The No. 66 Ford's day as a battering ram was a great metaphor for Long Beach IMSA race. Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Digesting 35 cars, 100 minutes of drama in the LBC

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The BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix a little more than a week ago will have marked one of the craziest IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races since the series came under a unified banner in 2014, when the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series merged.

In 100 minutes of racing at Long Beach, there were nearly as many yellow flags, and way more incidents, than there had been in 12 hours of racing at Sebring, . a fortnight earlier. It went from 12 hours with six full-course caution flags – and periods of between two to three hours without a yellow – to 100 minutes with five, and a local yellow at the final corner of the final lap which changed the complexion of the race in both GT categories.

IMSA’s “Sights and Sounds” attempts to digest the race, linked here.

Here’s the race’s lap chart, lap leader sequence and overall results, which help describe why this race was so crazy.

With that as a backdrop, the easiest way to digest the race might be by breaking the race down, car-by-car:

PROTOTYPE

Nine Prototypes started before the carnage. Photo courtesy of IMSA
  1. 10-Jordan Taylor/Ricky Taylor, Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R: Despite leading the first 34 laps, this car got slotted behind the No. 2 Nissan on strategy and was unable to pass with a pre-race gear ratio change assessed to the Cadillacs that left them with taller first and second gears. Once Ryan Dalziel was blocked in by two GTD cars ahead of him, Jordan Taylor seized his opportunity with five laps to go, completed a three-wide move past the GT cars and then an outside pass of Dalziel into Turn 1 for this team’s third straight win both in 2017 and at Long Beach.
  2. 2-Ryan Dalziel/Scott Sharp, Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi: A decision to pit 20 minutes into the race allowed an early driver change from Sharp to Dalziel. Dalziel did the rest, in an excellent drive as he carved his way from as low as 19th overall on Lap 35 up to the overall lead by Lap 48, 13 laps and 23 minutes later. What Dalziel couldn’t account for was GTD traffic getting in his way late, and a block from Wolf Henzler’s TRG Porsche in front of him killed his momentum, and cost them the win.
  3. 55-Jonathan Bomarito/Tristan Nunez, Mazda RT24-P: Easier recap here. Nunez went three-wide versus two Cadillacs at Turn 1, and hounded Ricky Taylor for the rest of his stint. Despite losing a position later, Mazda ended with a hometown podium not far from its North American headquarters in Irvine.
  4. 85-Stephen Simpson/Misha Goikhberg, JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson: Having nearly lost a lap early after a spin and falling to 32nd overall, a yellow flag saved the No. 85 yellow car from losing a lap. The car stayed trouble-free the rest of the way for its third top-five in as many races for John Church’s team.
  5. 52-Tom Kimber-Smith/Will Owen, PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson: Series and track debutante Owen fell slightly back during his stint but kept the car intact to hand over to “TKS” for the final 40 minutes. Despite running as low as 24th overall, the No. 52 car banked its first overall top-five in 2017.
  6. 70-Joel Miller/Tom Long, Mazda RT24-P: From Mazda’s release: “A Ford GT had stalled and was sitting sideways on the track. As Nunez squeezed around the car, the Ford lurched forward, forcing Nunez to come to a halt. Meanwhile, Long took a tighter angle to the inside of the stalled car. Then, the Ford suddenly backed up, forcing Long to a halt, eventually losing a number of positions in the traffic jam.” Said Long, “The traffic was like driving on the 405! The hairpin always seems to have some excitement and it happened multiple times this race. We had a traffic jam there. I don’t expect to be using reverse during the race, but it happens!”
  7. 5-Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi, Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R: Fittipaldi was running third overall before being contacted by Gunnar Jeannette’s Mercedes just over half an hour into the race. With a rear wing assembly replacement needed and a yellow caused, hopes of success fell by the wayside here. “I passed a slower GTD car on the back straight then as I was entering the next turn, I felt a hit from behind,” he said.
  8. 31-Dane Cameron/Eric Curran, Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R: Cameron was inhuman for his stint, both in terms of insanely good passes and a rare-non-Cameron-like unforced error into Turn 8, when he apexed early and then smacked the Turn 8 wall hard on driver’s left. He was OK; the car was not.
  9. 22-Ed Brown/Johannes van Overbeek, Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi: Brown fell into the clutches of the GTLM field off the start before being hit by Toni Vilander’s Risi Ferrari, a rare mistake from the veteran Finn. This sent the team behind the wall just after the start.
  10. 90-Renger van der Zande/Marc Goossens, VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson: A brake issue sent the likable Dutchman into the Turn 1 wall in Friday practice, which meant van der Zande, his family, Goossens and the rest of the No. 90 team was done for the weekend then and there.

GT LE MANS

Michelin was always going to win GTLM, but Milner’s quizzical look describes the “what just happened” angle of race. Photo courtesy of IMSA
  1. 4-Tommy Milner/Oliver Gavin, Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R: Secured the win after the team car was blocked in at the hairpin logjam on the final lap. Minor redemption for last year’s loss, but still tough to inherit the win this way. Milner called this the “weirdest race of his career” in victory lane, which said it all.
  2. 67-Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Ho-hum last-in-class on the grid to second in the race on a one-stop strategy. The No. 67 car made it from ninth to fifth at the end of Lap 1 and snuck in behind its 2016 title nemesis, the No. 4 car, on the final lap.
  3. 912-Kevin Estre/Laurens Vanthoor, Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Led the first 26 laps following Vanthoor’s rocket start, running on the same set of Michelins for 45 minutes and change. But the car fell back on the pit stop sequence, only returning to the podium after the hairpin delay elsewhere.
  4. 25-Bill Auberlen/Alexander Sims, BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM: Ran second early, but like the No. 912 car was on the wrong strategy and fell to fourth. Still made it four manufacturers in as many positions.
  5. 3-Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia, Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R: What more can be said. Damaged early in the Turn 5, first lap mess, than shot back to the front, only to have a sure win escape them in the final corner. Brutal ending to a fantastic comeback.
  6. 911-Patrick Pilet/Dirk Werner, Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Hopes here were dashed by Werner getting a drive-through for enacting some “Dirk-on-Dirk” violence at the hairpin, hitting Mueller’s No. 66 Ford.
  7. 24-Martin Tomczyk/John Edwards, BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM: The luckless start to 2017 continues because this car threw a strategic gem at Long Beach and vaulted to the class lead by Lap 27 and overall lead by Lap 34, where it was until Lap 47. But a likely ECU issue shut the car off exiting Turn 8 and the two Corvettes and No. 67 Ford made it through to the lead.
  8. 66-Dirk Mueller/Joey Hand, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Target doesn’t sponsor the Ford Ganassi team but was an accurate word for the No. 66 car Saturday. Its hood got crunched on the start of the race with Hand driving and then Mueller was the recipient of some “Dirk-on-Dirk” violence in the hairpin later, contacted by Porsche’s Werner. Eighth place was the result for the car that won Daytona and was second at Sebring.
  9. 62-Toni Vilander/Giancarlo Fisichella, Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE: Vilander shot to first at Turn 1, but his failed passing attempt on Ed Brown at Turn 5 of the first lap ended this car’s race and caused damage to the No. 3 Corvette and No. 66 Ford.

GT DAYTONA

WeatherTech Mercedes emerged from obscurity to win GTD. Photo courtesy of IMSA
  1. 50-Gunnar Jeannette/Cooper MacNeil, Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG-GT3: Last-to-first win following a pre-race tire change and an epic fuel save from Jeannette thanks to the yellows. Jeannette contacted the No. 5 Cadillac earlier in the race but was not penalized. How’d they win? “I kind of blacked out for a minute and the next thing I know the checkered flag is out and I’m crossing the finish line!” Jeannette laughed.
  2. 33-Jeroen Bleekemolen/Ben Keating, Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3: Clean race brought third straight podium for this crew, who extend title lead to 21 points this early in 2017.
  3. 63-Christina Nielsen/Alessandro Balzan, Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3: Nielsen described the “magic” that brought this car from the back to a podium: “I can’t take any credit for today. This credit goes entirely to Scuderia Corsa and Alessandro Balzan, they were totally my heroes today. How they executed, it’s just unbelievable what they did.”
  4. 73-Joerg Bergmeister/Patrick Lindsey, Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R: From 32nd overall and last in GTD on Lap 1 to fourth in GTD at the finish. Like the others, we’re not entirely sure how.
  5. 991-Wolf Henzler/Jan Heylen, TRG Porsche 911 GT3 R: Top-five a great result for this car in a surprise entry, albeit not without controversy after Henzler’s chop on the front straight ahead of overall leader Dalziel.
  6. 14-Scott Pruett/Sage Karam, 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3: Started from back after Pruett’s heavy crash in Friday practice, then strategized their way to front and Lexus’ best finish yet in a rebuilt car. Karam lost a top-five to Henzler inside the final 10 minutes.
  7. 93-Andy Lally/Katherine Legge, Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3: Had an incident before qualifying but the team made it back out then, then despite a missed wave around, Lally carved from 11th to seventh by the finish. Post-weekend, he also launched a new motoring app on Monday called “MotorCrush.”
  8. 16-Jeroen Mul/Corey Lewis, Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3: An exasperated Robby Benton was left to swallow the team’s second straight last-lap heartbreak that cost a podium, this time after Mul and what looked like another car had contact exiting Turn 9. A season-best result of eighth was little solace.
  9. 96-Jens Klingmann/Bret Curtis, Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3: The outside car in the three-wide, final lap, hairpin mess, smashed against the wall.
  10. 86-Jeff Segal/Ozz Negri, Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3: The middle car in the three-wide, final lap, hairpin mess, smashed in the middle of two cars.
  11. 15-Jack Hawksworth/Robert Alon, 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3: The inside car in the three-wide, final lap, hairpin mess, with Alon trying an ill-advised move that put him on probation. Hawksworth led five laps after starting second.
  12. 28-Daniel Morad/Michael Christensen, Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R: Got up to third early but like others, entered a closed pit, got a penalty, and never recovered en route to an unrepresentative P12.
  13. 57-Lawson Aschenbach/Andrew Davis, Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS: Hit with an early spin and electrical issues that stuck them a lap down, trapping them there.
  14. 54-Colin Braun/Jon Bennett, CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R: Rough start to the championship-winning team’s transition to GTD continued, losing a lap early and never getting it back.
  15. 75-Tristan Vautier/Boris Said, SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: Per Mercedes’ release, the team was one of several in the GTD class that got caught out by entering a closed pit lane during the race’s second caution period.
  16. 48-Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow, Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3: Sellers took pole and led the first 23 laps but then this happened on the second caution: “At the time the car entered pit lane, the track and pits had yet to be declared green, resulting in a stop and hold penalty.”

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.”

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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.”