McLaren chairman Dennis regrets Alonso’s comments on engine


WOKING, England (AP) McLaren chairman Ron Dennis wants Fernando Alonso to stop airing his grievances in public following the Spanish driver’s latest outburst at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

McLaren is next-to-last in the constructors’ championship with 17 points despite having two world champions behind the wheel. Alonso is 16th in the drivers’ championship with 11 points and Jenson Button is 18th with only six.

While both drivers have spoken positively about the car’s chassis, this season’s transition to Honda engines has proved highly problematic.

Alonso’s frustration spilled over again at Suzuka, where he finished 11th, one lap behind the pace of race winner Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. Button finished 16th.

“GP2 engine! GP2 engine! It feels like it’s GP2. Embarrassing. Very embarrassing,” Alonso lamented over race radio. Those comments were especially resonant as they were made on Honda’s home track.

“I think it was a somewhat misplaced message to make sure everybody knew where we were. But it was unnecessary, it’s my job to make sure everybody’s aware of that,” Dennis told The Associated Press on Thursday at McLaren’s Technology Center in Woking, Surrey. “I’m sure he thought it was a good idea at the time.”

When asked, Dennis would not say if he had words in private with Alonso, who has won 32 races and two F1 titles.

“What I did or didn’t say to Fernando is best left behind closed doors,” Dennis said. “Fernando and Jenson have vented their frustration. Not the way I would prefer it, but of course their exposure is very much to the technical side. I don’t think anyone who walks the planet would not understand their frustration.”

Alonso had made some choice comments before, notably at the Canadian GP in June. At that race, he was asked repeatedly by his engineers over the radio to save fuel as he fought to hold his position against faster cars.

“I don’t want, I don’t want,” Alonso replied. “Already I have big problems now. Driving with these and looking like amateurs.”

Dennis was speaking after it was announced that his team has signed a long-term partnership with sparkling wine manufacturer Chandon. The car’s new sponsor was unveiled to the backdrop of chinking champagne glasses – although Button did not indulge – and amid confident talk of a successful future.

On this season’s current form, even a podium place is a long shot and McLaren has enormous work ahead to bridge the gap with Mercedes and Ferrari.

“I hate losing and it’s a painful experience,” Dennis said. “If you sit comfortably with failure you are going to be a failure. I have no interest in failing.”

The move back to Honda engines had sparked enthusiastic talk of restoring the combination that ruled F1 from 1988-92. But the problems that started in pre-season testing have continued unabated. Alonso’s fifth place at the Hungarian GP in July is the best result of a season where he has retired from six races.

“Rapid improvement in terms of engine performance is just not achievable (this season), it takes time,” Dennis said. “But it’s over five months to the first Grand Prix (of next season) and five months is a lifetime in Formula One. Everything has been multiplied to make sure we are strong at the beginning of next season.”

Button, the 2009 F1 champion, has been with McLaren since 2010. But his last win came at the season-ending Brazilian GP in 2012, and his best result this season was eighth place at the Monaco Grand Prix in May.

Although the 35-year-old British driver has yet to commit for next season, Dennis believes he still has the best partnership possible.

“There’s no weakness in our drivers,” Dennis said. “The most important thing is to never change something in your organization unless you know it’s categorically going to be better.”

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”