Alonso targets finishing Chinese GP after more setbacks for McLaren

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Fernando Alonso is hoping to simply finish tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix after McLaren endured another difficult qualifying session in Shanghai on Saturday.

After being sidelined in the final practice session by a problem with the ignition system on his car, Alonso could only qualify 18th for the team, marking his second consecutive Q1 exit.

His teammate, Jenson Button, fared little better though, and will start tomorrow’s race from 17th place on the grid.

McLaren has struggled so far this year after switching to Honda power units for the 2015 season, and Alonso thinks that simply finishing the race in China would be a major achievement.

“We were two tenths away from the mid-pack and close to getting into Q2 today,” Alonso said. “We’re getting there, and this is another step forward, but we’re still under-performing, so we need to keep improving.

“Our main priority now is to finish tomorrow’s race. That’ll allow us to learn more about the car and uncover any possible problems.

“Obviously, two DNFs in Malaysia wasn’t an ideal situation for us, so, regardless of the result, we need to make the finish here in China. This has been another positive weekend – everyone in the team is excited about the progress we’re making.”

McLaren racing director Eric Boullier admitted after the session that he was expecting a better result, but praised Alonso and Button for putting in maximum effort in spite of the difficulties.

“I’d hesitate to use the word ‘disappointing’ to describe this afternoon’s qualifying performance, but I think we’d all hoped for a little more, particularly after looking like we’d made a respectable improvement in all three of this weekend’s practice sessions,” Boullier said.

“Fernando’s afternoon was obviously affected by the car failure on his out-lap in FP3 this morning, but he responded magnificently.

“The parity between our drivers today demonstrated exactly why we hired them: because they can get absolutely everything from the car, and leave nothing out on track.”

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1:30a ET on Sunday.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.