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.”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”