While the hype surrounding Fernando Alonso’s entry to the 101st Indianapolis 500 lingered in the Bahrain International Circuit paddock throughout this weekend’s grand prix, the Spaniard was offered a tough reminder of just how deep McLaren’s Formula 1 plight currently is after suffering his third straight retirement on Sunday.
Alonso qualified 15th on Saturday after being prevented from taking part in Q2 due to a power unit blow out, with the Honda power unit showing few signs of improving in reliability.
McLaren’s entry in Bahrain was reduced to one car when Stoffel Vandoorne suffered a failure on his power unit while going to the grid, leaving the Belgian listed as ‘did not start’.
Alonso pulled off his usual trick of fighting valiantly with his underpowered McLaren MCL32 through the race, running on the fringes of the top 10 and enjoying battles with the likes of Jolyon Palmer and Daniil Kvyat.
A loss of power ultimately caused Alonso to retire with three laps to go, meaning that although the Spaniard was classified for the first time in a race this year, he is still yet to reach the checkered flag in 2017.
“It was so frustrating! We have a big straight line speed deficit, on the straights we lost so much ground,” Alonso told NBCSN after the race
“We were close to the points at parts of the race but we never had the pace as in China or Australia. We need to keep improving to be better in Russia. The power is quite important in Russia. We know the weakness of the package.
“We’ve been working very hard. This weekend we’ve had so much bad luck. All the power unit changes. We aren’t even able to participate. Fast and slow at times. When you can’t even start the races it is amazing…”
Alonso’s anger did result in a couple of radio gems, adding to the list of ‘san Nando’ quotes we’ve been treated to this year.
Alonso: “I’ve never raced with less power in my life” – wow #F1onNBC
Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.
“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”
In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.
With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.
In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.
“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.
“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”
Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said. “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”
Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.
“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.
“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”
Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.