McLaren has said that it won't be trying to do any last-minute deals to get Fernando Alonso a spot on the grid for the Indy 500
Although Alonso failed to qualify for the race, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he (or indeed the other non-qualifiers of Pato O’Ward and Max Chilton) won’t be on the grid. That’s because at Indianapolis, it’s the car and not the driver that qualifies for the race, meaning Alonso could theoretically ‘take over’ someone else’s seat.
It’s not the most popular way to get onto the grid, but it does happen. In 2011, Ryan Hunter-Reay failed to make the field, so his Andretti team did a deal with the Foyt squad to put him in Bruno Junqueira’s car for the race. Funnily enough, Junqueira also missed out on the 2009 race when he qualified, but his team swapped him for Alex Tagliani, who didn’t.
Almost from the moment Alonso failed to qualify, rumours started doing the rounds that McLaren would do a similar thing in order to get Alonso into the race. After all, McLaren has lots of sponsors compared to some other teams, and the team already proved it was willing to try anything when it bought setups and parts from other teams in order to get through bump day.
However, despite it being a realistic option, McLaren has said that it won’t be going down that road. Zak Brown told the Associated Press:
“We’ll come back fighting. We don’t want to buy in. We want to earn it. Anyone can buy in. We want to get in on merit.”
Ironically, the seat probably most receptive to some sort of switcharoo would be that of the very car that knocked Alonso out of the race - Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing. That team lost its main sponsors ahead of the race, was on the back foot after a crash, and isn’t scheduled to do any more races this season. McLaren saying ‘put Alonso in your car and we’ll fund you for a few more races’ wouldn’t have been a ridiculous proposal.
However, having fought so hard to make the grid after a tough, team owner Ricardo Juncos shut down the possibility of that happening, saying: “We’re racing next weekend. That’s it”.
That’s fair enough. Buying his way in isn’t the way Alonso would want to do it, either - Brown said that he’d only race if he had to in order to satisfy sponsor commitments but wasn’t comfortable with taking the place of a driver who’d earned their place in the field.
Fernando will just have to return next year and try again. Will he want to do it with McLaren? That’s the big question…
Top image (c) IndyCar