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McLaren planning to open Alonso F1 contract talks ‘a few races into the year’

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BIRMINGHAM, UK – McLaren is set to open talks with Fernando Alonso regarding a contract extension “a few races” into the 2017 Formula 1 season, according to executive director Zak Brown.

Alonso enters the third and final year of his McLaren contract in 2017, having joined in 2015 following a stint at Ferrari.

The Spaniard has failed to record a podium finish during his second spell with McLaren, with the rebuild at Woking in partnership with engine supplier Honda still ongoing.

Alonso has long-stated that he would consider his future in F1 beyond the 2017 season depending on the feeling of the cars under the revised technical regulations for the forthcoming campaign.

Alonso is one of a number of drivers out of contract at the end of 2017, with Sebastian Vettel also entering the final year of his Ferrari deal, pointing towards a volatile driver market and silly season.

Brown conceded that Alonso would be coveted by many teams for 2018, but is confident that he remains committed to the long-term project to return McLaren to world championship glory.

“He’s definitely committed to the project, but his contract is up and he’s in high demand as you can imagine,” Brown told NBC Sports.

“Vettel’s out of contract next year, that’s my understanding. So as you can imagine, next year’s going to be an exciting driver market.

“Obviously we’d love to keep him. He’s one of the greatest drivers on the track, if not the best.

“But we’re just going to see how things go and kick off those conversations a few races into the year.”

When asked whether Alonso’s future hinged on where McLaren lay in the pecking order in 2017, Brown said: “Yeah. If I were him, I’d want to see how we perform before I started making decisions.

“You can’t blame him for that. But I think we’re all waiting to see and that goes both ways.”

Brown joined McLaren formally in December following the exit of long-standing chairman Ron Dennis, and explained that he will jointly run the team with chief operating officer Jonathan Neale, with a particular focus its commercial interests.

“Jonathan Neale and I are ultimately mutually accountable. I spend more time on the commercial side, he spends more time on the technical,” Neale said.

“But he spends time on commercial and I spend time on technical. I think these teams now are too big to be run by any one individual.

“While I’m not technical, I’m a racer and I understand what it takes to win races. So I think the side where I can contribute is more on the sporting side than the technical.”

Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew ready for IndyCar ride

Road to Indy
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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew has done nothing but dominate the 2019 season, winning seven of the 16 races run so far and finishing on the podium in all but two of those events.

Now all the 22-year-old Floridian needs to do to formally clinch the 2019 title is simply start the final two races of the season, both of which will be held this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

For Askew, his maiden Indy Lights season will likely be one he’ll never forget. 

“It’s been a dream come true,” Askew told NBC Sports. “Being with the championship-winning team from last year, we had a really good shot at winning it again for Andretti Autosport. It’s very rare that we show up to a track and struggle to find speed. 

“That’s a fantastic feeling, especially as a driver. That gave me a lot of confidence and hopes of holding the million dollar check at the end of the year. That was the goal going into it.”

This weekend, Askew will accomplish said goal. The championship will not only bring him a sense of pride, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As an award for being crowned the Indy Lights champion, Askew will be awarded a scholarship that guarantees him entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series events next year – including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Time will only tell which team Askew will race for in IndyCar next season, and whether or not Askew’s rookie campaign will be a full-time or part-time affair, but Askew’s performance during the last few seasons in the Road to Indy system has certainly drawn attention of IndyCar’s top team owners.

In August, Askew had the chance to drive an Indy car for the first time in his career during a test session at Portland International Raceway, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda usually piloted by Scott Dixon.

“It was an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing that I was very fortunate to have,” Askew said. “I think with my experience in the past couple of years with Cape Motorsports and this year with Andretti Autosport, going into that test was very helpful.

“Going into the test, it was more of trying to treat it as just another day at the racetrack, when it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic opportunity for me – a great experience – and I hope I can take that into my rookie season next year in IndyCar.” 

The final two races of the 2019 Indy Lights season will take place this weekend on Saturday, September 21 at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 22 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Both races will air live on NBC Sports Gold.

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