McLaren offered to buy Fernando Alonso a seat in the Indianapolis 500, but the Formula 1 champion told the team he was uncomfortable replacing a driver who had earned a spot in the race.
Alonso, with McLaren, failed to qualify for next Sunday’s race, a humiliation for the proud racing team. Alonso is trying to win motorsports’ version of the Triple Crown and Indy is his last remaining goal. McLaren was back at the 500 for the first time since it dominated in the 1970s.
McLaren CEO Zak Brown told The Associated Press the team would not buy its way into the 500 and was halting this year’s effort. Bob Fernley, president of the IndyCar operation, was fired Sunday night after McLaren missed the race.
Fernley, whose role for several years had been in F1 with Force India, was always an odd choice to put at the helm of the team’s Indycar effort Stateside when they had Indycar veteran and Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran involved with the F1 operation, an area where his expertise was vastly less.
A team spokesman said the former Force India deputy principal, who was appointed president of McLaren Indycar last November, would have been out of contract after the race but had departed on Sunday.
After being bumped the team then made a few inquiries into buying out another driver to give Alonso a spot in the 33-car field in a non-McLaren backed effort. Brown said Alonso initially supported McLaren running a car for him if it was the right business decision to satisfy sponsor obligations.
But once the Spaniard learned he’d be replacing another driver and competing for another team, he was not comfortable with that route.
McLaren had zeroed in on Oriol Servia’s seat with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports because McLaren already has a partnership with Arrow.
“Fernando has done nothing wrong, he needs to be in the race and should be in the race and we do have a lot of partners who would like to be in the race.”
“Do we buy him a seat? Well, he said: I know what it takes to get into this race, it doesn’t feel right to me to take another driver out that has earned it because my team has bought the seat. There is a lot of pride within Fernando and McLaren,” added Brown.
The McLaren miss is one of the biggest failures in Indy 500 history. Roger Penske missed the show with Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi in 1995, a year after dominating the race.
Reigning CART champion Bobby Rahal missed it in 1993, and two-time Indy winner Rodger Ward never got up to speed to make the 1965 field.
Big Questions: Did Fernley deserve the axe? Should they have bought Fernando a seat?