help us with our operations and engineering, after that we made sure that we were able to sign Bruno Senna who had always been in our minds from the minute we started with this project.

“Once we knew we would have a very strong crew and Bruno as a teammate, we took our time to figure out who should be our third driver and we did a lot of research and I talked to a lot of drivers to make sure we could find someone that not only would be good on track obviously, but that would fit in with the concept of our team. Eventually after meeting Filipe (Albuquerque) at the Roar at Daytona I knew that he was the right guy and we went ahead and signed him.

Albuquerque, Gonzalez, Senna won on debut in Silverstone. Photo: RGR Sport

“Partnering with OAK Racing, Bruno, and Filipe, were the best three decisions we could’ve made. Another big concept that we wanted to make sure we applied with RGR was to be as open, carefree, and fan friendly as possible and this is where Speed Group really came in. We definitely achieved that because we went from being an unknown team to one of the most popular in the WEC almost overnight, and had a lot of fun doing it.

“Ricardo and I had a list of things we’ve always wanted in a race team, and basically we were able to do all of them with RGR. The rest is history, we had an almost perfect year and hopefully soon we’ll be able to come back and do it all again.”

MST: You’ve had a relationship with Juncos Racing for a bit of time. How inspirational has the Juncos story been as Ricardo’s grown and developed the team to where now he’ll be in IndyCar?

TC: “Working with Ricky and his team has been a great experience, he was one of our first clients and we’ve developed a very close relationship and have been super proud to see how much they’ve grown. It’s almost like a family, it’s a very cool feeling when a client has so much success and you can support them in every step of the way, no doubt being in IndyCar will be a big challenge but we’ve already been able to help him out a bit and we are very excited to where that relationship will lead for us.”

And from those others involved with Speed Group:

James Hinchcliffe: “What I think we are all most proud about is that Speed Group has become exactly what we envisioned it to be 10 years ago sitting in an Applebee’s in Texas! In fact, it’s even better than we imagined. What the company has done is such a short time is pretty amazing and a testament to how dedicated everyone in the company is. As we’ve grown, we’ve regrouped and restructured a few times to keep on top of what we need to provide for our clients. I think that the ability to recognize when those changes were needed, and the agility to respond quickly, have been a huge part of Speed Group’s success. This is the same mentality that we continue to implement to make sure we are staying on top of this constantly evolving environment.”

David Martinez: “Speed group is something very special for me. Apart from being a great one-stop shop for aspiring race car drivers, we’re a big family we’re new everyone works as a group to improve the quality of our team, including our clients. There is a sad point in a driver’s life when you get to hang the gloves and stop racing professionally which has been my case. Being part of Speed Group has given me the opportunity to relive all the excitement through our young drivers. It’s unreal but when they have success, it really feels like we’re in the car with them. I know for sure that if I had support from a company like Speed Group when I started, perhaps I would still be racing.”

Ricardo Gonzalez: “When i’m not at the track I’m usually completely focused on my business so it’s important to have a good group of people behind me looking out for my motorsports career, its a good feeling to know that they have your back and you can just show up a the track and drive basically.  Working with Toni and his team at Speed Group for many years now has been a very beneficial experience, we’ve basically grown together from racing GTC cars in the US, to winning Le Mans and the world championship in WEC, and eventually starting our own LMP2 team and promoting a race, it’s been quite an adventure!”

Owen, now of United Autosports, has transitioned to sports cars. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Will Owen: “We’d be absolutely lost without Speed Group, and the combination of Toni, David and James. Everyone there helps with management, media and bringing it all together, because you need all of that to be the complete package. It’s not just that. Teaching me about the sport, how to do the media stuff correctly. They’re there to help me and guide me with what they want to do. It’s super important for the busy weeks like that.”

Hulkenberg: Singapore DNF ‘tough to take’ after strong start

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Nico Hulkenberg has admitted his retirement from last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix was “tough to take” after being in contention to end his long-running Formula 1 podium drought.

Hulkenberg entered the Singapore weekend ready to break the record for making the most F1 starts without recording a top-three finish, having tied Adrian Sutil’s tally of 128 races at Monza.

Hulkenberg qualified an excellent fifth for Renault and dodged the start-line chaos to rise to third, and even ran second for one lap before switching tires.

Hulkenberg settled into fourth place when the switch to dry tires was complete, only for an oil leak on his car to force him to make an unscheduled pit stop and ultimately retire from the race.

“Sunday was tough to take and left me feeling disappointed. We lost a good result, and it was a case of not having a good enough reliability; that’s the way this sport goes sometimes,” Hulkenberg said.

“We lost our fourth position which is a pity especially after all the hard work from the whole team. It would have been a nice bunch of points but that’s racing and it happens!

“The car is looking fast and we have to build on the positives and take it forward now to Malaysia.”

IndyCar points by circuit type: 2017

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After separate reviews of the street and oval portions of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – led by Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves, respectively – the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale was of course, the final road course race of the year as well.

And a third different driver topped the charts in those six permanent road course races this year, in the form of Scott Dixon.

Dixon had one win (Road America) and three runners-up finishes in the six races, with other finishes of fourth (Sonoma) and ninth (Mid-Ohio) which brought him 261 points in these races. That was two points clear of Newgarden, who won at Barber and Mid-Ohio and finished second at both Road America and Sonoma, while losing points at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen.

The top six drivers in permanent road course points – Dixon, Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Castroneves and Graham Rahal – were also the top six drivers in the overall points, albeit not in that order.

For the year, it was interesting to note how being consistent across all three phases of circuit netted the best results.

The two biggest outliers were Power – who was only 14th in street course points but second in oval and fourth in road course points – who ended fifth in points overall and Kanaan, who overcame 16th (street course) and 18th (road course) points positions with third place in oval points, trailing only Castroneves and Power.

That oval haul brought Kanaan up to 10th in points in a year where several others – notably James Hinchcliffe, Max Chilton and Ed Jones – all occasionally staked their claim to the final spot in the top-10.

Otherwise, consistency across all circuits was key to securing your overall points position for the year.

The breakdown of points per driver by circuit type is below.

P # Driver Street Road Oval Total
1 2 Josef Newgarden 185 259 198 642
2 1 Simon Pagenaud 147 256 226 629
3 9 Scott Dixon 159 261 201 621
4 3 Helio Castroneves 126 220 252 598
5 12 Will Power 86 244 232 562
6 15 Graham Rahal 162 191 169 522
7 98 Alexander Rossi 126 171 197 494
8 26 Takuma Sato 115 112 214 441
9 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 105 178 138 421
10 10 Tony Kanaan 79 97 227 403
11 8 Max Chilton 91 141 164 396
12 27 Marco Andretti 103 119 166 388
13 5 James Hinchcliffe 155 99 122 376
14 19 Ed Jones 88 99 167 354
15 21 JR Hildebrand 78 90 179 347
16 14 Carlos Munoz 85 109 134 328
17 83 Charlie Kimball 72 135 120 327
18 4 Conor Daly 68 120 117 305
19 7 Mikhail Aleshin 77 68 92 237
20 20 Spencer Pigot 75 114 29 218
21 18 Sebastien Bourdais 93 89 32 214
22 20 Ed Carpenter 169 169
23 88 Gabby Chaves 98 98
24 22 Juan Pablo Montoya 20 73 93
25 18 Esteban Gutierrez 43 23 25 91
26 7 Sebastian Saavedra 19 61 80
27 16 Oriol Servia 21 40 61
28 7 Jack Harvey 40 17 57
29 29 Fernando Alonso 47 47
30 63 Pippa Mann 32 32
31 13 Zachary Claman DeMelo 26 26
32 77 Jay Howard 24 24
33 24 Sage Karam 23 23
34 40 Zach Veach 11 12 23
35 18 James Davison 21 21
36 18 Tristan Vautier 15 15
37 44 Buddy Lazier 14 14
38 7 Robert Wickens 0 0

Ed Jones adds name to IndyCar’s elite as top rookie in 2017

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Sure, you can say Ed Jones didn’t have a full-season counterpart for IndyCar’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2017 and so he was always going to win the award.

But in a year when you don’t have competition and the other first-year drivers did only selected races, you have to compare yourself to the rest of the field at large and make an impression – and Jones clearly did so for Dale Coyne Racing.

Per Trackside Online, Jones joins this list of drivers in the series’ full-time lineup who won top rookie honors in their year of eligibility: Alexander Rossi, Carlos Munoz, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Heading into last year’s offseason, Jones was not the favorite to take over the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda; fellow Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran RC Enerson was on the heels of three impressive debut races at the tail end of 2016.

However Jones was always going to need a place to land with the $1 million Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship for at least three races. Between that and with additional budget gathered, Jones found his way into Dale Coyne’s second seat alongside Sebastien Bourdais and together the pairing clicked.

Coyne had his eye on him throughout 2016, and watched him win the Indy Lights title at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – albeit under somewhat controversial circumstances when Carlin teammate Felix Serralles pulled aside to allow Jones through.

“It was Indy Lights. We went to his last race at Laguna Seca when he won the championship,” Coyne said. “We kept an eye on him. We keep an eye on all Indy Lights guys as well. It’s close, we can see them, watch them race, see how aggressive they are.

“He was always smooth in the car. I didn’t know how good he was going to be, because he was smooth. He doesn’t look like Paul Tracy in a car, but he drives better than Paul Tracy, at least in the beginning, at least Paul’s first year. He was a pleasant — it was the biggest surprise we’ve ever had.”

Jones, the 22-year-old Dubai-based Brit who makes his U.S. residence in Miami, was an instant hit on results if not on outright pace. But with finishes of sixth, 10th and 11th among his first five starts and other results lost due to circumstances outside his control, he immediately made a positive impact in the paddock.

Where Jones grew up fastest in a year where he matured so much from a more quiet and reserved driver in Indy Lights – much of that thanks to the family atmosphere at Coyne and its ace PR rep, Karina Redmond – was in May. Bourdais went from points leader and potential Indianapolis 500 contender to hospital-bound after his devastating accident in qualifying.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Max Chilton of England, driver of the #8 Gallagher Honda, Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, and Ed Jones of the United Arab Emirates, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, lead a pack of cars during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Jones, meanwhile, was suddenly thrust into the unexpected role of team leader, not knowing week-to-week who his teammate might be depending on the issue. Similar to Alexander Rossi last year, Jones carried a quiet swagger during the month of May in Indianapolis, and was aggrieved for getting knocked out of the Fast Nine shootout.

What he did on race day was equally as impressive as Rossi’s 2016 win in the ‘500 if not more so, considering the disparity in equipment and the fact Jones’ car was damaged in the nose from debris contacting it earlier in the race.

That third place finish (and the double points that went with it) was enough to earn many votes for this year’s Indianapolis 500 top rookie honors (including from this writer) although it wasn’t enough to supplant Fernando Alonso for the award, somewhat controversially. Coyne couldn’t resist trolling during Jones’ season-long top rookie acceptance press conference at Sonoma.

“Obviously Indy, third place there. Did you get Rookie of the Year at Indy or no? Didn’t get that, okay,” Coyne deadpanned.

Alas, Jones pressed on anyway with a consistent appetite for learning, thanks to Coyne’s tutelage, Michael Cannon’s sharp mind on the engineering stand and a crew that embraced him.

“It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of advice that Dale’s given me,” Jones said. “But, you know, he’s always been very supportive of learning everything step by step, learning from Seb. Every time I get to every weekend, even every session, I remember early on it was try to learn as much as you can, take it step by step, there’s no need to overdo it early on.

“I seen myself as well as one of the guys, rookies, younger guys that would come in and they try to be right at the front the beginning. In a series that’s so competitive like this, it doesn’t really happen that often. It’s extreme difficult to do it. Sometimes doing that, you can actually take steps backwards because you kind of lose where you’re at. It’s always better to sort of take it step by step, yeah, get there that way.”

After a ninth place at Detroit race one, Jones’ results suffered the rest of the way through a myriad of mishaps – be it tough setups, bad caution timing, an occasional spin or pit stop issues. A seventh at Road America was the lone bright spot, and a potential top-10 championship finish went begging. Losing Bourdais hurt primarily from a setup standpoint.

“I wasn’t always sure if it was just me or if it was a lot with the car. Yeah, that was the main thing. Seb is really good with setting up the car. Having his feedback to work off from was really helpful,” he said.

“If I ever wasn’t sure about something, I could use him to back something up. Not having him there, yeah, made it harder. Sometimes I was guessing a bit more. So, yeah, that was the toughest part.”

Jones said his driving and development got better as the year went on as, paradoxically, the results got worse.

“It’s always difficult not having another full-time rookie to compare to. Then again, I’ve looked at the rookies over the last few years. I’ve seen it’s extremely tough. I feel pretty happy with how it’s gone in comparison to other guys recently,” he said.

“I wanted to finish top-10 in the points. Halfway through the season, we were on track to doing that. We had a good opportunity to do it. The last few races, things have maybe not gone to plan.

“But I feel like as a driver, I got stronger. Early on in the season, I had some really great results. I was driving well, but also a lot of things fell my way. I was pretty lucky in that sense. Now I think we’ve gone better, me as a driver, also binding with the team. We got stronger, but things just haven’t gone our way. It’s been frustrating.”

None of the issues were egregious and as Coyne related later, Jones was one of the cleanest drivers he’d ever had in a year where the crash damage bills added up fast.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, and Tristan Vautier, driver of the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

With a rotating driver in the second car, be it James Davison, Esteban Gutierrez or Tristan Vautier before Bourdais’ welcome and surprise return at Gateway, Jones was the unexpected but needed rock in the driver lineup.

“I think it’s been a whole progression the whole year. We’ve run a lot of rookies over the years. We run rookies in tests that have never made it to a race, we ran rookies that made it to races,” Coyne said.

“He’s just a puppy. But he’s done a good job, very, very good. I don’t think he scratched the car. He actually did hit the wall at Pocono. The smallest amount of damage I’ve ever seen anybody do hitting a wall at Pocono. Done a very good job all year long, every track.”

Jones isn’t back yet for 2018, but Coyne said “We’re very, very close. I would love to have Ed back next year,” and wants to have a deal struck in the next few weeks.

Looking at what he did as a rookie was quite impressive. The five top-10s matched Conor Daly’s number last year as the lone full-season driver and while Daly was 18th in points in his first full season, Jones ended 14th.

That 14th place in the standings is a Coyne driver’s best finish in the standings since the late Justin Wilson’s incredible run to sixth in 2013, and actually a spot ahead of where Wilson was the following year in 2014, in 15th.

Jones’ qualifying average of 14.3 was 3.5 spots higher than Daly’s last year and Jones out-qualified his teammates nine times this year in 17 races, including Bourdais on three of eight attempts.

What he did for the team this year overall in a tough season will be remembered more than the results itself which again, were impressive given thee circumstances.

“It’s been very tough. But the whole team together, everyone within the team works very well together from the beginning of the year. A big shame to lose Seb after quite a few races. Everyone got on well with it. I remember after the accident, actually Dale got everyone together. We pushed forward,” he said.

“I think there’s been a lot of times that on Dale’s team, there’s things that have happened, gone up and down. As we’ve seen, they’ve always come back stronger.”

Photo: IndyCar

McLaren ‘very close’ to agreeing new F1 deal with Alonso

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McLaren is “very close” to agreeing a new Formula 1 contract with Fernando Alonso beyond the end of the 2017 season, according to team racing director Eric Boullier.

McLaren announced last week in Singapore it would be splitting with struggling engine supplier Honda at the end of the season, linking up with Renault from 2018.

The decision was made in a bid to lift the team to the front of the field, having struggled for much of the past three years while working with Honda.

Alonso has made no secret of his frustration throughout the three-year stint, prompting the Spaniard to consider his future with McLaren upon the expiration of his contract at the end of the year.

With the driver market closing up, Alonso looks poised to remain with McLaren for 2018, but said in Singapore he is considering options in many series.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Boullier expressed his confidence in Alonso staying for 2018, saying a deal was “very close”.

“Fernando wants to stay. You can see it in his body language and the way he speaks,” Boullier added.

“There are marketing details that have to be sorted out, and that Zak [Brown, McLaren executive director] is working on.”

Despite suggestions of an ultimatum regarding its Honda partnership being issued to McLaren by Alonso, Boullier stressed that the team made the decision to switch to Renault by its own accord, with the drivers then fitting in afterwards for its 2018 plans.

“McLaren’s DNA is to be competitive. The team has always been in the top three and we belong there again,” Boullier said.

“Today we know that we have a decent chassis, which would allow us to be in the top three again with an equal level engine.

“So for us as a business it is important to be competitive, no matter what role Fernando plays. We had to make a decision for us.

“But if you want to be competitive you not only need an engine, you also need a driver. That is when Fernando comes into the picture.

“We did what we did for McLaren first, but the package includes also the driver.”