McLaren decide against full-time 2019 IndyCar entry

by Jordan Groves
Fernando Alonso (ESP), 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, McLaren Honda Andretti, Indianapolis 500

McLaren will not be entering full-time in the 2019 IndyCar Series according to the team’s CEO Zak Brown. A potential full-time entry for the team has been heavily rumoured for the last few months, but Brown announced today that the plan would not be going ahead next year. However, there is still a chance that the team could field Fernando Alonso in the 2019 Indianapolis 500 as a one-off.

Since McLaren and Alonso surprised the world of motorsport in 2017 by competing in the Indianapolis 500, there has been massive speculation as to whether or not the team could enter the full IndyCar Series in the future. Fuel to these rumours came when Brown admitted that it was an ambition of his and of McLaren to race in the American single-seater championship at some point and that he also wished for Alonso to race for McLaren away from Formula 1.

For the last few months, the chances of a McLaren IndyCar team were looking very reasonable. It is believed that a number of meetings have taken place between representatives of McLaren and IndyCar to see whether the entry would be feasible for the team. Recently, rumours have continued to circulate as to the possibility of a potential partnership between McLaren and an already established IndyCar team, such as Andretti Autosport or Harding Racing.

Sadly, today, the hopes of a McLaren IndyCar entry has been put to bed for at least another year. Brown announced at the Circuit of the Americas today that a full-time entry would not be happening for the 2019 IndyCar Series, stating that the team was “simply not ready” to juggle Formula 1 and IndyCar.

“For the IndyCar Series, we have taken a decision to not compete on a full-time basis in 2019,” said Brown, “We are simply not ready yet and we are very focused on F1. So we won’t be doing that in 2019.”

However, Brown would go on to at least give fans some hope that we will see McLaren on an IndyCar grid in the future. Zak stated that the desire for the team to enter the championship was still there, but that the team wanted and needed to focus on improving their results in Formula 1 before they add another championship to their workload.

Brown even went on to say that it was entirely possible that the team could make another one-off appearance in next year’s Indianapolis 500, potentially even with Fernando Alonso back behind the wheel.

“We do have a desire to do it [enter IndyCar full-time], as I have mentioned before, in the near future.” Brown continued, “And as far as the Indy 500 is concerned it remains of interest to us. That will be a decision that ultimately we will take in the off-season, and I think it is something that Fernando would like to do as well, but right now we are still focused on F1 and until we get a little bit of fresh air we will remain focused on that.”

Fernando Alonso (ESP), 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, Andretti Autosport, Barber Motorsports Park

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

With Fernando Alonso already having confirmed that he will not be returning to Formula 1 in 2019, there is still every chance that the Spaniard could enter IndyCar full-time next year with another team.

When Fernando made his IndyCar debut with McLaren Honda Andretti in 2017, his chances of taking the Indy 500 victory looked to be strong. The two-time Formula 1 champion impressed massively in his oval racing debut by qualifying in fifth place and leading many laps during the race before sadly retiring with an engine failure.

Fernando has made it no secret that he wishes to return to the Indianapolis 500 so that he can attempt to complete the triple crown; the achievement of having won the 500 as well as the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Alonso just had Indianapolis left to go to secure the triple crown, with only Graham Hill to have done so before him.

Alonso has said in the past that if he were to return to Indianapolis, he would want to have competed in a number of additional IndyCar races beforehand so that he can be as best prepared as possible for the race. In light of this, Alonso completed his first road course test in an Andretti Autosport IndyCar in September at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, a test that Alonso himself described as “something special.” 

However, Alonso’s chances of racing with Andretti next year seem to have been dashed due to a number of different issues. Andretti Autosport is aligned with Honda in IndyCar and it is believed that there would be issues between Alonso and the Japanese manufacturer due to their turbulent relationship in the past as well as Alonso’s ongoing campaign in the World Endurance Championship with Toyota; a major rival of Honda.

Potential solutions for Alonso came with a rumoured partnership between McLaren and Harding Racing, a team that runs with Chevrolet engines in IndyCar. However, these talks seemingly fell through, as it was announced last month that the team would be renamed Harding Steinbrenner Racing in 2019 and that they would be fielding Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta full-time.

There is still a chance for a McLaren and Andretti partnership in the future, as it is believed that the team were considering a switch to Chevrolet power at some point. However, this will definitely not be taking place for 2019, so hopes of a McLaren entry will be pushed back to at least 2020.

For now, it remains to be seen whether Alonso will get a seat in IndyCar for 2019 or whether he will have to wait until 2020 to have another shot at completing the elusive triple crown.

The 2019 IndyCar Series kicks-off with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 10. The 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place later in the season on May 26.

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