McLaren works IndyCar operation ‘possible’ in the future

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Following Wednesday’s announcement that Fernando Alonso will race in the 101st Indianapolis 500, McLaren shareholder Mansour Ojjeh has said it is “possible” the British marque could establish a full-works operation in the Verizon IndyCar Series in the future.

Alonso will miss the Formula 1 race in Monaco on May 28 to line up on the grid for the Indy 500, as McLaren returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway after 38 years away with an entry supported by Honda and Andretti Autosport.

McLaren has history in the ‘500, winning the race with Johnny Rutherford in 1974 and 1976. Alonso will race in the same papaya color this year that Rutherford took to Victory Lane in each of those years, and has also returned to McLaren’s F1 car for 2017.

In a statement issued following the announcement, Ojjeh spoke about McLaren’s affinity for the ‘500 and his delight in taking the marque back to the Brickyard.

“Even though I’ve been a major shareholder and director of McLaren for more than 30 years, I arrived after our first IndyCar era had come to an end,” Ojjeh said.

“Nonetheless, I’ve attended the Indy 500, and I came away hugely impressed by the scope and scale of this enormous and well-organized event, and the sheer enthusiasm of the hundreds of thousands of fans in attendance.

“So, more than 30 years later, I’m pleased and proud that we’re about to embark on a new IndyCar era for McLaren, this time with Andretti Autosport and Honda.”

While McLaren’s entry to the ‘500 is set to be its sole appearance in the Verizon IndyCar Series for the time being, Ojjeh admitted that futher attempts at the race and even a full works operation could be considered in the future.

“The Indy 500 is the only IndyCar race we’ll be entering this year, but we may possibly repeat that in years to come and it’s just possible that we may even run a full-works McLaren IndyCar operation at some point in the future. We’ll see,” he said.

“Equally, we may potentially enter the Le Mans 24 Hours again some time – we won it outright in 1995 with our iconic McLaren F1 GTR – but to be clear we have absolutely no definite plans to do so at this stage.”

A return to Le Mans would be of particular interest to Alonso, whose entry to the ‘500 acts as the next stage in his bid to become just the second man to win the Triple Crown of Motorsport (Monaco GP, Indy 500, Le Mans).

F1: Valtteri Bottas urges Lewis Hamilton to clear up Mercedes future and sign

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MONACO (AP) — Valtteri Bottas is urging Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to sign a new contract, even though his own future is uncertain.

Bottas needs to convince Mercedes to give him a new deal for next year. Hamilton, meanwhile, is stalling on signing a new one even though an offer is in place. Hamilton was again asked about his contract situation on Wednesday, and maintains he’s in no hurry.

“There isn’t any sticking point. There just hasn’t been any rush,” Hamilton said. “There’s no discussion with anybody else, there’s no consideration for anybody else, it’s just (me) taking my time.”

But Bottas would like Hamilton’s future cleared up.

“For sure I would. First of all, I would like to stay here. That is my goal for the long term. It would be nice if Lewis wants to stay and finds an agreement,” Bottas said at the Mercedes motorhome. “I enjoy working with him, I enjoy the challenge he gives me. I enjoy the fact he’s four-time world champion and at the moment I’m none. It makes me try harder to be better.

“It wouldn’t change my mind that I want to stay here, but I think we work well together,” he added.

Last season was their first together. Bottas was drafted in from Williams as an emergency replacement after Nico Rosberg retired. He won three races but he stood out more as the ideal support driver as Hamilton reclaimed the F1 title.

Bottas understands Mercedes expects improvement.

“We had a chat before the season and naturally we expect performance gains compared to last year, being closer to Lewis,” Bottas said. “That’s what you need to do in the second season.”

However, Bottas says he has not been set a specific target in terms of points or where he finishes overall.

“There’s no magic number,” he said. “There’s no clause or anything, so it’s how the team feels I’m performing.”

Bottas finished third overall last year behind Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton.

He is in the same overall position – 20 points behind Vettel and 37 adrift of Hamilton – heading into this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver would be closer if not for a dramatic finish at the Azerbaijan GP last month. With victory seemingly guaranteed, he sustained a tire puncture and ended up with no points. He bounced back with a fine drive for second place in Spain two weeks ago.

“I feel like I’ve met my performance targets. Pace-wise I’m on the level I need, but result-wise I’m not happy,” Bottas said. “It’s been strange. But I know if I keep improving very good things will come.”

He has faced a considerable amount of criticism with observers questioning whether he can compete at the top level. Yet driving under the constant pressure of having a point to prove has also made him more resilient.

“For sure it makes you tougher and better,” he said. “From each difficult weekend, I feel I’ve been able to turn it (around).”