Giuseppe Risi. Photo courtesy of Rick Dole/IMSA

‘Magic’ of Le Mans stirs soul for Giuseppe Risi, Risi Competizione

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The history of 24 Hours of Le Mans cannot be told properly without Ferrari. And the spirit of the privateer team succeeding at Le Mans – a circuit and a race often dominated by factories – is also part of the allure of the grand spectacle of June’s midsummer endurance race classic.

It’s at this point we bring Giuseppe Risi and Risi Competizione into the picture, who blend the best of both the Ferrari and privateer entrant roles within the GTE-Pro class this year and who have been part of the fabric of the race, either personally or by team, for nearly 50 years.

Mr. Risi himself was drawn to Le Mans from his infancy, even though his parents were involved in the medical and educational fields. He tried to follow however he could.

“I tried as best as the TV coverage could allow at the time!” Risi told NBC Sports. “The racing coverage wasn’t as detailed. But I followed every bit of Le Mans in every way I could, through all the editorials, whether it was English, or French, or Italian, I’d collect all these magazines and go through them.

“I did this because I have such a passion for the product of automobile racing. And there happens to be a Ferrari part of that. I wasn’t reading into quite historical facts; I was into the sheer passion of what was going on.”

Risi’s No. 82 Ferrari 488 GTE takes checkered flag in 2016. Photo: Risi Competizione

A chance encounter with the actor who caught the racing bug himself at Le Mans, and was so smitten he made a movie about it in Steve McQueen, laid the groundwork for the beginning of the story of Risi at Le Mans.

We leave it to Mr. Risi to pick up that story from there.

“This is in 1969… and there I was just on the side of the track, facing the pits, in practice,” Risi said. “At the time, one could be a lot closer to the track than today.

“It was a wide see-through fence. I’m standing there watching. On the other side there’s marshals. This person with a cap and sunglasses came about. I had both my hands raised to where he could see them.

“This person came up to me, and pointed to my watch. ‘What’s the time?’ he asked. So I turned my watch – it was a Seiko – and he pulled his sunglasses off so he could see the time. I said, ‘I speak English.’ So I told him what the time was.

“After he pulled his sunglasses off, it wasn’t really crowded yet … it was practice… but once people saw who it was, they ran and swarmed to him. Then he took off! That was my story of meeting Steve McQueen, as I’d seen him in the pits.”

The movie Le Mans premiered on June 23, 1971. Within the next decade, Risi would premiere himself at Le Mans, as well, in the early 1980s.

While Risi had set up a Formula 1 entry with Mexican driver Hector Rebaque in the late 1970s, his Le Mans bow came a couple years later as a constructor with the GRID prototype in 1982, 1983 and 1984.

It was as Risi was establishing his Ferrari presence in North America though, in Houston, that the seed was planted to return to Le Mans, and to eventually do so with his own team and with Ferrari.

“Initially, the thought of coming to Le Mans with your own name was quite far away,” he recalled. “I just wanted to compete and run a team, I was always involved with that. Whether it was managing or putting things together. That came about, I had some Spanish drivers, and we tried to get an entry in with some 2-liter British sports cars – called Chevrons. That didn’t quite gel.

“Life went on. But in the meantime I came back to Le Mans a few times, as a spectator, but the magic of Le Mans is so huge that it draws you. If you are an out and out passionate fan of racing, it must be on your list to do.”

6-7 Jun 1998: Impression of the Doyle-Risi Racing Ferrari 333SP driven by Wayne Taylor of South Africa, Eric van der Poele of Belgium and Fermin Velez of Spain during the Le Mans 24 Hour Endurance Race at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. Taylor, Van de Poele and Velez finished in eighth place after 332 laps. Mandatory Credit: Stu Forster/Allsport

It took until 1998 for that to occur properly. The venerable but incredible Ferrari 333 SP with its shrieking 4.0L V12 engine – Ferrari’s car for its return to top-flight prototype racing – had enjoyed a wealth of success in North America. It then came to Le Mans en masse that year, and Risi was one of several in the field.

“I came back and I knew the French importers for Ferrari, so I was able to come to their pit. I could see what they were doing,” Risi explained of how he came back to Le Mans and with Ferrari.

“I have always been so detail oriented. I’m not a mechanic, and I’m not an engineer, but I’ve been able to put together people that know and give them the freedom to develop and put the right ideas into mechanical components. I’ve always had very reliable cars.

“So when I went back in ’98 with my own team with the 333, that was really the ‘big boy’s world’ when you go back to take on everyone else. We won our first class win in prototype at Le Mans.”

That 1998 Le Mans race marked an evolution in the top tier class at the race. The GT1 class featured closed cockpit sports prototypes from Porsche, Toyota, Nissan, McLaren and Panoz among others, while the then-LMP1 category saw the open-top prototypes as the Ferrari was. The No. 12 Doyle-Risi Ferrari of Wayne Taylor, Eric van de Poele and Fermin Velez took the class win in eighth place overall.

“Allan McNish’s Porsche was the car that won overall,” Risi recalled. “One of the things that helped us though was the sheer reliability of the 333. We were the only team that didn’t change the gearbox! We won the class. But after that, the 333 was getting long in the tooth for homologation areas. So I left that alone for a little while.”

The time came to switch to GT racing a few years later. Risi returned to Le Mans with the 360 Modena GT in 2003, with two cars. But engine problems killed a potential successful result, despite leading the race.

Nearly a decade on from the first Risi entry in 1998, Risi re-emerged with the Ferrari 430 GT, where it provided the most consistent round of success at Le Mans. Starting in 2007, the team scored two more class wins (2008 and 2009 in GT2) and two additional podiums with the 430. Risi reveled in those successes because the GT class was really starting to re-emerge itself in a period of growth in terms of manufacturer involvement and great teams.

LE MANS, SARTHE – JUNE 12: Jaime Melo of Brazil drives the #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT during the 78th running of the Le Mans 24 hours race at the Circuits des 24 Heures du Mans on June 12, 2010 in Le Mans, France. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

“We waited for the next model, the 430, after our 360 run… and the 430 was a great car right from the get go,” Risi said. “We had some of our biggest successes with the 430. Again, it was down to out and out preparation. The marriage between the 430 and Michelin tires, I have to attribute a lot of our success to Michelin tires. They seem to work well with Ferrari. Michelin gave such great tires. It worked well for us.”

There’s a funny sidebar here in the Michelin angle. The Italian American team, racing in the French endurance classic, had its tire engineer out of South Carolina in Robbie Holley. Holley, now Michelin’s Track Support and Operations Manager in IMSA, was Michelin’s designated tire engineer for the Risi Ferrari, and when he was moved onto another program, Risi was almost apoplectic!

“The person who was given to us was Robbie, and he was absolutely superb,” Risi recalled. “He worked very well with our engineer, Rick Mayer, and our driver at the time was Brazilian Jaime Melo. The three of them totally understood the dynamics of what the car was asking for.

“He listened to the interpretation between driver and engineer. When they brought the Porsche (LMP2) prototypes out, run by Penske, they wanted someone who knew his stuff. So he was moved! Matt Hanlon was a pupil of Robbie, but he kept an eye on us! But life would go on and Matt didn’t miss a beat in his time with us.

“When we came back in earnest with the 430, my cars ran on Michelins and nothing else. All my cars since 2007 have been Michelin, unless another category is a one-make tire. To this day, it’s a good product, they treat us well. I wouldn’t want to race on anything else, for my time in racing.”

Risi didn’t compete at Le Mans from 2011 through 2015 in the period with the F458 Italia, as what had been the GT2 class then became the new lead GT class now known as GTE-Pro. Outside of support with the Luxury Racing team, the wait grew for Risi to return.

LE MANS, FRANCE – JUNE 19: Mechanics refuel the number 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 during the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 19, 2016 in Le Mans, France. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

But return they did last year with its 488 GTE, another line of dynamic cars. Risi very nearly toppled the four-car Ford Chip Ganassi Racing effort on its own, in a heroic effort done in spite of Ford’s onslaught of cars, people, and drivers. Second place was in some respects tough to swallow; in others, a huge achievement considering the gap since the team’s last Le Mans start six years earlier.

“The concept of the new car now is that Ferrari had the 430 to build on, and then the 458 was development of 430, and now the 488 is that of the 458. So it’s a good car.

“I’m looking forward to this year. Of course, Le Mans was good again last year. The race was it what is was. But since, we won Petit Le Mans last year. And this year, again, we should be right in the thick of it.”

Risi’s usual full-season pairing of Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella have won Le Mans multiple times, but for AF Corse. Pierre Kaffer, who was part of Risi’s last winning lineup in 2009 with Melo and Mika Salo, joins Vilander and Fisichella in the team’s No. 82 Ferrari 488 GTE. This is the team’s 13th overall entry and has the three class wins and six podiums overall in the past 12 entries.

The trio was only ninth at the test day with a best time of 3:55.847, albeit only 1.146 off the test day-leading Corvette C7.R. Balance of Performance is a hot button issue in the class but it’s not something that should override the passion and soul of the race itself.

And ultimately that’s what keeps Risi coming back, as the lone single-car, privateer but Ferrari-supported effort in a 13-car class made up otherwise entirely of manufacturers. If they didn’t think they could do the job, with the Dave “Beaky” Sims and Rick Mayer-led operation, they wouldn’t be here.

Risi engineer Rick Mayer with Toni Vilander. Photo: Risi Competizione

“This is a place you go and you’re just taken over by this area,” Risi explains. “The people and intensity of Le Mans brings the whole magic, home.

“On the racing side, when it’s 8-plus miles and you know the car has to be reliable, you’re thinking of everything that goes into it. Guys have been chasing pieces and parts to prepare. You’re watching the cars go by and it’s been three or four hours, and you still have 20 more hours to go! You’re listening intently on the radio, waiting for the next time they pass.

“That is the magic of Le Mans. Anyone who’s passionate about Le Mans and motor racing, who loves it, has to go. To this day, all these Formula 1 drivers on their bucket list is to go to Le Mans.”

“Part of it is the racing, of course; that’s what it represents. But the people are incredible. It’s just such a big event. You see all these pockets of different nationalities. There’s the Dutch, the Germans, the Brits and so on and so forth. You see people in the pop tents, with a Rolls Royce parked outside! It’s incredible to witness. These guys can afford any hotel, but it’s a people get together. It truly is unique.

“Of course, it’s an expensive race to run – especially for a U.S. based team – but the satisfaction of getting your car to the end, or a podium, is a true achievement for the team. There is so much teamwork. Your team goes to the track Saturday morning, 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., so you don’t get held up in the traffic. And you have to go through the whole time. It’s not like we have a relief team to make the changes.

“It truly is an achievement for everyone that goes after this race. That’s what makes it such a magical place.”

Risi’s No. 82 Ferrari 488 GTE on Le Mans Test Day. Photo: Risi Competizione

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.”